by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year or two, you’ve probably heard of the fundraising website Kickstarter and how it’s revolutionizing the way projects of all sorts get started. For the uninitiated, the site basically allows inventors and artists of all kinds to bypass a lot of the bureaucracy involved in the early steps of getting a project off the ground by raising money dollar-by-dollar from potential customers instead of looking for one or two huge investors. In exchange for varying levels of donation the project’s backers receive rewards ranging from a simple thank you, to a finished product when it’s done, to personal meetings and tours with the people behind the project. The site has been around since 2009, but it really broke into the world of video games in 2012 when industry mainstay Tim Schafer and Double Fine Productions attempted to raise a modest $400,000 to create a new game. Instead, they ended up raising over 3 million bucks. Since then Kickstarter has been a popular place for games both big and small that major publishers either didn’t want to take a risk on or wanted too much control over to still see the light of day. One of the bigger projects to come out of this craze is a revival of the classic tabletop RPG Shadowrun titled Shadowrun Returns.
While the name Shadowrun may be a familiar one to those more at home with paper and dice than a controller and game disc, many a modern gamer only associate the word with the average-at-best 2007 first person shooter with the same name. While technically based on the same universe as Shadowrun Returns and the tabletop Shadowrun, most agree that the relatively twitch gameplay mechanics and lack of deep strategy was a bit of a betrayal of the depth of lore and tactics that gained the franchise so many fans over the decades. In the world of Shadowrun, magic was re-introduced into the world on December 12th, 2012. On this day people gave birth to mythical creatures, people with certain dormant genes transformed into monstrous goblins and orcs, and a crazy powerful dragon wakes up and flies around Tokyo.
Fast forward a few decades and the world is a very different place than the one we live in today. Magic and technology have both skyrocketed, resulting in the kind of place one might imagine would exist if World of Warcraft took place in the setting of Blade Runner, only that governments have been replaced by mega-corporations that are not as nice to the population as they could be. In the dark cracks of this world live the Shadowrunners, beings that operate outside the law and use a mixture of magic, technology, smarts, and muscle to do things that others either can’t or won’t. Are they good guys? Bad guys? Well, truth be told, they are a little bit of both.
The best part about Shadowrun Returns, and the reason I think it will be able to take advantage of the incredibly deep well of lore available to the franchise, is that it’s being worked on by a lot of the people that were involved either in the world’s initial creation or in its formative years. The creators have specified a few key areas in which they’re focusing on to not only make this a turn-based strategy game that Shadowrun fans can enjoy, but one that newcomers can get into as well. The first of these areas is a deep and tight narrative. After the overarching background story is written, an impressive team of seven writers that have helped shape Shadowrun over the last 20+ years will work to create the smaller individual story arcs, or “runs,” within the game. The goal is that while many of the runs will be connected in some way, the goal isn’t to present one huge story, but to use these smaller arcs to flesh out the world and create a breathing narrative that the players feel a part of, similar to the way that the actual worlds of Skyrim or City 17 themselves are just as much of their respective gaming experiences as the stories being told in them.
A unique aspect of Shadowrun Returns is that it requires the player to take advantage of various character types to accomplish various tasks. The four character types, Street Samurai, Combat Mages, Hackers, and Shamans, can each see and get information from the physical, mystic, digital, and astral planes respectively. The turn-based style of gameplay will require strategizing to efficiently use each type of character to interact with various present planes either one after the other or simultaneously. It may seem a bit daunting at first to keep track of one plane of reality, much less four, but the designers promise it is all as smooth and intuitive as possible.
The final pillar of Shadowrun Returns is user-created content and customization. Back when Shadowrun was a tabletop RPG the story depended on the people sitting in the room. The game’s designers realize that getting to play through your friends creations was both a cool way to bond with your friends, as well as a way to give the game almost endless replay value, and they want the same thing to transfer over to this digital iteration of the game. To do this a map/story editor will be released at the same time as the full game allowing the creative types among us to either share their runs with friends, or with the entire community. Ideally this will provide almost endless hours of gameplay along with cool and original stories to delve as deep into the fanfiction world of Shadowrun as anyone would like.
From what I have seen, Shadowrun Returns seems to be a true labor of love. It took a lot of time and work for the creators of this fantastic world to get the rights back to make this game, most of the work is being done by people with years (if not decades) invested in the franchise. The focus seems to be on creating the best possible experience for the player instead of nickel and diming the consumer to make a few more bucks. A solid release date has yet to be set, but look for Shadowrun Returns to hit PCs and tablets around the world early summer this year.