Meet Blitz, Glory, Dietrich and Eiger. They're my crew. There are no other runners I'd rather have at my back as I make my way through the stable anarchy of 2054 Berlin. So what if they're not real? In Shadowrun Returns' upcoming Dragonfall expansion, they're better than life.
Last year's Shadowrun Returns did a fine job of feeling like playing thorough an adventure in Jordan Weisman's magic-meets-technology pen-and-paper role-playing game, but there was one important factor missing from that game's included adventure. Well yes, the ability to save anywhere, sure — but that's fix now. No, it was personality.
In "The Dead Man's Switch", the first Shadowrun Returns adventure from developer Harebrained Schemes, players had a large pool of adventurous NPCs to select from while building their team of runners. The variety was nice, but aside from a few special exceptions, they were just stats with avatars — chess pieces.
While I still enjoyed playing that initial adventure, that lack of character hit me pretty hard. My fondest memories of the pen-and-paper role-playing game are the people I played it with — the relationships our characters formed, the conflict within the group.
Apparently a lot of fans felt the same way, and as Harebrained's Jordan Weisman, Mike McCain and Mitch Gitelman made a point of stressing again and again during a recent phone interview, listening to fans is their highest priority. Shadowrun: Returns wouldn't be here without the fans who donated nearly $US2 million via Kickstarter to make it happen, so their voices are heard.
That's why Shadowrun: Dragonfall is set in Berlin — those loud and appreciative German fans. They're why, instead of a group of random strangers or throwaway characters, my adventure in Dragonfall begins with the forging of bonds that will last a (relatively short) lifetime.
Take Dietrich here, for instance — good old, reliable Dietrich. Used to be some sort of musician or something. Now he runs the streets, flicking completely ineffective knives at his enemies when he's not casting much more effect healing and damage spells. He's a keeper.
Then there's the enigmatic Glory, a mysterious, seemingly emotionless Street Samurai, enhanced with tech that was ancient before she was born. Been trying to get her to open up to me, without much success. She'll crack.
Ah, Blitz — the newbie of the group. We pulled his arse out of a fire directly into an even larger fire. Whoops. He's got big shoes to fill.
And Eiger? The jury's still out. Let's just say we got off on the wrong foot, and now she wants to run that foot over repeatedly and remotely.
What's wonderful about these characters? I didn't have to look any of that up. They made so much of an impression on me over the course of the limited demo I played through (maybe 2 hours), that they might as well be at my house, seated around my dining room table, eating all of my snack food.
They've got back story. They have emotions. They take my choices into account and react to me accordingly. They have humanity.
And humanity is important. After all, as Weisman pointed out during our pre-game interview, strip away the magic and technology and dragons and conflict, and Shadowrun is just a platform for telling human stories.
Of course Harebrained Schemes hasn't spent all of the fame and resources they've gathered from the game's tremendous post-Kickstarter success on making human characters.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall brings with it the ability to save the game at any point (already available via patch), a feature fans have been screaming for since last year's launch. There are a ton of new character portraits to choose from.
You can be a new person. You can enhance that person with new equipment and cyberware. You can use those enhancements to kill thrilling new enemies.
And there's a whole new city to explore, or in the case of the game's robust modding community, take apart and rebuild, making it your own.
Good old Berlin, home of the polite anarchist, which just means it's a slightly more civilized political powder keg than all the rest. Street peddlers sell their wares. Important NPCs and objects are scattered throughout the game's central hub, waiting to advance the plot or deliver compelling side quests as they are required.
My visit to Berlin has only lasted for a handful of hours so far, but I'm already pondering moving in completely. Sure, an evil being from the early days of magic's re-emergence has set its sights on my group of happy murder chummers, but there's plenty to distract me from that fact. Plus, Mitch Gitelman has assured me that past the point where my demo ended the capmpaign really opens up, allowing my team and I to take on jobs as we see fit. Not sure I am ready for the responsibility. Neither is Eiger.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall is coming out February 27 on Steam (with a DRM-free version on GOG.com) for $US14.99, with an iPad version showing up at a later date. Kickstarter backers are getting the expansion for free as part of their promised riches — but this is the last free ride. Future expansions will cost normal humans and backers alike. If the Dragonfall expansion is any indication, they'll be worth it.