After whistling through the underground tunnel system, the metro creaks to a halt. You step out to investigate and, under cover of darkness, the mercenaries open fire from the shadows – their muzzle-flashes illuminating the darkness. This is an ambush, but you’ve been through worse already – in the world of Shadowrun, surprise, deceit and violence lies at every turn. It’s terrific.
In the neon-lit metropolis of Berlin 2054, the stable anarchy of the Flux State is barely in control as mega-corporations conspire against both each other and their city’s denizens from their fortified skyscrapers. On the streets, trolls, elves, orcs and humans struggle to co-exist in a world where magic and cybernetic implants are an everyday reality. The world is well-realised with interesting buildings, sleek character designs and a well-suited soundtrack.
You start out as the new member of a team on a seemingly simple job but you’re quickly put through the meat-grinder as things go from horrible to barely-got-out-alive. Tasked with heading up the remainder of the crew, you’re required to complete a number of high-paying jobs to progress and delve further into the well-written campaign. Taking in the Shadowrun universe’s history, a number of memorable characters and several jarring twists – the story is suitably gripping. Unlike the base game’s focus on hiring the best freelance runners for each particular job, here you’re steered in the direction of sticking with the original squad, forming a bond with each of them.
When it comes to making important decisions, the team won’t back your calls automatically – when they disagree they’ll damn well tell you. This factor, besides the sense of morality you’ve invested in your character, can lead to hesitation before you select the appropriate dialogue/course of action as there are certainly knock-on effects of bad decisions to endure. For instance, at the climax of one hard-fought mission – you’re tasked with deciding the fate of an augmented troll who’s been cruelly turned into a remote-controlled engine of destruction. Both outcomes present their own problems and, within the world’s context, neither is necessarily the right thing to do.
The campaign is massive and will take at least twelve hours to get through. At one point you’re given a monetary target and have to complete enough missions to raise the cash (in the form of nuyen) to buy into the next section. This gives you a tangible goal and it’s difficult not to take every mission available even once you’ve accrued the required amount of nuyen. Sneaking past security guards in maintenance outfits, escorting convoys through hostile territories, cleaning out gang-run apartment blocks, defeating ancient evils – I didn’t want to miss a thing.
Although it’s DLC, Dragonfall is an improvement on the base game, Shadowrun Returns, in every aspect. The campaign is superior, the narrative more engaging, the characters well fleshed out and the quests more compelling.
[This is a review of the first release of Dragonfall, not the Director’s Cut]