Shadowrun Returns

CD Projekt Red (the people behind The Witcher series) recently turned on the hype machine about their next game, Cyberpunk 2077. Since they took me to the promised land, I'm watching their next game closely (the only game I'm watching outside of crowdfunded games). Even though I'm trying not to get sucked up in the hype, I wanted to satiate that desire. I looked in my Steam library and found some Shadowrun games (no doubt from the many Humble Bundles I've purchased). Recalling that it has a cyberpunk-like setting, I downloaded and started playing.

Screenshot of combat in Shadowrun Returns

To this day, I've never played any tabletop RPG. Shadowrun started off as one, and this game is more or less a direct port. I remember back in the dark days of PC gaming, that a Shadowrun FPS came out. It was one of the only games that had the novelty of PC and console cross play. I had started reading about it, and the setting intridged me. After spending years of dreaming about space marines, bugs, and psychic aliens, the coexistence of technology and magic never occured to me. There was also a clever application of that 2012 Mayan apocalypse (when magic started coming into the world).

Shadowrun Returns is a turn based RPG. Imagine that you took Dungeons and Dragons and put it into a cyberpunk setting, but kept the demographic and magic trappings. You can have your elf with drones and an ork with a shotgun of lightning defending a troll hacking a computer to take message board arguments to a whole new level!

Dialog often has multiple options, but most don't change things (outside payment negotiations), and the story doesn't branch much. During combat, each character has a set number of action points per turn, which can be spent in any order you choose. Weapon swapping does not cost points, but reloading generally does. Movement occurs on a square grid (sorry hexagon fans). Occasionally, a character (or enemy) may attack as you move past them, regardless of turn.

Progression is not based on leveling or experience points. Instead, completing quests grants you karma points, which directly increase your stats. Increasing to the next level of a stat costs that level number of karma points. Example: increasing a stat from nothing to 3 costs 6 (1+2+3) karma points. Some stats are under others, and can't increase beyond any stat "above" it.

The game starts your character off at the bottom of his luck in a run down apartment. A "friend" calls and tells you he's dead, and has a life insurance policy if you figure out what happened to him. This leads you down a shadowy street in Seattle, dodging psychopaths, cults, and huge corporations. The writing in this game is good, and the characters are believable. They have histories, and know each other.

As a child of the 80s, I've had this innate desire for nocturnal, neon-illuminated, rainy city streets that constantly goes unfulfilled. Because Shadowrun is a product of the 80s, all the streets in it are like that! This game pleases me on a deep level. The art style excellently conveys the ambience.

Screenshot of the matrix, with a troll character inside

There are some computers that you can connect your character to. This transports them into "the matrix", which is this world's internet. The representation of the matrix is as Hollywood looking as you can get: blue tones, hologram people, and effect on the real world outside it.

The graphics are OK; it isn't Crysis, but it's not poop smeared origami either. Character models don't have too many polygons (seen in the character menus), but it doesn't matter when you're zoomed out and looking down on them. The Radeon 7770 that I was running it on didn't break a sweat; not even a little. A gaming PC from 15 years ago will probably meet the minimum requirements. In fact, I'm curious as to how well this runs on integrated graphics. The game appears to use Unity. The game isn't trying to do much: some basic combat, with lots of dialog and story exposition. In this regard, it's Kickstarted resources appear properly spent.

This game has an option for perspective projection or orthographic projection. I immediately set it to orthographic, and my internal graphics programming nerd got excited! Perspective projection emulates how humans see the world: closer things are bigger, far away things are small. Orthographic projection is like a diagram: things are always the same size regardless of distance, and angles are constant. Orthographic projection properly emulates isometric 2D game graphics; making things look just like the good old days.

The game is really a platform for Shadowrun campaigns. The game comes with the Dead Man's Switch campaign. Mods can add extra campaigns that slot into the new game menu. I've tried a handful of what seem to be popular, but they either have upgraded beyond this game edition, or aren't put together too well.

When I started playing this game, I expected an RPG on rainy city streets. I got that with a well-written game with compelling mechanics. It sucked me in, and I'm looking forward to the other installments (campaigns) in the series.