This first part of the Shadowrun trilogy will get you immersed in their worldbuilding due to its storytelling. The gameplay is also done in great detail to let you become the character that you want.
Genre: Turn Based Strategy
Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Release date: 20 April, 2022
Shadowrun Returns is a story-heavy turn-based strategy game in a world where cyberpunk and fantasy blend together. The game was originally released as a tabletop game and also a part of a trilogy, with this game being the first. As someone who never played the original tabletop game, this will be my first time stepping into this series.
The visuals in Shadowrun Returns are not that different from the environment that we see today, filled with hi-tech technologies to make it fits the cyberpunk-themed world. Despite it combining both cyberpunk and fantasy themes, I didn’t find any trace of fantasy from the visuals. The environment still looks good as long as you are not looking at the character models closely, although the top-down view helps a lot. Character portraits are also good enough to please you with their gorgeous look, even for the ugliest man that the game claims to be.
You need to read a lot to understand the story, and by that, I mean a lot. The game does a good job to convey what a mere portrait couldn’t do by explaining everything that a character looks like or do, which helps to see their personalities. The inner monologue that you have when you are moving between places also helps to resonate with what’s going on in the main character’s mind.
The use of exquisite words might make the story to be hard to read to some people. I had difficulties understanding some words and there were times when I had to reread the same dialogues over and over. Luckily, the game does a good job of doing a recap of the current situation, which helps a lot to confirm my assumption and inform me of the info that I missed.
I didn’t expect that the gameplay will be this detailed and varied, giving you more options on what you can do in combat. Characters are divided into several races that have different traits. From there, you can build the character to be what you want – you can wield guns, hack computers, shoot magic, operate drones, summon spirits, or do a combination of them. You’ll also have stat points that you can allocate to accommodate these skills, and if it’s not enough, you also can buy gears to increase your stat. Everything is customizable to allow you to create the character that you need.
For a game that allows you to customize a lot of things, I found it hard to believe that it also limits your freedom by providing limited resources. It was hard to decide my character’s build since you only have limited stat points with no option to reset them. Moreover, you also have a limited amount of money to buy gears and possibly consumables, and there are just too many options to choose from. In the end, I chose to build a character that didn’t need much tinkering. It did work after some adjustment, although I wished I could reset some of my stat points after realizing that I invested in a stat that I never used.
The game is mostly linear, with you having to talk to characters to progress the game. You’ll be able to select between several options to progress the story which will lead to a conversation between you and other people. Despite the many dialogue options, everything will eventually lead to the same conclusion, with you having to deal with different dialogues. There are some exceptions, although they usually don’t matter for the story as a whole. Your stat will also help to skip through some parts of the game if you have the right stat to back it up.
Combat is the same as other turn-based strategy games, with you having up to four characters in your party. Although you’ll start solo, the game will allow you to hire more party members for one mission later on. All combats are scripted, meaning that you won’t deal with it unless you need it to progress the story. There will be times when you have to deal with more than battles in the same area, and you need to conserve HP between battles.
The addition of deckers helps to make the combat more colorful. You can think of deckers as a more improved version of hackers, where you can project yourself in cyberspace. They will be able to do this while you’re in combat, allowing you to do two types of combats at the same time. Since deckers will be alone in cyberspace, they will be able to summon some programs to help them, provided that they have the summon programs equipped. This will make them weaker in real-world battles since their equipment slot will be filled with decker-related items. The non-deckers will also need to protect the deckers while they are connected to cyberspace since they will have their hands full with virtual battles. Sadly, there aren’t many areas where you can do these things. I wish the game will also explore more into this side.
As a gun-based user, I found that the gun is a bit wonky. First of all, the accuracy of the shots is terrible. While it is usually tied to a character and your distance, there were times when it didn’t work this way. My character can have 99% accuracy on an enemy that is 3-4 tiles away from him while having only 70% accuracy to another enemy in front of him. Moreover, 70% accuracy isn’t big either. There were times when I missed two shots with that percentage – you just have to pray that it works when you do the shooting.
Enemies have different armors, but there is no telling what’s their weaknesses are. You’ll only know that they are weak to a certain weapon when you shoot the enemy and trust me, it’s not that reliable – there were times when enemies only get resistance in one out of two shots. It makes me wonder whether it’s the gun skill that matters instead of the gun type. However, since the game never tells the difference, you have to figure that out yourself.
Length and Difficulty
I finished the campaign in 12.5h in the easiest difficulty. There are four difficulties in total, and since I’m not good at strategy games, I found the difficulty to fit me well. There were times when my party members died since I wasn’t being careful, but you won’t have trouble in defeating the enemies as long as you’re careful. You don’t have to worry much about your build either – I admit that I spent a lot of my stats on a stat that I never used, but I still able to do fine in battles.
Some puzzles don’t give enough hints to solve manually, forcing me to brute force the solution if I didn’t have the right stat to bypass them. The accuracy for some characters is also messed up – I could get a very low accuracy even when I am standing right in front of an enemy.
Intel Core i5-9300H 2.40GHz, 8GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650
I prefer to call Shadowrun Returns a visual novel with a turn-based strategy element rather than a turn-based strategy game due to its number of dialogues. I didn’t mean it as a bad thing though – the narrative does a good job to let you immersed with the world, although people who hate reading will find the number of dialogues to be daunting to read. Moreover, there are a lot of subtle details that you need to figure out which can be easily missed if you just glimpsed through the texts.
Surprisingly, they also didn’t slack off on the gameplay department. I was surprised to see how well-thought it is, with the various builds that you can try out and use. Although I couldn’t try all builds because of the resource limitation, I could try some of them by hiring people that use that build. Sadly, there wasn’t a lot of combat in this game, or maybe it’s overshadowed by the numerous amount of dialogues. It’s still an enjoyable game though, and if you like to play a game in such settings, this is your game. Just make sure to read the dialogues as you play – you’ll miss a lot otherwise.