I was aware of Shadowrun the tabletop game – my husband owns most of the books and has oft-regaled me with tales of his past campaigns. I’ve never played in a campaign, but it sounds pretty awesome. Cyberpunk elves? Troll hackers? Seems right up my alley.
I remembered the success of Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun Kickstarter campaign, and was quite pleased that the game was funded, although I was too broke at the time to contribute to the game. I slapped that game right on my Steam wishlist the minute it became available, and bought it the first time I noticed it on sale. And then, typically, it languished unplayed in my Steam game queue for several months until last night when I should have been working on a syllabus for a class I’m supposed to start teaching next week.
Instead, I played Shadowrun Returns until four in the morning.
This game is really amazing, with lots of RPG fiddly bits to keep me entertained. I love building myself a character from scratch, and the leveling system is incredibly customizable and beautifully streamlined. Every time you do something important in-game, whether it’s defeating bad guys, hacking a computer, discovering an important fact in your investigations, or conversing with a potential ally, you earn Karma points. You can immediately spend these Karma points on any skill or stat, allowing for infinite variety.
Meet Nousagi Rabbitstorm, the rifle-shooting, spirit-conjuring, Elvish hacker shaman. In my head-cannon, she was a college professor before becoming a Shadowrunner, so I always choose the super-polite, well-spoken dialogue options.
And such dialogue options! The leveling mechanics are simple and streamlined, the combat is fun, fast-paced, and deadly, but the excellent writing is what really shines in Shadowrun Returns. All of the characters are interesting, funny, and seem like credible people, rather than tired video game cliches. I’ve been making a point to talk to absolutely everyone in the game, because absolutely everyone is such fun to talk to! What’s more, as much as I enjoy the combat, most of the game seems to be about exploration, simple puzzle-solving, and stat-based dialogue options. If the writing was subpar, this game would probably be quite boring, but it is, in fact, a joy to investigate my friend Sam Watt’s murder, because not only is the writing good enough to make me care about Sam Watts, it’s so consistently good that I find myself caring about every character in the game, from the madam of the brothel to the random dude living in the tenements whose son I saved from brutal gang murder. It helps that the source material is utterly fascinating, and fantasy cyberpunk Seattle is most certainly a place I’d love to visit, but there’s nothing I love more than a well-written video game, and Shadowrun Returns is exactly that.
I love how quick and deadly the combat is, something almost unheard of in turn-based tactical RPGs. Almost everyone has guns, and just like in real life, those guns are either going to graze you and hurt a little, or they’re going to hit something vital and kill your ass. It’s a great feeling to score a critical hit and kill a rival Shadowrunner in one hit, but his teammate could easily turn around and do the same to you, which makes battles refreshingly fast and tense.
Excitingly, once I beat the campaign that I’m playing now, evocatively and logically titled “Dead Man’s Switch,” I have an entire other campaign to play, something called “Dragonfall,” which is set in future Berlin, and which I dearly hope somehow involves dragons who are falling, because that sounds rad. And once I beat that campaign, I can evidently hop online and download a campaign written by someone else, something that I probably will never actually have time to do, but something that I nevertheless appreciate and think is awesome. In-game creation tools help to train the next generation of game designers, so I approve of games including the option.
I think I’m done telling everyone how amazing this game is. That’s good, because that means that I get to go back to playing it.