Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Shadowrun And The Glory

Shadowrun Returns is an cRPG videogame based on the tabletop gaming system of the same name. Shadowrun: Dragonfall is that videogame's expansion. Like most videogames, Dragonfall is the better game, since much of the trouble in making the first game is making sure that the gears and wheels under the hood work, but also, discovering what that game is. But there's one mission of Returns that is more memorable, for the right reasons, than everything from the expansion.

The Shadowrun setting is basically Red Harvest or $106,000 Blood Money dramatized by Lord Of The Rings characters. Death is cheap, people willing to do bad things abound, people willing to do good things usually aren't. Corporations run the world, and everyone employs mercenaries (Shadowrunners) for missions, which usually involve repossessing a rival corp's technology or board member. Often killing and hacking (called decking) are involved.
(A long aside on names. Shadowrun Returns is the base game, but Shadowrun: Dragonfall is the expansion. There's no semicolon in Shadowrun Returns. Ugh. Therefore, I'm referring to the base game as Returns and the expansion as Dragonfall because it makes my life and your reading experience easier.)

I'm going to be spoiling the coolest part of the Returns game, so if you actually intend to play it, turn back now.



It's one of my favorite moments.

I am currently right at the last mission in Dragonfall, so while I have not beat it yet, I feel comfortable talking about Dragonfall as a full experience. Perhaps the story will implode just before the finish line, but so far, the story is a defter thing than its predecessor. There are actual headscratchers in terms of "okay, what am I contracted to do versus what can I do versus what is the right thing to do versus what is the decision the genre demands?" and three or four of those headscratchers in Dragonfall.

But. There's a sequence in Returns that is better than anything in Dragonfall thus far and one that I have never seen on a game table or in a videogame.

The setup is this: You're on a run (what the missions are called) and the run is grab some things from a corp's office, fight through a big headquarters tower to get there. (It's a dungeon, inverted.)

Traditionally, in Shadowrun, these things end in only a couple ways: The party escapes or the party dies. You have variations on the theme (they barely escape with their lives, they escape, but one of them's a traitor, they leave a lot of dead, but a couple get out, they get out with not quite the information they were paid to get, it was a trap) but that's how those things tend to roll.

You die or you leave.

On this run, the group doesn't quite get what they need. That won't help out the customer, but they're so close and they can't wait till the next evening. So what do they do? They have the main character stay in the tower to complete the mission when everyone else shows up tomorrow morning for work.

What you do not do in videogames or Shadowrun, or at least the ones where you're an adventuring group, is stick around. (Unless you're Viscera Cleanup Detail, which, is a game precisely about what you suspect it is but cannot bring yourself to believe, a videogame about cleaning up the corpses left behind by the successful execution of a FPS level.)

The game is get in however you have to, get out however you have to. Returns compels you to stay.

Maybe I'm hyping this up a bit much. There's a save point, so it's technically a success state of one part of the mission and moving on to the next one, but I've never heard of a run continuing into the morning. Ever. 10:30 am in the Shadowrun universe might as well be genuinely unknown territory. Every run happens at night, at least all the ones I'm aware of. You're dead or you leave. You're alive and you're still there is new territory.

Remaining there into the morning completely changes how I feel about the space. That's new! As for the contents of the mission, I won't spoil that, except that it's good genre fun and you get to see the results of your work.

Taken as a whole, Dragonfall is surer. Dragonfall is more dexterous. Dragonfall is better in genre. Dragonfall's challenges are harder and its combat arenas better designed. Dragonfall's NPCs are more textured and one of those NPCs has a genuinely surprising backstory that actually lives up to the talking around it in the first two thirds of the game.

But Dragonfall, at least just before the final boss mission (or what appears to be the final mission) had nothing so daring as a corp building at 10:30 am. Dragonfall is a better videogame. Despite that, in five years, I suspect that I will sooner remember that moment from Returns than I will anything from Dragonfall.

A stand alone directors cut edition of Dragonfall is released September 18 for $15. I think and hope you'll like it.

This song is called Hunting For Witches and it is by Bloc Party. Go.

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