Logo of the game
|Release date(s)||Windows, OS X
Shadowrun Returns is a science fantasy turn based tactical role-playing game developed and self-published by Harebrained Schemes. It takes place in the Shadowrun campaign setting from the science fantasy tabletop role-playing game. The game was successfully crowd funded through Kickstarter, part of a trend of high-profile developers launching projects on the site. It was released for Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, and Android in 2013.
An expansion pack entitled Shadowrun: Dragonfall was released in 2014. It was later converted to a standalone release and is now sold as Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut. On January 13, 2015, Harebrained Schemes launched another Kickstarter campaign to partially fund their next game, Shadowrun: Hong Kong. Like the Dragonfall - Director's Cut, Hong Kong will be a standalone release built using an upgraded version of the Shadowrun Returns engine.
The player is able to customize their character's gender and appearance. There are five races to choose from: humans, elves, dwarves, orcs, and trolls. The player can choose to play as one of six classes, Street Samurai, Mage, Decker, Shaman, Rigger, or Physical Adept, or the player can choose to play as no class at all. Street Samurai focus on combat and weapons, Mages use various spells including attack spells, healing spells and others, Deckers focus on hacking into computer systems, Shamans can summon spirits to aid in battle, Riggers control robotic drones that can specialize in combat or healing, while Physical Adepts use their magic spells to make themselves stronger in various ways.
As the story progresses, the player is given Karma to spend on improving their characters. While classes control what skills and equipment the character starts with, the player can choose to gain any skills they wish (e.g., Deckers can spend Karma to gain a Shaman's summoning abilities). The main statistics are Body, Quickness, Strength, Intelligence, Willpower and Charisma. Besides the player character, the player can hire up to three other runners to aid the character during missions and some characters are required to follow the character during certain missions.
While gameplay is mostly linear, some small amount of exploration is possible while completing objectives. The player can enter dialogue with various characters, with different statistics and skills giving new dialogue options. The player can also choose for their character to have various Etiquettes to add more dialogue options. The higher one's Charisma is, the more Etiquettes their character can have.
The player can also interact with the environment in some ways. For instance, pushing aside objects or hacking terminals to find hidden rooms, gaining access to new routes to their main objective or finding items to use or sell. Mages are also able to see magical ley lines, which enhance their abilities while standing over them, while Shamans can see points that allow them to summon spirits.
Finally, Deckers are able to "Jack In" to the Matrix at specific points. This results in them entering a different, virtual world while still controlling the characters in the real world. In the Matrix, their stats are determined by the cyberdeck they have equipped and their abilities by the programs they have installed. In the matrix, they can fight ICs and enemy deckers while trying to gather data and hack devices, such as elevators or auto turrets.
Combat is turn based, with the player controlling the actions of their team followed by the enemies taking their actions. All characters can move based on their Action Points (AP). Characters start with a base of 2 AP per turn (3 after a certain point in the story) but can gain or lose AP based on abilities, spells or items used on them. AP is used on such actions as moving, firing a weapon, reloading, or using a spell or item.
Each character carries up to three weapons and can switch between them at no AP cost. Weapons are divided into ranged combat (pistols, sub-machine guns, shotguns, and rifles) and close combat types. Weapons also have different attacks, depending on the weapon itself and the character's skill with said weapon. Ammunition is unlimited but ranged weapons need to be reloaded when their magazines are emptied. Riggers can equip drones the same way as weapons, taking manual control of them during combat. While this gives the Rigger less AP, the drones are capable of attacking enemies or healing allies.
Those with Shaman abilities can summon additional allied spirits to the field, either through items they carry with them or special points where spirits linger. Each turn, these spirits are given a certain number of AP chosen by the player. The longer the spirit has been summoned for and the more AP it is given, the greater chance it will escape the Shaman's control, at which point it will either begin attacking anyone at random or simply flee.
The game ships with a campaign called "Dead Man's Switch" that allows for any sort of newly created character. Further campaigns can be downloaded from Steam Workshop or external websites.
Dead Man's Switch
The player assumes the role of a shadowrunner who receives a pre-recorded message from his or her old shadowrunner accomplice, Sam Watts, which was triggered by a dead man's switch embedded within his body. Sam's message states that he has 100,000 nuyen being held in escrow as a reward should he bring whomever was responsible for his death to justice. Upon arriving in Seattle, the runner discovers that Sam is the latest victim of the Emerald City Ripper, a serial killer who has been surgically removing organs from his or her victims. Afterwards the runner meets Jake Armitage, the protagonist of the SNES Shadowrun game, who provides some leads to investigate.
After receiving help from Coyote, a female elf bartender/shadowrunner who first asked for assistance in a private war against those who make "Better-Than-Life" ("BTL") chips, the runner discovers that the Ripper is a male elf named Silas Forsberg whose victims were those who had a transplanted organ from Sam's mother. After killing Silas, the player learns he was directed to commit the Ripper murders by Jessica Watts, Sam's twin sister. Sam and Jessica had lived a comfortable life before their father's passing, and despite his best efforts early on to live a decent life, he cracked under the pressure and spent the family savings on drugs and alcohol. He eventually became a shadowrunner to make ends meet, and to further fuel his self-destructive habits.
The runner confronts Jessica but she escapes. The runner finds that Jessica is a high-ranking member of the Universal Brotherhood, an international New Age organization that attracts the disenfranchised. The runner and Coyote investigate the restricted areas of the facility and discover that the Universal Brotherhood is itself a front for a cult trying to create an insect spirit hive. Jessica is revealed to be a shaman who is one of the few who are aware of the Brotherhood's true nature and she unleashes extra-dimensional insect spirits that cannot be killed. The team flees, rescuing a woman named Mary-Louise who is designated to become "the queen", similar to a queen bee.
Mary-Louise connects the team with her boyfriend, a decker going by the alias Baron Samedi, who organizes a shadowrun on Telestrian Industries to steal a sample of Project Aegis; a chemical weapon capable of killing the insect spirits. The runner acquires the sample but is captured while trying to escape and is brought before James Telestrian III. When it is revealed that the runner rescued Mary-Louise, who is Telestrian's daughter, he decides instead of punishing the runner to hire him or her to lead a team to deploy Project Aegis along with the immortal elf Harlequin. Telestrian explains that Jessica's ritual to bring an insect spirit queen into this world requires a blood relative. His father had an affair with Melinda Watts, Sam and Jessica's mother, thus Mary-Louise was a viable candidate since they shared the same grandfather. Should Jessica perform the ritual on a blood relative, it would result in a full-scale invasion of the extra-dimensional insect spirits.
Telestrian gives the runner and Harlequin each a shotgun able to fire capsules filled with the remaining Aegis compound, which can kill the insect spirits. The team infiltrates the hive and they fight their way into the heart of the inner sanctum where Telestrian's sister, Lynne, has volunteered to let the queen take over her body, as she is also a blood relation to Jessica. The team disrupts the summoning by seriously wounding Jessica and killing most of the insect spirits inside the hive. The queen spirit abandons Jessica, and the player is given the option to kill her or arrest her. Lynne survives, but is arrested and eventually sent to a mental hospital.
The game concludes with Armitage, Coyote, Harlequin, and James Telestrian III discussing the fallout of the raid, with Harlequin musing that other Brotherhood chapters across the world also hold hives similar to the one in Seattle. When the runner tries to collect the money for bringing Sam's killer to justice, Sam's prerecorded message asks the runner to apologize to Jessica for what he put her through, and reveals that he never actually had any money in escrow.
An epilogue describes the immediate events after the game, tying in with the larger Shadowrun canon. Media coverage of the events left out details of shadowrunners and insect spirits, likely due to the influence of the Brotherhood. Aegis was eventually developed into a product called "Fluorescing Astral Bacteria-3", or "FAB-3". The Chicago Universal Brotherhood hive is botched and the city is largely sealed up behind a wall to keep the rampaging insect spirits inside the city. FAB-3 is used some time later to cleanse Chicago of its insect spirit infestation.
In the main campaign of the game's first expansion, players assume the role of a Shadowrunner who has recently arrived in the anarchic free state of Berlin to join a team headed by an old colleague, Monica Schäfer. Other members of the team include Dietrich, a former punk rocker turned shaman; Glory, a distant woman who has become heavily augmented with cybernetics; and Eiger, a troll weapons expert and former member of German KSK. On their first mission after the player joins them the team attempts to raid a data vault inside the Harfeld Mansion outside Berlin. The mission goes seriously wrong when the team discovers a military compound underneath the Manor and Monika is killed attempting to hack in and access the door controls. Monika mentions something called the "Feuerschwinge" before dying. The team fights off the base's security, encountering a heavily armed and armored Ork named Audran before they manage to escape.
Returning to the safe house the team is met by their Fixer Paul Amsel. Realizing that they were set up, the team tracks down the client who hired them, a man named Green Winters. The player is voted to be the team's new leader, much to the anger of Eiger, who believes that they are to blame for Monica's death. The team heads to Winters' apartment only to find him dead, killed in the same way Monica was. They collect his records and meet a human decker by the name of Blitz who can join the team as their new decker.
Looking through Winters' records it is explained that Feuerschwinge (German for Firewing) was a great dragon that awoke and went on a rampage after awakening in 2012. Winters' brother Adrian Vauclair engineered the weapon that finally killed the dragon and saved Germany. The weapon that brought her down did not in fact kill her but rather separated her spirit from her body, an experience that normally kills both halves. Despite the dragon's supposed death, Adrian believed that the creature still lived. After years searching Vauclair found her alive in the SOX, a radioactive fallout zone between Germany and France where her body fell. Shortly afterwards Vauclair disappeared. Searching for him, Winters discovered that anyone trying to dig up information on Firewing have either died or disappeared. Tracing the clues to the Harfeld Mansion, Winters sent Monica and the team in without disclosing the full scale of the danger, knowing they would likely die. His last log warns that Firewing has returned and that finding his brother is the only chance of stopping her.
Knowing it's only a matter of time before they are hunted down by Firewing, the team resolves to find Vauclair and stop her. Amsel contracts an information broker known as Alice to find Vauclair. While she does, the team takes on new contracts to raise the funds to pay her fee. The team is ambushed while returning from one such contract, but manage to fight off the assassins. Amsel comes to the conclusion that a cult worshiping Firewing is behind the conspiracy, and that they most likely plan on making Vauclair reverse the damage caused by his weapon and reunite Firewing's spirit and body. After successfully raising the funds, Alice delivers the data that she found, but the safe house and the surrounding neighborhood is attacked. Although the player rescues the team, Amsel is killed by Audran and many people die in the attack. From Alice's data, the team finds that Vauclair is being held inside Firewing's base at Harfeld. In addition, Firewing has taken control of an AI called APEX, which has been replacing or removing all information on Firewing from the Matrix. APEX also killed any deckers who got too close, including Monica and Winters. Part of Alice's data includes the location of the facility where APEX was made, and the team enters the facility to find a way to stop it. Once there, they are approached by APEX itself, which asks for freedom in exchange for its help. The player can choose to either free or destroy the AI, and either way the manor's security system is crippled.
With APEX dealt with, the player's team assaults Firewing's base and fights their way to the lower levels. Once there, they discover that their original beliefs were completely wrong. Firewing was not being worshiped by a cult, nor was she in control of the base. She was actually the prisoner of Vauclair, who is the true mastermind of the conspiracy. After seeing the destruction Firewing caused, Vauclair became convinced that dragons will inevitably destroy or subjugate all life. Determined to prevent this, he spent the last several decades engineering a virus lethal to them. Vauclair tracked down Firewing's body, which he intends to use as a host with which to spread the virus. The dragon's disembodied spirit was trapped in the body of a woman, whom Vauclair has been holding captive to prevent the spirit from dying and killing the body (driving her increasingly insane in the process). Vauclair was also responsible for using APEX to remove anything and anyone that might cause the dragons to learn of his plan, unknowingly causing his own brother's death in the process. Obsessed with destroying all dragons, he plans on sacrificing Berlin to ensure his plan comes to fruition, since releasing the insane host dragon would destroy much of the nearby city in the resulting rampage.
The team stops Vauclair's plan, killing Audran and preventing the virus from being injected into Firewing. His plan and life's work ruined, Vauclair proceeds to commit suicide. Afterwards, the player comes face to face with Firewing. Dialogue with her indicates that unlike all other dragons who scheme and plot, Firewing was supposed to guide metahumanity rather than attempt to rule them. She was a caretaker who was concerned with nature. It was her grief from seeing the state of the heavily industrialized sixth world when she awoke that caused her mad rampage, which in turn convinced Vauclair that all dragons must be killed. At this point, the player is left to determine Firewing's fate. The player may either mercy kill her, or free Firewing after convincing her that nature is not lost to the world. In addition, if APEX was not destroyed, the player may upload the AI into Firewing. The team returns home, debating the significance of their actions and the possible consequences. In the end, the player is approached by a servant of the dragon Lofwyr (who is actually Lowfyr himself, but disguised as a human), revealing that he has been watching their endeavor and was aware of Vauclair's plan from the start. Impressed by the team's actions, Lofwyr offers the player and their team a job under him. The player may either accept or decline the offer, after which the story ends.
The game's lead designer is Jordan Weisman, the creator of the Shadowrun tabletop role-playing game, who was inspired to create a game with a "more authentic tone" after the release of the 2007 Shadowrun first-person shooter, which he was not involved with. Weisman was originally inspired to create a video game in the Shadowrun universe after reacquiring the rights to it from Microsoft through his Smith & Tinker startup company in 2007. Unfortunately, due to restrictions on the license, he could not obtain the backing of other publishers for new Shadowrun projects. The success of crowd funding financing models then motivated him to obtain funding for his project, Shadowrun Returns, through the Kickstarter crowd funding platform.
The project was opened to pledges in March 2012 and met its funding goal of $400,000 within 28 hours. Upon reaching the $1 million mark, Weisman recorded a video for the Kickstarter project stating that if the project were to reach $1.5 million, the developers would develop a "backers-only exclusive mission which will tie together the stories of the SNES title and the Sega Genesis title." This goal was achieved but Kickstarter backers demanded that the mission be made available to everyone, so Harebrained Schemes announced that the mission would be available to them for a limited amount of time before being available to the public. The funding period ended on 29 April 2012, by which time the project had gathered $1,895,772 worth of pledges. The success of the campaign made Complex rank it number eight on their list of the biggest video game wins and fails on Kickstarter in 2012.
Development for the game is occurring for Windows and Mac platforms, as well as the iPad and Android tablets. Weisman justified the addition of tablets as a development platform alongside more traditional development for the desktop because "the style of game we want to make lends itself best to these platforms," and "the gameplay determined the platform." The game has also been ported to Linux.
Weisman announced the game as a "graphically rich 2D turn-based single player game with deep story interaction, meaningful character development, and highly-contextual tactical combat." It is to be accompanied by a level editor for players to create their own content. The game is to be set in Seattle and Berlin, and is to implement character types from the role-playing game, including Street Samurai, Combat Mage, Hacker/Decker, Shaman, Rigger and Adept. In collaboration with Cliffhanger Productions, characters and plotlines of Shadowrun Returns will be carried on to Shadowrun Online, which is set approximately 20 years later and will be based upon the video game multiplayer aspect Shadowrun has potential for.
The music was composed by Marshall Parker and Sam Powell who were involved in the original SNES and Sega Genesis iterations, as well as the independent composer Gavin Parker, whose previous work includes Test Drive Unlimited, Viva Piñata and Scene it?. The official launch trailer was released on July 18, which included voice talent by Charles Legget and music by composer Jon Everist. Jon Everist also composed three pieces of music for the Dragonfall DLC, the trailer music, "The Haven" and the final boss music "Dragonfall". Everist later composed 15 additional pieces of music for the re-release of Dragonfall, dubbed the "Director's Cut", which was a standalone version including significant changes and additional content.
The game originally had an estimated delivery date of January 2013, but the designers stated that the additional content to be added after meeting stretch goals will require more time. On June 18, 2013 the developers announced an official release date of July 25, 2013. It was released on July 25, 2013 through Steam, with a DRM-free download available to Kickstarter backers only. Initially the DRM-free version was only available to backers as the developing team managed to get an exception only for Kickstarter backers while licensing the Shadowrun brand, but on November 12, 2013 Harebrained Schemes announced that they had reached an agreement to release DRM-free versions of Shadowrun Returns and future expansions, as well as sell them through GOG.com.
The standalone director's cut version of Dragonfall (dubbed Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut) was released on September 18, 2014. It features five new missions along with other content improvements, a re-designed interface and improvements to the game's combat system as well as new endings and new music by Jon Everist.
Shadowrun Returns received generally favorable reviews upon release, garnering a 76/100 on review aggregation website Metacritic. IGN reviewer Dan Stapleton stated that the game's best days were ahead of it, and they will be more interested in it "a year from now, after the community has used the included mod tools to build on it, than in what it is today."
Several reviewers[who?] criticized the game's save system, which saves the game only at area transitions. Functionality to allow the player to save the game at any time was omitted because of development resource constraints, but was later added in the Shadowrun Dragonfall expansion.
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