Indie Gems: Shadowrun Merges Magic and Technology

Indie Gems is an ongoing feature in which we highlight indie games that are worth your time and attention. Think of this as your weekly Indie Game Playlist.

In a cyberpunk world full of guns, hackers and megacorporations, nothing is stranger to the natural order than magic.

This is the concept behind Shadowrun Returns, an old-school RPG based on the Shadowrun fantasy-cyberpunk role-playing game. Magic and technology have grown unbidden alongside each other, and both are taken to absurd degrees. Hacking into computers using brain implants, summoning ancient nature spirits, and engaging in mega-corporate espionage are just some of the actions an agent of this brave new world can take.

Shadowrun Returns
Developer: Harebrained Schemes

These agents are the titular shadowrunners, and you are one of them. In Shadowrun Returns, you are thrust into the gritty, disheveled underbelly of a cyberpunk Seattle in order to find justice for a murdered friend. This initial campaign is not insubstantial — it’s at least 12 hours, on first play through — and introduces you to many of Shadowrun Returns’ mechanics.

Story progress is done through text-only dialogue and environment interaction; no voice acting here, just like older RPGs. Combat is more modern, adhering to the XCOM: Enemy Unknown formula of two action points and simple character skills (kneecapping guys with shotguns, healing spells, and so on).

If you want a great, classic-style RPG, Shadowrun Returns is the closest that has been released in a long time. It’s also brilliantly written: there are several notable characters, from the kind-yet-stern human bar owner to the corrupt troll cop looking for a promotion through any means necessary, and the overall plot winds around with plenty of red herrings.

As a bonus, when you’re done with the main campaign, there’s always the editor. Shadowrun Returns comes with the same editor that the developers used to produce the campaign, and it’s a great one. Simple tile-based environment creation, easy trigger customization (for events such as dialogue or spawning new enemies), and connection to the Steam Workshop make it a great way to create and upload your own dystopic cyberpunk vision of the future. There are already a number of user campaigns available, and Harebrained Schemes is working on a second campaign that takes place in Berlin.

Shadowrun Returns can be purchased from Steam.

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1 Comment on Indie Gems: Shadowrun Merges Magic and Technology


On July 31, 2013 at 12:41 am

I’ve been playing it non stop since I bought it on the weekend and while it does have some flaws, overall it’s a great game, hopefully one that’ll be improved upon with patches and updates. My main problems:

I first went through it with a decker, hoping to gain an advantage, but there’s so little use to deckers as main characters, and when you really need one the game tells you so and offers an NPC to come along. At the end I was too weak with weaponry as I’d boosted my matrix skills, so ended up not completing it and having to restart.

They really should do away with the Adept ‘spells’ and have them as always on buffs. Having to spend 3 actions just to get your character combat ready for only 4 turns is a bit of a let down. They were always given powers in the books, not something you had to self cast. Melee combat is also a let down as it’s either a simple punch or a kick if you have roundhouse, but that can’t be used if you have Killing Hands, which means just repeated punching. Melee weapons are also simply animated with a swipe swipe, never mind what you’re using.

Magic is quite weak, except for the crowd control spells such as Blindness and Mindwipe. You can easily stop an attack in its tracks with just a couple of spells, but actual attack spells I found to be quite weak. As it was only Willpower & Spellcasting I boosted them up to level 8 quite early in the game and still didn’t get a noticeable difference.

Shaman magic is sort of pointless, except for Haste and the Bear totem healing spell. I also don’t find the spirits of great use, they’re more trouble than they’re worth most of the time.

Which leaves you with guns. The shotgun is awesome for damage, but I’ve always had a thing for Pistols in Shadowrun. Again, a bit of a let down as I’ve pushed Pistol right up to 7, excited at the idea of double tap and the three target shot. Double tap isn’t as described, two shots in a single action, it takes 2 action points to use, which means I might as well just use single shot. It does give a critical boost but not enough of one to be worth it. Hopefully they’ll patch that later. The three target attack I’m about to try when I play it next so can’t talk on that.

Overall it’s great fun, but really could do with a bit of system tweaking to make it better. I’ve already got plans to convert all the published adventures over, so I’m really into it. Hopefully though they can do a bit of tweaking to make it truly awesome.