Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut
Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Released: January 2015 (standalone)
Released: January 2015 (standalone)
Played: complete in 18h:12min
What should have been an easy job goes horribly wrong and your crew of mercenaries suddenly finds itself in the middle of a dangerous conspiracy. A dragon that was believed killed decades ago after a post-Awakening rampage is actually alive, and now that you know, it wants you dead. The only way to protect your teammates and your home is to discover the dragon's plans and put a stop to them.
The Dragonfall expansion to Shadowrun Returns was more well-received than the original campaign, earning review scores of 81% thanks to its better story, writing, characters, and battles. The standalone Director's Cut did even better, averaging 87% due to the technical improvements and new content.
The standalone Director's Cut version of the DLC adds new missions, endings, and music, as well as improvements to the interface, content, and combat systems.
I wasn't really a big fan of Shadowrun Returns, but I stubbornly pushed through it because I'd heard that Dragonfall is so much better that it makes Returns look like a basic intro to the world. Turns out that was completely correct. Dragonfall is better than Returns in literally every way.
The beginning of Shadowrun Returns felt pretty generic. Dragonfall, on the other hand, hooked me right away. A simple job blows up in your face and you're suddenly in way over your head. You soon realize you're in even deeper than you thought when the plot very quickly brings in a Great Dragon that was thought dead. To find the intel you need, you'll have to raise money by taking a variety of jobs, many of which are personal requests from teammates or locals. You're even encouraged to talk to the people around you in some clever ways - one of your teammates is hostile to you from the beginning, and a guy you can add to the team tells you little about himself so you'll have to dig if you want to trust him.
Story-wise, this is everything that was missing from Shadowrun Returns. The mantra of "no job is a milk run" is drilled into you right from the beginning. The main plot directly involves dragons, magic and technology, and the consequences of the Awakening. You get invested in your home and your team, and you get to make meaningful choices that feel meaningful and can have an impact later on (even if some choices, like whether to take a job, are actually kind of non-choices). You actually get to feel like a shadowrunner as you take on jobs and deal with complications and impact on the city. Throughout all this, the writing is stronger and deeper as a whole, and that kept me interested in what would happen next through the entire game.
The combat UI is improved quite a bit with bigger action bars and better, easier-to-understand access to weapon slots, attack options, and inventories. I didn't think the bar in Returns was a problem until I played with the setup in Dragonfall. The most useful change is that you can see all cooldowns at all times without having to pop out a menu.
Combat felt more engaging in general. The slightly wider range of combat-related abilities helped since I had more options, but individual battles were better designed as well, and many included secondary objectives or challenges beyond simply clearing the room. Two of the best were a battle that had the team fighting mercenaries in a room full of turrets while my decker in the Matrix struggled with an enemy decker for control of those turrets, and the other fight asked me to defend a console from waves of attackers where I could hack gun turrets to help me out, but only one set of turrets at a time.
It bothered me a bit in Returns that the game was entirely text-based with no voice acting, but here in Dragonfall it didn't faze me at all. I guess the quality of the writing and story hooked me enough that I didn't think about it. I did, however, run into a few more technical issues - the main one being a combat bug that locks me out of activating abilities or selecting targets without freezing the game. It usually cleared up if I fiddled with enough things, though one time I did have to open the game's command console and kill everything on screen just to progress.
I actually can't think of too much more to say, so let's just make this a short review and wrap up.
The Dragonfall director's cut is everything I hoped Shadowrun Returns would be: well-written characters, home district, and jobs that give you the feel of being a mercenary on the edge of society, as well as a strong street-level-yet-high-stakes plot that evokes the intricacies of the fantasy-cyberpunk world.