The campaign of Shadowrun: Dragonfall does something most other RPGs have difficulty doing: being concise. Where other classic RPGs will throw in an overwhelming amount of lore and odd character names at inopportune times, the world of Shadowrun is fairly easy to understand and I knew nothing about the series. It also feels perfectly paced with minimal fluff and no MMO type questing.
The premise is this: you’re a shadowrunner,which is basically a type of mercenary often doing work for shadowy corporate types operating within an anarchist Berlin in a cyberpunk future. But this sci fi setting is also mixed in with a fantasy one in which elves, dwarves, orks, trolls and magic also exist. It reminded me of Arcanum a little bit. The general thrust of the main plot is that a job goes wrong and it seems like you were set up and you’re trying to find out who it was and why. It’s a simple yet effective framework to hang the main plot and all the self contained stories that occur through the jobs you do for clients.
As for the writing overall, it’s quite good. Older cRPGs or newer ones in the same vein as the classics often have a habit of being overly verbose but here it strikes a good balance between literary flair and being to the point and easy to understand. Dialogue is also mostly quite believable except for one mission called False Flag, which had strawman nazi stand ins who had a plan to gas the metahumans. They also had a propaganda document which gave me a bit of a smirk reminding me of A Wyatt Man illustrations, but aside from this one particular quest I generally enjoyed the writing.
The character I played was a human street samurai by the name of Bane Big Guy. I specialised mainly in assault rifles and by the end I was a fully decked out cyborg. The dialogue options in the game were quite limited however in the way cRPGs usually are by their very nature but most of the time it was enough that allowed me to have a solid basis for forming my own character and filling in the blanks with my imagination. Also with the cybernetic upgrades, the more you install, the less essence you have (to a minimum of 1 from a starting point of about 6), which in turn weakens your ability to effectively utilise magic.
One of my complaints with the role playing mechanics is that the skill checks are locked out if you don’t have the requisite skill. So there’s no chance of failure or chance of success even if you don’t have the required skill for the particular action, which can limit roleplaying even more. In terms of stats, there’s a decent amount of them and easy to understand. How they work is that you have your base stats, such as quickness and then skill trees under those, such as pistols or shotguns. If your quickness skill is say at 5, then each of the skills it governs can only be upgraded up to 5 and upgrading from level 4 to 5 in a tree requires 5 skill points. Simple and forces you to specialise, so it’s a good system. Most of the governing stats govern about what you’d expect if you’ve ever played and RPG before.
Combat is also quite good. How it works is almost exactly like the newer X-Com games (minus the environmental destruction on account of the 2D backgrounds). It’s turn based on grids, there’s cover,an overwatch option. Unlike X Com however you’re always stuck at 4 party members total except for one time circumstances in certain quests, but overall it was a system that was very easy to understand and get in to whilst still having a decent amount of challenge on Normal difficulty.
In terms of the aesthetics, the game uses highly detailed 2D backgrounds with simple 3D models for characters and weapons, which is for the most part visually appealing and guarantees that the game can run on toasters. I do have my own issues with the look though, maybe because I’m used to the visual styles from classic Fallout or Arcanum and such for 2D cRPGs, but the overall style looks a bit too flat and clean and reminds me of Transistor instead. This is a minor gripe of course because it still looks pretty nice overall but a bit more grit would’ve been good.
These criticisms aside, Shadowrun: Dragonfall Directors Cut is a very fun RPG that looks nice, is incredibly user friendly and has for the most part, good writing and even better pacing. An all round excellent RPG.