Shadowrun: Hong Kong Kickstarter

Shadowrun Hong Kong

Shadowrun is going to Hong Kong.

It happened so fast that before I even knew it was up, the Kickstarter was pushing a quarter million in funding. The initial goal of $100,000 was met in under 2 hours, and several other goals has been added and even satisfied. And it still has 34 days to go, with plenty of bonus material to tap.

I have to admit that I’ve surprised myself over the last year. I was originally quite pessimistic about Kickstarters, but in the last few months I’ve lightened up enough that if I see something very promising, I’ll break open the wallet for a “what if” product. This runs contrary to the deluge of initially optimist supporters who have been burned by bad projects and underwhelming goods.

But Hare Brained Schemes has not only delivered what it promised in previous projects, but also goes above and beyond. When Dragonfall transitioned into a full product in with the Director’s Cut, HBS gave those who purchased the DLC the standalone game for free. Hare Brained Schemes is cultivating a reputation for not only treating their fans with honesty and fairness, but with genuine appreciation.

A New Crew

SRHK CrewAs of the time of this blog post, Shadowrun: Hong Kong has four confirmed crew mates for the player, with a fifth promised at the $400k mark. One thing that made me smile was the increase in metahuman crew mates. The Kreuzbasar gang was great, but only Eiger was anything other than human.

This time however, we’re definitely mixing it up. A dwarf sniper and decker. Two orcs, one being a Rat shaman and the other a security specialist. And fresh off the funding goals, a Russian Rigger with his own pet drone.

Two things about the crew’s roles catch my eye. First, once again there is no hermetic mage nor adepts. Magic in crew crafting always tends to take a back burner, often given over to a mixed-purpose support shaman. In this case, Gobbet.

While the possibilities of magic as a storytelling device were explored through Dietrich and… another character in the previous game, I quietly hope that we’ll someday discover the background of a street mage archetype. In terms of game play mechanics, the lack of a hermetic mage also tends to put pressure on the player to develop a magician, as most other roles are provided for.

Second, there is no designated street doctor or combat medic like Glory provided in Berlin. My guess is that decker Is0bel and rigger Racter might take advantage of their high intellect investment to make decent, patchwork healers in the interim. But no one is really designated to that role.

The Possibilities

SRHK FightI can’t express how glad I am that Shadowrun isn’t returning to the United States as a setting just yet. It’s not that I’m disinterested in hearing more about an Awakened North America, but the cultural differences of Berlin in Dragonfall touched a wanderlust in me that I forgot was there. Hong Kong is ripe for exploration, new magic and technology and a new adventure I can’t wait to sink my teeth into.

Another hope I have is that every character gets their own side mission. At the moment, the Kickstarter tiers mention personal missions for Gobbet, Is0bel and Gaichu, but nothing yet for Racter or Duncan Wu. Maybe they were already getting their back stories with the completion of the funding goals and core game.

Speak of, perhaps the character who intrigues me the most is Wu. Not because of anything about his past (we know nothing about him), but because of his game play mechanics. Wu can go down a skill set called the Lethal Force Track (pretty self-explanatory), or the Crowd Control Track. That latter set focuses on stunning abilities, such as a shock baton, tear gas or even zip ties to halt foes.

This sets up a intriguing precedent, akin to what the tranquilizer gun did for Metal Gear Solid 2. Since Shadowrun Returns, there have been ways of talking oneself out of a brewing fight or two. And there was already one side mission in Dragonfall where you had to capture an opponent. But will there now be a way to fight without killing? Do I have to kill my foes anymore? Or could I perhaps incapacitate all my enemies throughout my missions?

If so… decisions, decisions.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is due out mid 2015, with a current estimate for August. And I’ve already slapped down 35 shut-up-and-take-my-money dollars. See you in Hong Kong, chummers.

Shadowrun: Dragonfall

The game frequently hits you with challenging moral choices so gray, you’ll forget what defines good . . . No matter what you do, you will feel a bit jaded after.

Shadowrun: Dragonfall

Shadowrun: Dragonfall

How often is it said that a video game is “important”?

Entertaining, incredible, fun. Sure, we say that all the time. But important? Almost never.

So if you were told about a franchise universe that involves elves, orcs, cyberpunk, modernism, corporatism, shamanic mysticism and nature spirits, urban culture, grimdarkness (think Warhammer 40k), racial tensions, poverty, gang life and more, the very first question on your mind would be, “How could that be anything except a total steaming mess of science fantasy crap?”

The very last thing you’d expect is something so well written, it actually challenges the classics of today.

Shadowrun: Dragonfall approaches disturbing and harrowing adult themes and philosophies in an incredibly thoughtful way, without tiring melodrama or clichés.

Set in Berlin, the main character (your avatar) joins an old friend named Monika who runs both a clique and looks after an entire neighborhood. The game begins with a sordid data heist that swiftly goes wrong, putting both you and the team in the cross hairs of a shadowy and well funded organization. There’s no choice but to go on the offense and find out who they are and stop them before they stop you.

The main character (who you design from scratch) has a past, though you choose certain elements of it. Your race and your job both weigh heavy factors in dialogue options. Your first instinct might be to go as a human, but there are interesting interactions and results to be partaken if you choose one of the metaraces, like Orc or Dwarf.

But Boss . . .

Even better, you’re given a team of four individuals with their own back stories. There’s Dietrich, a former punk rocker with strong anti-racist attitudes, who felt the call of shamanism. Blitz, a smart mouth decker (futuristic hacker) with lingering problems of his own, mostly romantic. Glory, a chrome (cyborg) combat medic with one hell of a history that I refuse to risk spoiling. And Eiger, a troll woman hung up on military protocol after her career in the special forces came to an end.

I think Glory has earned a nomination for best video game character of the year.

If it were up to me, Glory here would earn a nomination for best character design of the year.

Besides the depth each of these four characters brings, I really appreciate that Harebrained Schemes only used half a formula for getting to know them. Between missions, you just talk to them, branching out into multiple paths that you can influence. As I played the kinder, understanding leader in the first go around, playing an uncaring ass in the second game is harder.

But sometimes during missions, you get to learn more about them too. It’s interesting to see the conflicts in the team arise from the choices you have to make. Dietrich had a particularly interesting story about a familial relation who happened to have been caught up in the Humanis Policlub, a hate group who advocates a human race “purified” of metahumans. And guess what? Never once did they use the four letter N-word.

That’s another point. The game frequently hits you with challenging moral choices so gray, you’ll forget what defines good. You can forget the Mass Effect “make everyone happy” approach because it doesn’t exist here. You’ll be forced to make decisions you don’t like, and you’ll discover that the seemingly “good” decisions you make have hard unforeseen consequences that aren’t as simple as being stabbed in the back. You’ll rarely see it coming.

No matter what you do, you will feel a bit jaded after.

That Thing’s Operational!

There are many elves out there. Magic elves, dark elves, Keebler and North Pole elves. Trust me, stay away from the party elves.

Party elf: There’s a party in his body and every drug is invited.

Fighting takes place on a grid board. Each character gets a certain number of action points to either move, fight, use items or cast spells. If you hold a defensive position for example, you can actually shoot twice in a round.

And the area isn’t just flat either. There are bottlenecks through doorways and hallways to take advantage of. Sometimes, there are static defenses like turrets, sources of cover with varying strength to reduce the chance of being hit, and terminals that can be hacked to give you an advantage. The setting is quite interactive.

One of the coolest features about the Shadowrun Returns series is the capacity to have two separate yet connected fights going on at the same time: One in the real “meat” world, and one online called the Matrix. Certain missions revolve around your street samurai and magicians protecting a decker as he/she breaks into the building’s sub-net.

Fighting in the Matrix has its own quirks, from summoning special program allies, taking on guard protocols and trying to beat the “heat” a clock countdown that will summon defenses both online and off. The whole effect has a Return of the Jedi Battle of Endor feel to it, where one fight effects and is even dependent upon the other. Often, mutually.

Final Judgment . . .

While I want to brag about Dragonfall‘s fair price of only $15, the problem is that the game is technically a DLC, meaning you have to get the original Shadowrun Returns with the slightly less amazing campaign “Deadman’s Switch.” Maybe in the future, Harebrained Schemes will figure out how to branch off and release the game as an independent, standalone product with the Shadowrun Core libraries.

However, I can attest that overall, Dragonfall is an amazing RPG experience. It’s fun and rewarding, with an inspired story and campaign design that keeps things interesting. Unlike Mass Effect where we were given good vs bad choices until the end, Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall forces the player to really make hard, regrettable decisions that prompt great self reflection. It’s something you likely won’t see in AAA titles.

I already can’t wait to see what Harebrained Schemes cooks up next.