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Shadowrun: Dragonfall review: Even better than the original

Hayden Dingman | March 10, 2014
Berlin's metro is not subject to time. It's dark outside, lit here and there by the soft glow of a run-down streetlight or the pink and blue haze of a neon sign. But not in the metro. Here everything is bright as noon, including the woman standing pensively off to the side, waiting. Waiting for you.

Berlin's metro is not subject to time. It's dark outside, lit here and there by the soft glow of a run-down streetlight or the pink and blue haze of a neon sign. But not in the metro. Here everything is bright as noon, including the woman standing pensively off to the side, waiting. Waiting for you.

"I need you to blow up a building," she says. "I can pay you."

Anarchy reigns
Welcome back to Shadowrun. It's only been six months since we were last in Jordan Weissman's magic-meets-cyberpunk setting and Harebrained Schemes has already released Dragonfall, the first official expansion campaign for Shadowrun Returns. And when they say expansion, they mean it — this is an entirely new fifteen-or-so hour campaign just as long (if not longer) than the original game.

Rather than continuing the original storyline ("Dead Man's Switch"), Dragonfall starts you off from scratch again: new city, new circumstances, new character. You've recently hooked back up with an old crew of runners — the Shadowrun universe's titular mercenaries — pulling off easy jobs. However, your assertion that there's "no such thing as a milk run" soon proves prophetic, and the crew is swept up into yet another "save the world" type situation. Dragonfall's plot is pulpy in the finest Snow Crash tradition, and in a good way.

To its credit, Dragonfall is also paced and plotted far better than the original campaign — whereas I complained that "Dead Man's Switch" felt rather slapdash, losing plot strands at random and wrapping up in a blur, I found Dragonfall much more intriguing. The story is drip-fed to you throughout, and multiple side missions and nonessential characters make Berlin feel more like a bustling metropolis compared with last year's linear Seattle setting.

There's even a lengthy four or five mission subsection that allows you to take on missions in any order and skip missions you feel are unethical. It's not a lot of choice, and at the end of the day the result is the same, but I was amazed how much a little "illusion of choice" made Dragonfall feel more like a traditional RPG and less like a set of linear hallways than Shadowrun Returns.

Shot in the dark
Which brings us back to the exploding building. In Shadowrun Returns, you were the hero. You were going to keep your hands clean and save the world. Maybe you did it for money, maybe for honor, but the story was the story.

Dragonfall is as morally gray as a slab of Berlin concrete. This is real cyberpunk: Dubious deals made in the shadows, with only personal ethics to guide your hand. Blowing up the building comes with a big payday, and your crew needs the money. Blowing up the building also kills hundreds, many of them potentially innocent despite the woman's assertion that "they're all guilty." Guilty of what? She won't even tell you.

 

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