Review – Shadowrun Trilogy
Turn the clock back ten years and the RPG scene was much different than today’s. Outside the big titles, the genre was a barren wasteland. There was Skyrim of course, and Bioware wasn’t out of juice yet, but outside that, basically nothing. Nowadays, we know change was on the horizon thanks to Kickstarter. But at that time, Torment: Tides of Numenera, Divinity: Original Sin, and Pillars of Eternity were still just uncertain concepts. Games that us hardened and nihilistic RPG fans weren’t sure we’d even enjoy, having been burned so many times by games claiming to be bringing back the golden age of RPGs. Shadowrun Returns was the first of these new indie RPGs, and its success was the true start to the modern RPG renaissance. And now the Shadowrun Trilogy brings this game and its sequels to consoles, at long last.
The Shadowrun games are hardcore linear CRPG adaptations of the Shadowrun pen and paper RPG. It’s a cyberpunk setting that blends hardcore fantasy and sci-fi elements together. You have netrunning elves rubbing shoulders with cyborg wizards, madness that works better than it should. The ruleset is famous for being incredibly dense (a running theme with cyberpunk rulesets), with overcomplicated rules for everything. Which is why I never played it myself, my only direct experience with it being these games. It was a positive experience though, and I have often thought of giving it a run. The gigantic size of the rulebook always turned me right back off however.
As par for the genre, gameplay is split across three phases: dialogue, exploration, and combat. Dialogue is your classic Infinity Engine chat system, and to be clear, there is a lot of it. These are three heavily dialogue-driven games, and it’s all text, with no voice-acting. Those who don’t read need not apply. Exploration is toned down compared to most of the genre, with very linear maps. This in effect leads to very trimmed down RPG experiences, with little to no fat on the bones. Finally, there’s the combat, which is turn-based in the style of XCOM. It’s fast-paced, fun, and very strategic, with a large number of options at your disposal.
Shadowrun Returns is the first entry in the Shadowrun Trilogy, and both the least and most impressive. It’s impressive because it essentially functioned as a modern Baldur’s Gate. It was the template for the CRPGs that followed, and rekindled the excitement in RPG fans’ hearts for the genre. It’s also extremely linear, very stripped down compared to its sequels, with a low stakes story. Which isn’t a problem to me now. A grounded murder mystery plot is a breath of fresh air compared to saving the whole world yet again. Back then though, it seemed inconsequential. Regardless, it’s a must play here, for the fantastic writing, great characters, and to experience the gritty atmosphere of cyberpunk Seattle.
If Shadowrun Returns was Baldur’s Gate, then Shadowrun Dragonfall is very much its Baldur’s Gate II. It took everything that was great about its predecessor and made it bigger and better. It’s not just the best game here, it’s one of the best RPGs of the decade, if not of all time. The writing and story are on a whole other level, the characters fantastic and unforgettable, and the setting is unique and memorable. It trades out Seattle for Germany, and centers on the historical defeat of a mighty dragon and rumors of its potential return. The stakes are high, but it doesn’t lose the grounded personal feel of Returns either. The combat and skill system were also expanded, making for a more fleshed out gaming experience in general.
Shadowrun Hong Kong finishes out the Shadowrun Trilogy, and is my personal favorite. Dragonfall may be the superior title here, no contest, but I love what Hairbrained did with Hong Kong. The cyberpunk genre is one very stuck in its ways, so seeing an Asian country that wasn’t Tokyo again truly felt unique. That and the gameplay mechanics were their most refined in Hong Kong, especially the brand new netrunning/Matrix gameplay that’s probably the best ever in a cyberpunk game. The story was a mix of the last two games, with the same level of writing I had come to expect from this team. A fantastic game all around, and while I’m disappointed we never got any more, it definitely took the series out on a high note.
The Shadowrun Trilogy is for everyone, and I’m glad it can finally be played by everyone. These fast-paced incredibly linear games are the opposite of the sprawling unfocused experiences people expect from the genre. Very story and dialogue based, though the lack of voice acting might turn people off. But the truly unique settings, the blend of fantasy and sci-fi, alongside the fun and quick XCOM-esque combat make games that look, read, and play very well. They helped shepherd in today’s RPG renaissance, and are still high watermarks of what’s been accomplished during it.
The originally divisive art style has been vindicated, because this game still looks fantastic and better than other CRPGs from the same time.
Shadowrun Returns’ simple and clean combat, customization, and dialogue systems are only improved and refined in each consecutive sequel.
There’s no voice-acting to speak of, but the soundtrack is very atmospheric and channels that Blade Runner energy beautifully.
Fun Factor: 9.0
In a genre dominated by unending behemoth games, the Shadowrun Trilogy‘s refreshing linearity, shorter length, and smaller scale makes them unique and must plays even for non-RPG fans.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Shadowrun Trilogy is available now on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Shadowrun Trilogy was provided by the publisher.