Shadowrun Returns was undoubtedly one of my favorite games I played last year, being markedly memorable as the first million-dollar Kickstarter game to be released. I reviewed it favorably and found myself eager to explore Harebrained Schemes’ follow up, the Shadowrun: Dragonfall expansion. What I found when I data jacked myself back into the Shadowrun universe was a sequel that has reloaded itself with a compelling story and lots of action but ultimately lacks the substance to make it a true revolution.
The campaign in Dragonfall takes players out of the Seattle setting that Returns utilizes for its locale and drops them into the free city of Berlin. The story starts out similar with the death of a shadowrunner friend sparking the story’s chain of events that involves dragons, a string of dead deckers (Shadowrun’s equivalent to hackers) and corporate conspiracy, among other things. Unfortunately, this change of scenery and new cast of characters wasn’t written to accommodate your character from the Dead Man’s Switch campaign, leaving me unable to retrieve poor Buffalo Bill and his street samurai skillset for this expansion.
After creating my new character–Hingle McCringleberry, the elf mage who vaguely resembles Keegan-Michael Key–the first thing I dove into was the setting’s newly structured player hub. While the game truly isn’t a free-roaming RPG, it masks the linearity that Returns suffered from by giving players a central home base to operate out of, a neighborhood called the Kreuzbasar. From here you can go talk to merchants, get side quests and access the U-Bahn train that takes you to the game’s various missions.
The best attribute of the Kreuzbasar is by far and away your team’s hideout. From here you can not only access your stash of items and a computer full of jobs you can accept but talk to your team of shadowrunners as well. While you can still hire freelance agents to take along for missions, Dragonfall’s campaign focuses much more on a core set of characters that you can converse and interact with after missions to explore their personality a la Mass Effect. It gave me a personal connection to my team that simply didn’t exist in Returns, and I found great enjoyment in digging into the background of characters like Glory, who has dark secrets hidden behind all of her cyber implants.
While Dragonfall does an excellent job telling a much more personal story when compared to Returns, its biggest flaw is the general lack of mixing up the game’s established mechanics. Mission structures have become much more varied, ranging from controlling a massive cyber zombie-troll of destruction to sneaking through a corporate complex conducting blood magic experiments, yet they are all things that were already feasible in Returns with some slick use of the game editor. Outside of the addition of the sorely needed ability to save anywhere in the game world, there has been no change to the shallow leveling system or tweaks to combat to push the game forward in any technically meaningful way. Even something so simple as displaying how protected your characters are behind cover would’ve been a welcome addition.
Fans of Returns will likely find a lot to like in Dragonfall, with a campaign that took me about 24 hours to do all the side missions, unfold my team’s backstories and explore every nook and cranny the game had to offer. If you enjoy the lore and setting of the Shadowrun universe, this is a must, especially with the addition of the save anywhere feature. Those looking for a more substantial improvement will be disappointed however, as the game mainly adds new exposition and little more. Overall, Dragonfall is a baby step forward and an improvement on Shadowrun Returns, but falls shy of being the best possible Shadowrun video game it can be.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall was reviewed on the PC platform, with a review code provided by the developer. For more information on how Indie Game Insider conducts reviews, check out our review policies.