Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Shadowrun Returns – Impressions

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 26, 2013

Yesterday, Shadowrun Returns became available – the first, I think, of the “major” Kickstarter games to do so (ones over, what, a half-mil in funding?). I did not participate in the Kickstarter, but I did pre-order the game.Β  With the news of the delays in Wasteland 2 and Broken Age, it’s nice to have had one of these “success story” games actually deliver. Maybe not “on time” (I think the original release date was supposed to be in February, and it’s rescheduled June release date was moved back a month), but they delivered.

I am a few hours into it.Β  What do I think?

First off: It’s pretty linear. It uses checkpoints instead of allowing you to save your game whenever you want. If these are showstoppers for you, then consider the show stopped, and bemoan the fate of modern games. It also uses some conventions that I’m sure are intended to make it easier to use on tablets with minimal changes. While not terrible, they aren’t great either.

Okay, there’s my negatives. Beyond that, I’m having a great time playing it.

So what is it about? It’s fantasy-meets-cyberpunk, in a nutshell. I never played the dice & paper RPG back in the day because I preferred my Cyberpunk “pure.” While throwing elves and trolls and wizards into a dystopian future setting sounded fun, it just wasn’t my thing. I was totally into books like Neuromancer, When Gravity Fails, and Snow Crash, and it seemed like those kinds of settings were rich enough without cluttering them up with fantasy.

But that was a preference, not an objection. But I never played more than a few minutes of the Sega Genesis game, and was only familiar with the world in that I had friends who played. So I’m a little bit of a n00b when it comes to the game setting. Aside from being a fan of both cyberpunk and fantasy, this isn’t a familiar world that I’m coming back to or anything like that. However, it is a good ol’ fashioned turn-based RPG, and – done well – I’m always pleased about that. And the world is very well-presented in the game, full of visual detail and flavor.



The story has you following the trail of a serial killer who murdered an old comrade-at-arms. Naturally, things escalate, and you end up doing a lot of “favors” for people along the way which usually involve violence and shady actions.

Combat is turn-based tactical, with a premium on finding cover. As your party grows, you will want to avoid bunching them up where they can be easy targets for an enemy grenade.Β  So far, spells have proven more of an influence in combat, not really a main weapon in and of itself, but we’ll see. There’s also netrunning, where a character hooks their brain directly into the “Matrix” to hack any electronics in an area.


While the negatives really do bug me, I’m still enjoying the game. It doesn’t feel very big – I’ve heard that the whole main campaign can be completed in about a dozen hours (which is par for the course for AAA games with 20x the budget as this one), so I’m probably about a third of the way through at this point.The equipment lists are fairly scaled down from what I’ve seen so far. There’s … enough, but it’s not exactly dripping with choices.

The storyline is interesting, the characters are believable (for such a weird setting), and the combats are fun and challenging without (so far) being frustrating.

The big “win” with this game is that it is really focused on being a toolkit – like the Neverwinter Nights series. The original campaign is really intended to be more of a high-end sample of what is possible with the tools. Assuming some motivated, talented individuals take the ball and run with it, we should be seeing a ton of third party campaigns for this game over the coming months. Some of them actually good. While I feel that so far the original campaign seems to be worth the price of admission alone, the promise of future expansions by (hopefully) the developer and gamers out may be what really sends this game over the top.

Anyway – I’m pleased. While short on the frills, this is a “real” RPG with quality presentation that seemed an endangered species only a few years ago.

This is a dang good time to be a CRPG fan.

Filed Under: Impressions - Comments: 11 Comments to Read

  • McNutcase said,

    Everything I’m hearing makes it sound like it fills almost all of my desires. I’d prefer manual saves, but a decently-done checkpoint system can be acceptable.

    My wife is refusing to allow me to buy it, citing concerns of “time sink”. The shortish default campaign might help with that…

  • Bad Sector said,

    I bought it about… 1 minute before it was released :-P. I love the style of the writing and the descriptions (i’m not sure about the story/writing itself though, it doesn’t seem to be anything special so far, but i’m not really too long into the game).

    So far it plays more as a choose-your-own-adventure game with some stats thrown in, than an RPG (based on the RPGs i’ve played at least). The game seems to have minimal action (i’m two hours into the game and i only had -IIRC- three encounters that lasted less than a minute) and i’ve read comments (which apparently were later deleted from the mods, if other comments are to be trusted) about your choices affecting little to nothing in the game.

    Basically so far the style and writing (i don’t really have many requirements when it comes to stories in games πŸ˜› and the writing’s own style is very good) is what drives the game for me. I’m not sure if i’ll finish it though.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    I’ve put in about 10 hours with the game so far. I feel like I’m close to the final battle.

    Like you, Rampant, I’ve been aware of the Shadowrun PnP game for 20 years or so, but I skipped it for the same reason you stated. I love Cyberpunk, but more of the realistic version you see in books like Snowcrash. Fantasy and Cyberpunk were, to me, two great tastes that don’t go well together.


    Save System:
    It sucks. I love the fact I can’t save scum and I’m stuck with the choices I make during a mission, but as a working adult, I desperately need a “soft save”, that at least saves and quits to the main menu when I need to, you know, QUIT in the middle of a half hour mission.

    Shallow or Non-Existent Choices:
    I’ve only seen maybe two or three different places where I could have taken a different route with another character build. Playing through the game again as a different character class doesn’t look like it’s going to offer much replay value.

    I’ve also discovered the dialogue often goes the same way too, regardless of if you are snarky, rude, or agreeing. The only time dialogue actually seems to diverge into different conversation results is when Etiquette comes into play – but so far I’ve only seen a handful of places where it crops up. And given the fact you have a dozen Etiquettes to pick from at character creation, the chance of you not having the proper Etiquette to make those special dialogue choices is high.

    Lack of Side-Quests:
    There are very few side-quests in the game. And only about two actual side-quests that take longer than 10 minutes to solve.

    A linear main quest line is fine, and the one in Shadowrun Returns is good, but it helps break things up if I can do something else for a while in-game if I need to.


    The dialogue and writing in the game is top notch, and immensely fun to read. As someone unfamiliar with the Shadowrun campaign setting, I feel the writers have done a really good job of teaching me slang and world history through context clues, rather than info dumping things on me.

    The characters are well-written and consistent, and the story has enough twists and turns to constantly keep things fresh.

    I love it. The tactical possibilities are huge, and you always have interesting decisions to make, both before a mission when hiring and outfitting your team, and during combat.

    In a combat last night I had my main character hacking into the Matrix to locate critical info and take control of a building’s systems, while my team fought a desperate and running battle to keep waves of security personnel from reaching me. The fact my character can be fighting virtual battles in the Matrix and still have to worry about an enemy in the real world putting a bullet in her zoned-out head at the same time kept me on the edge of my seat.

    The Editor:
    Basically, this is what I’m most excited about. I don’t think I’ll have the time to personally mess with it, but knowing that I’ll have a constant stream of player-created adventures to play (some of which are already using more freedom of choice than the original campaign) will keep me coming back to the game. I can’t wait to see what people come up with using it.

    This is going to be an amazing game in 6 months to a year. But they need to fix that stupid save system.

  • Darklord said,

    Just completed this, was good, I’ll look forward to fan made missions and of course the Berlin campaign. πŸ™‚

  • Nara said,

    I was really hoping for a great game, but I was really disappointed when I started playing this game. The optional choices are thrown in so that they can say its not completely linear. The game pulls you around with a leash telling you exactly what to do next. I am really hoping that the online game isn’t this with multiplayer added.

  • Xenovore said,

    Meh. Doesn’t look like anything I’d enjoy — linear, checkpointed saves, no multi-player, turn-based. . . and this:

    I preferred my Cyberpunk β€œpure.”

    Same reason I avoided the original Shadowrun: mixing fantasy with cyberpunk just doesn’t work for me.

  • McTeddy said,

    Shadowrun was my introduction to cyberpunk, so I have no problems with the mix. I didn’t read anything pure until I tracked down some books after Jay wrote about them.

    I am curious how the community work will end up though. Depending on the mod community this game could be amazing.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,


    Snowcrash was my introduction to Cyberpunk. I’m not sure if that was a good or bad thing. Everything afterward has certainly felt a little … less … in comparison.

    Hiro Protagonist, pizza delivery driver for the mafia. How are you supposed to compete with that?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    You are absolutely right about Snow Crash, LWR. That was pretty much my impression of the book, too. I mean… Neuromancer? Sure. Academic, visionary, intriguing, sure. All that. But Snow Crash? That was just pure fun.

  • McTeddy said,

    I won’t lie. Snow Crash was a lot of fun and I’m glad that I got around to reading it.

    But everything is better with elves! πŸ˜›

  • jwmeep said,

    So far pretty fun, if a bit light on content, and yeah, do not like the save system. The graphics are great, and it’s very atmospheric.

    While it is frustrating that the Genesis game released decades ago felt more like an RPG than this, it’s still I nice start, and I hope it sells well enough for them to develop a meatier sequel.