As the follow-up to 2013’s Shadowrun Returns, Shadowrun: Dragonfall has been hailed by some as the game that Returns should have been. Not so much sequel as a continuation, Dragonfall changes little from the formula that revitalised the Shadowrun series. But does it add enough to justify a second purchase?
Dragonfall leaves behind the rain-soaked streets of corporation-run Seattle for the idealist chaos of the anarchic Flux State, aka Berlin. The change of setting is largely narrative, though, as one city’s run-down block of buildings isn’t that different from the other’s. Even so, the move to Germany does pepper characters and locations with interesting local names, such as Schockwellenreiter. This, plus the occasional “guten tag” in conversations and anarchist ideologies of the Flux State, really helps to distinguish Berlin from Seattle.
You are an established shadowrunner, invited onto a crew by an old friend, Monika, who doubles as community leader for a local district, the Kreusbasar. Your first job very quickly turns out to be much bigger than any of you realised, however, and you are forced to fight your way to freedom and figure out just what you’ve stumbled into. While not the most original of openings, it’s delivered well and with enough mystery to keep you guessing as you follow one lead after another to try to piece everything together.
The plot is a marked improvement from Returns’ somewhat cliched affair. You spend the bulk of the game taking on standalone jobs to amass a certain amount of wealth, after which, the final story mission becomes available. These individual jobs excellently explore the various atrocities committed on a daily basis by street gangs, research labs, and even human supremacists. Unfortunately, the main plot jumps around a little, introducing twists and revelations that can seem left of field at times. Nevertheless, in all cases, you will be faced with moral decisions and judgement calls of who to trust, and the ramifications can be severe, such as ending all possibility of future employment with a contact or possibly turning a friend into some kind of demon.
Your crew are an improvement over Returns’ sidekicks, and are now fully fleshed-out characters with their own personalities, backstories, and quests. Though you can’t directly affect their stats, you do get to periodically choose which bonus skills to give them, allowing you to specialise one in shotguns or sniper rifles, another in melee or pistols. These skills are invaluable, so you really want to make sure you think your decisions through.
You can take up to three runners on jobs with you, which you can recruit from any of the story crew, as well as a handful of mercenaries. The problem here, however, is that mercenaries cost money to hire on top of their cut of the pay, which is money you could otherwise be putting towards equipment and cybernetics. My desire to have an all-street-samurai team meant that each job cost me 625 nuyen before I’d even begun, which was often a hefty percentage of the overall payoff. Moreover, mercenaries don’t comment on events and decisions like crew members do, which means you miss out on large chunks of dialogue. It’s not enough to obscure the events, but enough so that you notice the relative silence.
Aside from story, setting and characters, not a lot has changed since Returns, with most of the mechanics and gameplay having been directly carried over. Character customisation is the same, with skill points being in short enough supply that you have to really think about your build. Some etiquettes still hardly ever show up in dialogue; I only found one opportunity to use my Shadowrunner etiquette in the whole game, which seems odd considering that running the shadows is what the game is all about.
Fortunately, gameplay has received a few upgrades. Decking features more heavily in jobs now, opening up opportunities to access locked areas and turn security against your enemies. All jobs feature skill checks at various points that open up different paths for you to take, even allowing you to smoothly complete large sections of a job in stealth. The story is a good length, roughly twice as long as Returns, which felt over far too soon. And yet, none of the improvements feel as revolutionary as Returns did, given how well it resurrected the series. Dragonfall isn’t a sequel; it’s a refinement. What you’re paying for here is essentially a new story to play through, which – considering the vast quantity of free user-generated campaigns available online – might not seem worth the investment.
If you had to choose between Returns and Dragonfall, Dragonfall would definitely be the superior choice. It keeps everything that was good about Returns and adds a little more, if only a little. However, if you’ve already played Returns and didn’t absolutely fall in love with it, there may not be much for Dragonfall to offer you.