Review: Fantasy meets sci-fi in Shadowrun Returns
Remember when Shadowrun was an online-only multiplayer shooter? I do, mostly because the memory wipe that Dr. Walter Bishop has performed on me eight times hasn't worked yet. Sorry, I'm watching Fringe. Harebrained Schemes' Kickstarter-approved RPG, Shadowrun Returns, scrapes away whatever bad taste in your mouth there might be remaining from that abomination of a shooter.
Shadowrun Returns is set in Seattle in an alternative future where magic returned to the world. With magic comes elves, witches, dragons and orcs. But it's the future, so there's body augmentations and Blade Runner-esque environments. It's a blend of sci-fi and fantasy. You are a Shadowrunner, a smuggler/mercenary/hacker that works freelance in this dystopian future. When one of your old friends dies, you put together a team of four characters/classes to find the killer and unravel the mystery.
You pick between races well-known to fantasy fans: elves, dwarves, orcs and human, each with their strengths and weaknesses. Classes are also diverse, from casters and summoners to Street Samurai and pistol-wielders. You have a good amount of options as far as classes and how you build them are concerned, but character customization isn't that in-depth. You choose a portrait and then can change a few options.
The visuals look painted almost, and it's not the most amazing game I've looked at. But a pretty good story and solid combat has you caring less about the visuals as you get emerged in what Shadowrun Returns offers. For RPG standards, the story and levels are very linear. That hurts Shadowrun Returns, taking it from what could've been a really special game and just making it a good game. While there are some puzzles where you have to gather information to advance, you're funneled through the missions. There's only one path.
Combat can be compared to XCOM: Enemy Unknown light. It's a top-down view with turn-based combat, but there's never the depth or challenge to combat that XCOM provided. You can build a diverse team, but there's not really much diversity as far as weapons are concerned. And while there's a decent amount of tactical depth, more would have been nice. It's just a bit too easy for its own good.
Shadowrun Returns campaign is a decent length for its $20 price, but its ultimate value will depend on the editor included in the game. There's a ton you can do with you, so hopefully the community churns out some nice gameplay options and stories to tell.
All that being said, the linear campaign, aging engine and predictable combat don't hold Shadowrun Returns down. It's a really solid tactical RPG, and there's definitely value to be had for the price and length of the game. If the community uses the awesome editor to its maximum potential, this game will only get better.