Fantasy and sci-fi collide in Shadowrun, where Orks and Elves sling magical spells while hacking robots and using other high tech gear. You are a Shadowrunner, an agent that operates on the fringes of the law, residing in a dystopian cyberpunk world where megacorporations control everything. In order to survive, you'll need skills, money, weapons and a strong tactical sense. Having along for the ride helps too, since the game supports online multiplayer. However, the game's biggest feature is also its biggest problem. The game isn't massively multiplayer, but its design skirts on being one.
Always Online Blues
If you couldn't already guess, the first Chronicles story takes place in the corporate controlled city of Boston, and things take a turn from bad to insanely worse when a dragon appears and starts wreaking havoc. Adding more fuel to the fire is a mysterious illness that is driving residents violently insane. It's time for you and your crew to step up, protect a city that's in complete lockdown, and make some cash while you're at it.
Chronicles takes a great deal of inspiration from turn-based tactical strategy games like XCOM, and weaves it into the Shadowrun mythology. Up to four players can come together and move simultaneously per turn. Although there are measures in place so that players can't make overlapping moves like moving to the same spot, it can be challenging to coordinate moves. There aren't any tools to highlight targets or propose a movement direction. Players generally end up doing their own thing in the hopes that it all works out in the end.
Players can use pre-made henchmen to supplement or replace human players, making multiplayer optional. The thing is, even solo games are tied to the online server, which has led to some major launch week headaches. Lag can delay commands from registering for almost entire minute. Despite multiple fixes, Shadowrun Chronicles inevitably slows to a crawl. Missions that could otherwise be completed in 30 minutes will eat up an hour or more.
Hacking, Hexes, and Heavy Weapons
Even if we overlook the server issues, Shadowrun Chronicles still has a ton of rough edges. Its gameplay focuses heavily on using straight firepower to defeat enemies. Subtle role-playing features like stealth and dynamic dialogue aren't there. Furthermore, some of the game systems haven't been fully thought out. Adding cybernetic upgrades diminishes your Essence, and you need a minimum amount to install hardware. However, there's almost no way to increase your Essence for better upgrades, even if you have no interest in spellcasting. The game leans heavily toward tech, since robots are immune to most magical attacks. Nothing is immune to bullets, but there is little incentive in creating a character that specializes in spells and spirits. Especially since teams are limited to two creatures at a time, whether they be temporary or permanent.
But the worst gameplay issue is with the death timer. A countdown appears whenever a human player falls in combat, giving the rest team 5 turns to complete the mission or fail as the screen grows progressively darker. Timed missions are annoying in general, but this takes things to a whole new level. Not only does this contradict the game's lore about how Shadowrunners are expendable, but it's completely unnecessary. Death is one critical hit away, and there's no mechanism for restarting the mission, so the team is forced to either throw tactics aside or burn turns.
Shadowrun Chronicles also has a problem with its reward system. Completing missions earns money, gear, and Karma Points. Karma is used toward purchasing new skills and abilities. While it's an unspoken understanding that main story missions are worth more than side missions, some of these side quests take the challenge to an extreme. I played a mission where an assassin tore through my entire team. We had to replay the mission three times to defeat him, and were rewarded a mere pittance for our trouble. On the bright side, replaying old missions with lower level players will always earn you Karma, so you can make your way up the skill trees in relatively short time.
A Marathon, Not a Sprint
Although Shadowrun Chronicles has long list of problems, I find myself wanting to return to it. The dark cyberpunk meets fantasy world is very compelling, and playing cooperatively alongside others is a great thrill. The story of dragon destroying Fenway Park and the city's people going mad pulls me in, and I want to experience more of it, despite the outrageously fake Boston accent many of the characters have.
I'm sure Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown will eventually get itself together and grow with new features and content. Hopefully, it can overcome its server problems before they drive away its player community. Personally, I want to stay, but this town is making it really hard to.
This review is based on a PC code provided by the publisher. Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown is available digitally for $39.99.
shadowrun chronicles: boston lockdown
- Excellent story and setting
- Deep tactical strategy
- Cooperative multiplayer
- Prone to online server issues
- Incomplete game systems
- Pointless death timer
- Rewards don't always match mission difficulty
Steven Wong posted a new article, Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown Review: Chummers and Chowda