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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.

Give up this job and the only thing left open to you is a mission where you infiltrate a base and kill a prisoner before he can inform on anyone — also not exactly the loftiest of opportunities for you to take on.

This is the muck you're playing in; the lowest parts of Berlin's criminal scene. And you have to, because the fate of the world's at stake. It's an interesting quandary, having to play someone fairly villainous in order to potentially do more good later. Coming back to base and seeing how hesitant your crew is about some of the actions you've taken is downright harrowing.

Credit goes, once again, to Shadowrun's excellent writing, especially on a person-to-person scale.

Keep your friends close

"Dietrich used to front a punk band." It's the thought I keep returning to whenever I try to describe what makes Dragonfall (and the original campaign) special.

I ran with the same crew for the majority of the expansion. Eiger is a distrustful orc who keeps her friends close and her gun closer. Blitz is a decker (read: Matrix-like computer hacker) who I rescued from a sticky situation only to plunge him into a global crisis.

And then there's Dietrich, the ex-punk rocker (though it's debatable whether you can ever truly leave the punk behind, even with age). He's the shaman version of Henry Rollins, if Henry Rollins was a fugitive wanted for corporate espionage.

The dialogue here isn't just good, it's fantastic. High-concept genre pulp, sure, but it's great high-concept genre pulp. The inane little details of these fictional lives imbue characters with life. I was amazed the first time I complimented Eiger (you know — trying to be the "nice" guy) and she called me out on my insincerity. Because of course she did! That's how Eiger would react were she a real person.

But that's still rare to come across in games, and Shadowrun does it better than almost anyone.

Still a bundle of disparate systems
That being said, the game still has some problems on a mechanical level.

The introduction of quicksave and save anywhere functionality is very welcome, helping avoid repetitive, drawn-out engagements. However, this is the only real improvement on the game side of Shadowrun Returns.

There are still too many systems crammed into too little space. Dragonfall tries to make some of the non-combat traits more useful by adding more skill checks, but overall I still found myself dumping all my points in Rifles and Charisma.

In part this is because Dragonfall wipes your character sheet clean again — you spend most of the game building the fundamentals back up and spec'ing in one direction instead of branching out, as you would with a higher level character.

 

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