Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall is a rare case of DLC managing to provide a gameplay experience that not only matches the original core game content in quality, but actually surpasses it in some ways. While the fundamental experience remains the same, Dragonfall provides a good 12+ hours of skulking around in high-tech surroundings, a less linear (but by no means free-roaming) questing experience, and a large injection of new items, enemies and character portraits. To top it all off, it comes hot on the heels of a change to the Shadowrun Returns save system, allowing players to save their progress at any time – a much-requested feature that on its own suffices to greatly enhance the experience with this title. If you liked the original campaign and were hungry for more Shadowrun adventures with the same turn-based combat and menu-driven dialogue, then Dragonfall becomes must-have DLC on the spot.
Dragonfall offers up a change of setting, centering the campaign in the Free City of Berlin – though the same general ‘high tech noir’ feel of the original game remains in spades. It’s a dark and shadowy world of technology-laced surroundings mixed with magic, shamans, elves and uzis, all with a dash of German in it to add a bit of flavor. I’ve played the original campaign, and while I’ve had my experience with the Shadowrun world in the past, it’s almost exclusively been in the form of old school consoles titles. All I can say is that, just as with the core campaign, I really get the impression that the heart, soul and ‘feel’ of Shadowrun as I know it has been brought out here beautifully. When I think Shadowrun, I think Bladerunner – neon and graffiti, big imposing buildings, a corporate dystopia with orcs and gang members on the loose. Dragonfall hits these notes splendidly, pulling me back into a world that manages to feel dark and sultry despite being a powderkeg of shaman magic and bazookas. And I’m not just talking about appearance here – the dialogue throughout Dragonfall is wonderfully gritty, fun to read and with a nice diversity of conversational options to choose from, allowing you to let some of your character’s roleplayed self shine through. Even if few of the choices really impact the story in a major way, just about every exchange screams ‘personality’ and adds to the world’s charm.
So the personality and mood of the Shadowrun world is well represented in Dragonfall – which leads me to the game itself. Once again, the campaign starts off with you rolling up your initial character – customizing their race, stats, skills and name, giving you plentiful options to shape up your alley-skulking quasi-criminal persona. In terms of actual, fundamental gameplay, there’s nothing very different in the DLC – you’ve got the same sold turn-based combat with the addition of some new enemies and equipment, the same branching dialogue options when interacting with NPCs. That’s not a criticism of Dragonfall – the original game was solid in all of its turn-based and menu-navigating glory.
Instead, the real change the Dragonfall campaign brings to Shadowrun Returns isn’t in terms of strict gameplay mechanics, but in the flow of the story. One of the biggest complaints about the original campaign was how ‘on rails’ the story felt, with the player more or less on a straight-line progression from the start of the game to the finish with very little deviation from the script available. This time around, Dragonfall uses a quest hub system – allowing you some freedom in picking and choosing what missions you’ll take and when you’ll take them. It’s amazing how a little change like this adds such an impression of freedom to what is, ultimately, a very tightly scripted game. Sure, at the end of the day you’ll need to check off all of these quests before you progress, and your final destination is quite certain – but the fact that you can choose to do one part before another, rather than having everything arranged in a preordained series that you’re forced to follow, like a row of falling dominoes, is really a pleasant change of pace.
The new save-anywhere feature is also a great touch, and one of my own personal points of concern with Shadowrun Returns’ initial introduction. The fact that I could simply save my game after what felt like a flawless round of combat, rather than having to hope that everything else in that section of the game played out perfectly. I’m one of those people who likes to go through the initial run of an RPG as perfectly as possible, losing no opportunities that could have been taken advantage of, experiencing no setbacks that could have been avoided – but at the same time, the prospect of having to replay an entire sweeping section of the game to really ‘perfect’ things quickly got tiring. With this new feature, I was able to save whenever I felt I handled a given section of Dragonfall to my satisfaction, without having to fear that what was coming up next may throw a wrench into an otherwise splendid attempt.
Ultimately, Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall is a solid bit of DLC that offers up a slice of gameplay that matches the original campaign in terms of length, and ultimately improves on it. The implementation of a quest hub with the Dragonfall story is a nice touch that provides a bit more freedom for approaching the adventure, and the save-anywhere feature adds a lot of convenience, solving one of the biggest gripes of the original release. At $14.99, an additional 12+ hours of engaging, well-written adventure in a fantastic representation of the Shadowrun world is a good bet for anyone who enjoyed the original campaign. Pick it up on Steam if the urge to visit everyone’s favorite corporate dystopia is nibbling at you once again.