RPG of the Year 2014 Runner-up: Shadowrun Dragonfall

By Owen Faraday 11 Dec 2014 0
Candystorm. Candystorm.

Like Doctor Sam Beckett, Shadowrun: Dragonfall leaped into our time to put right what once went wrong in the Shadowrun franchise-- and did a bang-up job. Now let's not overstate the case here. Last year's franchise resurrection Shadowrun Returns wasn't bad at all. Heck, we figured it was the second-best RPG of 2013.

So Dragonfall isn't a radical makeover of Shadowrun Returns because it need not be. This is an adroitly executed RPG in a unique high-fantasy-meets-low-sci-fi setting with above-average writing and atmosphere so thick you could can it. Dragonfall is just Shadowrun Returns with its shirt tucked in and some new kicks. Dragonfall looks in the mirror for a little self-affirmation and then struts out the door because it's hot and it knows it.

Here's a rundown of all the negative stuff I had to say in my (largely quite positive) preview of Shadowrun Returns last year.

The turn-based combat is competent but unimaginative. The UI is laggy and about as responsive as Lil' Wayne after a tour of the Dimetapp factory. The auto-save system is unpredictable. There's none of the user-created content from the PC version.

Of all of those gripes, Shadowrun: Dragonfall addresses every single one but the last, and I'm willing to give it a pass on that one. Dragonfall plays as though developers Hare Brained Schemes are just the most relaxed people in the world when it comes to taking criticism. Tell an HBS employee that they got a bad haircut and they'll come back 10 minutes later with some clippers and a notepad, eager to hear more.

The combat is now pretty dang good, with more diverse abilities for your characters and a greater emphasis on cover. The UI is now about as zippy as most any PC port on mobile. Autosaving now happens when you exit a map, and you (thank goodness) can manually save anywhere.

And what's good about Shadowrun Returns is still here. Dragonfall leaves Seattle behind and gives us a standalone story in sci-fi/magical Berlin, where orc rights activists drink schnapps across the bar from Turkish coffee smugglers. The writing is sharp. The art and music are top notch. The campaign is even longer than SR's was, though I didn't think the previous game's was all that short.

Any gripes I have about Shadowrun: Dragonfall are gripes I have with CRPGs in 2014 generally. It's strange that I'm playing this game on a touchscreen computer at a table where a cheap machine from Target makes instant perfect espresso and all the taxis parked outside on my block are electric -- but I'm still doing fetch quests and running down dialog trees like its 1991.

Dragonfall isn't a radical reinvention of the RPG. It was never going to be. This is a backward-looking series that got Kickstarter funding by plumbing people's nostalgia for an old SNES RPG, and that's completely okay. It's not where RPGs are going, but it's a celebration of where they came from, and that's plenty magical enough for me.


To see all of the games recognised in the Pocket Tactics Best of 2014 Awards, visit the 2014 Awards Index page.
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