Genre: Turn-Based RPG, Strategy
Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Number of players: 1
Release date: 7/25/13
Shadowrun Returns marks the, uh, return to PC gaming of the Shadowrun universe first created by Jordan Weisman as a tabletop game. Released by Harebrained Schemes—an independent studio run by Weisman—in July 2013, Shadowrun Returns is a tactical role playing game which is turn-based during combat and free-movement while out of combat.
Shadowrun Returns is based in the Shadowrun universe, which combines science fiction (particularly the cyberpunk genre popularized by the authors William Gibson and Bruce Sterling) with traditional fantasy. In this universe, magic begins to work in 2011, and different human subtypes (metahumans) emerge—orcs, trolls, dwarves, and elves. Mythical creatures also appear, to include dragons, which take on a central role in the political power structure as they vie for territory and control. Shamanic magic works as well, with shamans able to summon spirit creatures. Corporations have become independent from national governments and hold incredible power ala cyberpunk canon. Individuals on the fringe of society run covert missions that corporations don't want to be seen as involved in: these are the Shadowrunners.
The result of all this from a character build perspective is a diverse and somewhat refreshing set of possibilities You want to be a troll mage? An elf 'decker' (hacker)? An orc shaman? A human 'rigger' (robot controller)? No problem. Sure, there are racial limitations and strengths, but that doesn't have to stop you.
In 2050, you, a down-and-out Shadowrunner whose friend contacts you with a pre-recorded message to say that, if you're getting this call, he's probably dead because someone came after him and he wants you to solve the crime. What follows is a convoluted journey which unravels several layers of connections and involvements through noirish, private-operative activities that get you mixed up with cultists, corporations, serial killers, crooked cops, dealers, and more. There's always a new twist around the corner, and more than a few all-out brawls.
Interesting class and race combinations, including many (e.g., decker, rigger) that you won't see in most games. Customizable skill tree which doesn't preclude you from mixing and matching from among skills trees that have little to do with your race or class. Great dialogue and writing. Interesting turn-based combat with the potential to create a diverse team of shadow runners with complementary skills. Pre-packaged, free tools to build content with, which the Steam community will likely embrace. Upcoming DLC already in development.
Side quests exist but once you pursue the main quest line you'll never get a chance to go back to them unless you re-load a checkpoint and start over from there. Initial campaign is a bit short, at about 10 hours, but the upcoming DLC and the user-created content community should keep things rolling for this genre reboot
Overall, Shadowrun Returns is a breath of fresh air to a gamer tired of the traditional catalog of sci fi shooters and recycled fantasy RPG's, offering a unique universe. I'm hoping to see much more content for this and other Shadowrun projects, both from Harebrained Schemes and the user community.
Harebrained Schemes provides a substantial, free 90-page pdf download primer on the Shadowrun universe on their website.