You may choose to be male or female in Shadowrun Returns, though there are no advantages or disadvantages to being either. There are 5 humanoid races to choose from, which are humans, elves, dwarfs, orks, and trolls. You can customize what your character model looks like as well as the portrait. There is an option to make it so your model will reflect the chosen portrait, though you can toggle it off to design one of each that you like. Each race starts with a bonus to one of the many different skills, as well as each having different maximum limits to the skills. Orks and trolls can get high strength and body but low intelligence and charisma, while elves can achieve great charisma but not very good strength. You may choose an archetype to start off with, which starts you out with different sets of skills to get you started, or choose the none option to make your character from scratch.
There are 6 base skills to increase, which all branch down and allow you to learn sub skills. Body increases your health and chance to take less damage. Quickness allows you to use ranged weapons and dodge physical attacks. Strength determines how strong your melee attacks are and the effectiveness of thrown grenades. Intelligence is important if you wish to use robots in combat or use a deck to infiltrate computers, as well as increasing how much medkits will heal. Willpower allows you to use magical spells and adept abilities with your fists. Charisma unlocks different dialogue options for you to choose from, as well as being able to summon spirits during combat.
Instead of experience points, you will earn Karma at times throughout playing the game from completing objectives. Combat and defeating enemies themselves won’t earn you anything though. Because of this, you will need to make sure you complete all optional objectives so you don’t fall behind. You can apply the Karma that you earn on your skills, costing the same amount of what the next skill level is. If you are wanting to get level 9 charisma, you will need to spend 9 points in order to do so. There is a limited amount of Karma available to get during the dead man’s switch campaign, just under 200, so don’t plan on being able to max out your character.
The combat in Shadowrun Returns has you and the enemy team taking turns moving your characters around and attacking each other. During your move, you can opt to either stand out in the open or behind cover which will give you a defense bonus. All weapons and spells have a certain range in which they are the most effective in, and being closer will generally cause you to be more accurate with your attacks. Each character starts each turn with some action points, which are spent on each move distance and attack. If you have enough Karma spent into certain skills, you may have unlocked special abilities to be used with your weapons, which modify how your attacks act. A shotgun can just do a normal shot, or a special kneecap shot that decreases how much damage it does but can cause the enemy to have less action points on the next turn.
If physical combat is your type, there are four categories of guns, melee weapons or fists, and even grenades to choose from. Pistols, sub machine guns, shotguns, and rifles are the guns that you can choose from and all have special modes of firing to unlock such as aimed shots with more accuracy. Melee weapons such as knives, bats, and swords exist and allow you to dish out lots of damage when up close and personal. Fist are what you can use when you have no weapons, and they even have a large set of special spells meant for them if you choose to become an adept. Grenades are consumable items that can damage large areas of enemies, but can sometimes miss their initial target.
There is a large variety of spells within Shadowrun Returns, existing within three categories. The basic mage spells range from simply doing damage to healing the last instance of damage that hurt a teammate. Adpet spells compliment your fists and body greatly, increasing your punching damage or causing you to move farther on each move. Shaman spells employ a lot of buff and debuff spells along with indirect damage spells such as creating walls of fire that hurt characters if they decide to travel through them. Most spells will have a cooldown that prevents them from being used multiple times in the same round. At a certain magic skill level, you will be able to see ley lines that you can stand on which will make your spells more efficient.
Certain areas have special objects that you can click on to summon a spirit from if you have the necessary skills to do so. These spirits have their own set of spells as well as a basic attack. Every turn prompts you to choose from 1 to 4 action points to give the spirit, more increasing the chance that the spirit will break your control and start attacking anything at will. Higher charisma and spirit control skills will allow you to reduce the chance that a spirit will be able to break away from you.
Riggers can decide to bring along drones with them instead of weapons. These drones will passively follow the character until you decide to activate them. Upon activation, the character will have one less action point to use per turn, while allowing you to fully control the drone. Most drones just have basic attacks while others can do mortar attacks and even heal.
When you are in safe areas there are generally stores to sell you goods. The currency you will use is called Nuyen and you can get it from completing the main objectives and selling important items you find during your adventure. There are stores for any type of player, with weapon and armor stores, magic and decking stores, and even a store to buy cyberware. Most stores also include a consumable section, such as medkits and grenades. Even if you’re full, it is wise to buy a stockpile of consumables since you can store them in your stash for later. You can look at what is currently in your stash by clicking on the locker which is located in your home base, or just by starting a mission as it will allow you to equip items out of it before you start.
Certain areas allow you to deck, which basically lets you project a persona of yourself into a matrix like world. Only characters that have the decking skill may enter the matrix, and the ones that stay out have to protect the real bodies of the ones that go in. While inside, you will have access to any of the decking abilities that you have unlocked, such as healing yourself or other programs and dealing damage in an area of effect. You can even buy consumable programs to use inside of these areas, which create units that you can control. The goal while decking is to reach the terminal that allow you to take control of them, such as opening a door or taking control of a turret in the real world. All enemies in the area must be defeated in order to use these terminals however.
It is possible to buy upgrades and augments for your body called cyberware. These allow you to gain different bonuses such as armor and hit chance. Buying these cyberwares will cause you to lose essence, which will cause your spells to take longer to go off of cooldown. This means that it is best to only buy cyberware on characters that are mainly physical damage dealers and not ones that rely on magic.
About halfway through the game, you can begin to hire a wide selection of different Shadowrunners to help you on your missions. They range from all the combat types and races that exist in the game, and come equipped accordingly with equipment and spells. It costs Nuyen to hire them, but you are generally supplied with enough money to do so. Every mission requires you to rehire Shadowrunners even if they were previously hired, though their equipment will always be updated with the newest and greatest upgrades. When your mission starts, it is possible to equip your team with consumable items that you may have stored in your stash.
The largest part of Shadowrun Returns involves conversations with other characters and selecting what you want to say to them. Most options have the same results, though some allow you to earn money or get an optional mission. Some conversations will have special options to choose, which require you to have a certain level of charisma or other skills, which generally give you a nice reward or getting through an area much easier.
Whether you’re just wandering around or in combat, you can’t ignore your surroundings as there are things to find. Many objects can be examined, either giving you a clue about something or possibly letting you take an item to use later. If you pick up an item that you can’t hold, you can either send it to your stash or switch it out for something in your inventory, which will be sent to you stash as well. There are lots of people and characters to talk to, often giving you little objectives to complete or clues to your current one. Some areas are only accessible if you have the correct skills, such as hacking doors and safes as a decker or summoning spirits on the other side of doors to open them for you, or just simply finding a key or tool somewhere else.
At any time you may opt to rewind your current saved game to an earlier state. This will take you to any loading screen that you have been to previously, keeping your character and items exactly how they were. This will allow you to get out of tough situations that you are stuck in, or simply want to explore your favorite areas again.
Shadowrun Returns comes along with modding tools and an editor to make custom campaigns, also called UGC or User Generated Content. Everything that is created this way can be shared using the Steam Workshop, allowing everyone to see what masterpieces you have made. There are some things that you can’t change however, such as new skills and actual gameplay mechanics. New weapons, spells, and just simply altering already existing content is of course possible to do. Some things that aren’t even in the main campaign are available in the editor, such as random loot and random encounters. Hopefully in the upcoming months we will be able to see great creations by people in the community.
The options available to you bare, but there isn’t anything major missing from them. You can select your difficulty, whether or not the camera follows you, basic graphical options such as anti aliasing and resolution, as well as the sound levels. Graphics themselves portray to you a gloomy and dark atmosphere in Seattle. There is no voice acting at all in the game except for some minor grunts during combat. Music changes whether or not you’re in combat and there are a selection of songs to prevent you from listing to the same ones over and over.
It takes too long for the action in the game to start, since you will be spending most of the first half of the game exploring the world and occasionally running into short fights. It completely does a 360 later on though, where you will be spending short amounts of time actually exploring and talking to people, and most of your time in long fights. The design of combat and exploration areas become lazy early on, since you go from exploring and fighting in open areas with extra content to complete to predominantly combat areas that have you fighting down hallways with no secrets to find. One example is having to get to the top floor of a building, and there are multiple ways to do so depending on your skills and dialogue choices. After that, it becomes very linear.
The dialogue is very well written and you are given lots of choices to choose from, but most of the time everything happens the same no matter what you choose. Even with the amount of “choices” of what you can say to the characters in the game, the actual outcomes are pretty linear.
A lack of manual saving isn’t a big deal in the main campaign, since you will find loading screens fairly often in the first half of the game. Later on though the combat can get pretty long and you will definitely be wanting the ability to save when you can. Hopefully when people start creating custom campaigns for Shadowrun Returns they take into consideration the fact of not being able to manually save, or else they can expect low ratings. The above negatives are in regard to the main campaign “Dead Man’s Switch” that the game comes out with, and not about the actual game itself. This means that these issues may no longer exist when the community is given enough time to create campaigns themselves. Even this in itself is a negative, because it almost makes it seem like the developers are just relying on the community to make great content, instead of themselves.
The combat is the only aspect of Shadowrun Returns that could pose a problem to anyone playing. If this is the case, it is possible to drop the difficulty of combat down whenever you want. Everything else has no difficulty involved, since it just involves exploring the world or talking to characters in dialogue screens. At first you will be going through different areas fairly fast which means it will autosave more often. Later on however, combat areas will get longer and longer with no way to manually save, meaning you will have to make sure you can play for 30 to 60 minutes at a time. Shadowrun Returns won’t present much of a problem for anyone unless you decide to increase the combat difficulty. Everything else that doesn’t involve combat isn’t very difficult, since it is just picking dialogue choices and solving minor puzzles. There is nothing in Shadowrun Returns that is unlockable, you just simply play through the game. Other than the main story missions and objectives, there are at times optional objectives you can do, but they aren’t anything major. Replaying the game as a completely new class does allow you to enjoy different routes through the game, since there are certain options you can only choose when you have the right skills.
Shadowrun Returns costs 20 dollars, or you can opt to buy the digital deluxe version for 35 dollars. The digital deluxe includes the soundtrack along with an illustrated PDF detailing the story of Shadowrun as well as concept art from the creation of the game. For 15 extra dollars, the digital deluxe version just doesn’t seem worth it unless you like those kinds of extras, since most deluxe versions of games also come with actual content as well.
It is well worth purchasing Shadowrun Returns if you enjoy the turn-based strategy gameplay, engaging dialogue with the choices that you can make, or even if you’re just looking forward to all the creative new content that members of the community will make with the Shadowrun Returns editor.