Further ramblings about Shadowrun

Late night rambles because I need to say this before I forget about it.

Harebrained Scheme’s Shadowrun is, I swear, the weirdest game experience I’ve ever had. Or, not weirdest, that’s not the right words. It’s how it’s experienced that’s weird, and how that experience just kind of mounts and evolve over time.

I ranted earlier about how its narration and its visuals are always at odds with each other, how the art is a handpainted beauty, but the loaded descriptions just nullify anything that they could be. I still maintain that that’s true, but it really could be solved just by looking at it the other way. You ain’t supposed to just go from Point A to Point B. Shadowrun’s as much a strategy game as it is about sightseeing. You’ve gotta be willing, yourself, to chill out and look around. Even in a high-stake mission. What is even a high-stake mission? It’s a turn-based game and wandering around is a free action.

This is especially more pronounced with Shadowrun Hong Kong, simply because Hong Kong and its related locales are exotic, veritable tourist spots. Harebrained seems to have quite caught on to what could make those sightseeing nice by this point, with the little detail bits, the little neon signs and the Chinese marks.

Not to say that Berlin, in Shadowrun Dragonfall, is a terrible place to look around in. It’s just that after a while–and this must just be my memory. Dragonfall is my first Shadowrun. I’ll get back to that–everything just starts to look the same. The same old buildings. The same old crystal palace office suits. Even the details–the trash cans, the fancy fountains–just kind of blur together. Hong Kong has a unique theme going on. Berlin’s deco are just kind of meh.

I like the graffiti though. It’s just, it kinds of repeat after a bit. Background noise instead of something to go ooh-aah at.

Anyway. It’s not just all that I wanna talk about.

I started with Dragonfall, as I’ve mentioned. In retrospect, it’s not a bad place to start. Shadowrun’s world and lore is a gigantic fist, multiple fists. It’s a lot of things to swallow. So many things. Which is part of what makes the world’s fun, what makes these games fun. You get to pick up so many pieces about how the world works and how its histories run and it’s just a well that never dries up. But it is also, can’t-help-it-mate, overwhelming at the beginning, no matter where you start.

Although ultimately I enjoyed it, I had a difficult relationships with Dragonfall. I don’t like how it goes on its own tangent while I’m just figuring out what the ropes even are. I disliked how its missions just come and goes without anything, in my eyes at the time, mattering in it. And don’t get me started on its battles; I basically made a crap character because I had no idea how to handle its min-maxing, hand-holding-free, character building. Battles are long and hard and very boring.

So I started up Shadowrun Returns a bit of a long while after I was done with Dragonfall. Now this is something that most players are going to disagree: I vastly prefer it to Dragonfall. And it ain’t just because I like Seattle more than Berlin. Returns has structure. It starts off with a mission, and the whole game is you trying to finish that mission, one step at a time. Everything that happens there follow after the one before it. The tension carries, and there’s always a reason to do what you do. It’s one giant story you’re following through.

Dragonfall takes a different route. In there you have a team, a hub, and from that hub you pick up missions, most of which are completely unrelated with each other. Sure, there’s that main story about the Firewing, and there’s all that talk about how there are people hunting you down, but there’s nothing much to support that claim. There’s no tension, nothing to push you forward to do what you’ve got to do. “Raise money” isn’t a compelling enough reason to pick up and go on random missions, completely detached with each other. Dragonfall’s basically a short story collection. And one whose stories albeit interesting, aren’t particularly compelling.

So, impressed as I was at Returns’s structural integrity, I was kind of disappointed that Hong Kong followed the same route as Dragonfall. Some crazy schemes at the end to start it off, but the rest being mostly picking missions unrelated with each other. But this time I already have a grip at the world, at how it works, at how it expects you to work with it. I slow down, smell the flowers, talk to everybody.

And you know what, Shadowrun Hong Kong is probably one of my all-time favourite game at this point.

It’s all the little things that really add up. Heoi, Hong Kong’s hub, is a much livelier place than… whatever that little kiez is called in Dragonfall. Sure, they’re both populated with interesting side characters and vendors who are actually characters instead of just a face and a buy-sell screen. But Heoi’s characters just feel a bit more thought-out. Conversations with them evolve with time, so after every mission, I can just chill out and talk to them and they’ll say something different every time and it really feels like I’m making friends with these guys. Over at Dragonfall, I only feel like I’m scratching a surface, and then suddenly get their life story thrown at me.

At this point it’s ten minutes past midnight and I’m too tired to talk a lot more on this, so I’ll just wrap this up.

Shadowrun starts as something of a novelty: it’s super interesting, but also really exhausting to play. And then it evolves into a, how do I say this… It’s a delicate game. You gotta be in the right mindset to be able to enjoy it fully, otherwise it will actually feels like a horrible mess of reading and weird tactic and wasted visual. But when you get it, it will feels like this perfect blend of everything that made it, from the stories, to its art, it characters, its gameplay and missions and the little details they put all over the place. An unending well.

The music’s still meh, though. But I guess that’s just my personal preference.

A newbie to Shadowrun should definitely start at Returns, if only because Returns has the best structure, has just the right foundation to try to understand the world. After that, you can go crazy in Dragonfall and Hong Kong.

Great games, lemme tell you. Great. Games.

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