Shadowrun Returns was released last year after a successful Kickstarter campaign and seemed to please fans and backers alike. In our review, Fraser Brown commented on how the toolset provided with the game would provide plenty of content in the future, and whilst it has been well supported by modders, most fans were waiting patiently for the big expansion, Dragonfall.
Dragonfall is an expansion in the old-school mold: it has a campaign that's equal to the length of the main Shadowrun story, a whole new setting and characters, and there's some nice refinements to the mechanics and structure. There's still some problems and frustrations but if you put up with them in the original Shadowrun, then Dragonfall will give you even more enjoyment.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])
Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Publisher: Harebrained Schemes
MRSP: $14.99 / £11.99
Release Date: February, 27 2014
[Full disclosure: I was a Kickstarter backer and received the Dragonfall expansion free as part of my backer rewards.]
Dragonfall moves the action from the rainy streets of Seattle to Berlin, part of a splintered Germany. In 2012, the age of magic began again and a great dragon Feuerschwinge devastated much of the country. Now in 2054, the city is controlled by an anarchist flux state and it's here that your Shadowrunner has fled after a botched job. Hooking up with an old friend, you're immediately on another run but one that ends in tragedy; now with a new crew in tow, you'll seek to uncover the reasons your arrival in Berlin has been a traumatic one.
This expansion mixes up the formula from the original Shadowrun Returns campaign, Dead Man's Switch, in a couple of ways. Right from the start you'll be working with a fixed crew: Eiger, a troll and former soldier; the punk shaman Dietrich; the heavily-augmented cyborg Glory; and the wisecracking decker Blitz.
Dead Man's Switch had you using specific characters in certain missions and recruiting other Runners to your team when required. The option to recruit new team members is there but you'll only really use it if one of your team is killed in action, or you feel you need a certain role to help with an individual mission, like having an extra street samurai if you're expecting plenty of trouble.
The other big change is the introduction of a fixed hub area, dubbed the Kreuzbasar, as your main base of operations. From here you can access the subway to get to mission areas and there's plenty of shops and characters in the area to interact with.
Early on in the game, your crew needs to amass money, and lots of it. So instead of taking on a linear path from mission to mission, you're free to choose between a number of side jobs each with their own dangers, rewards, and repercussions. Complete enough of these and you'll make enough money to get you moving onto the end game.
There's a nice sense of constant progression from the start as your character is left with an inherited crew, some of whom are wary about your leadership, and just a few clues as to who is behind things in Berlin. Whereas Dead Man's Switch started off as a murder mystery, Dragonfall's story has a bigger sense of scale as there's the troubled history of Germany and the distinct characters of the Flux states. A steady ceasefire between gangs and factions holds the region together and you'll get your chance to meet them in some of the side missions; whether your choose the diplomatic or violent route is up to you but there's no overarching faction system so you don't need to worry too much about your actions carrying over into the main story.
If you had played Shadowrun before, you'll find that there's no real mechanical differences in Dragonfall. There is one major addition and that's that ability to save your game at any time outside combat. This is a big change and it reduces the amount of frustration you would have felt in Shadowrun before, where dying or failing a mission had you replaying almost all of it. It's a big improvement and something that the main game needed.
There are some elements that haven't been updated in the expansion -- the isometric viewpoint can still make it hard to identify cover and getting your characters to the right spot is still tricky. Having a regular crew is definitely a plus but outfitting them can be a drag; your team will restock supplies but unless you make the effort to go around all the shops in Kreuzbasar, you'll be left lacking some vital supplies. Whilst you can usually choose up to four out of your five regular crew members, it would be nice if there were additional clues as to what you're about to face. Sometimes the term "heavy resistance" might be mentioned but you can often find yourself outgunned three to one on what should be a fairly simple mission.
There's some other elements that would have made a nice addition to Dragonfall. For instance, your crew will level up and gain new skills and abilities but this is all done automatically -- there's no way to customize each member of your crew, to tailor their abilities to compliment your playstyle or tactics. Also, issuing your crew with new equipment is a bit more difficult than it should be; an option to buy gear and have it sent to another character straight away would mean you were going into missions with a better idea of who can bail you out with a medkit when you need it.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall doesn't drastically change the mechanics or systems that were introduced in the main game, which is slightly disappointing as there could have been improvements made but the addition of the new save system is a big relief. The writing and story remains the same high quality from the main game and feels a bit more cohesive from Dead Man's Switch; that story took a lot of twists and turns but Dragonfall feels more focused by giving you a personal connection right from the start. If you enjoyed your first taste of Shadowrun, then Dragonfall should be an immediate purchase.