Dragonfall is an expansion in name, but its characters, story, and approach to gameplay feel more like a sequel. I adored the vibrant storytelling of Shadowrun Returns, set in the magic-drenched streets of Seattle. Dragonfall brings us across the pond to chaotic Berlin, an equally intriguing locale. By investing in deeper party character development and more choice-driven mission design, this new installment builds on its predecessor’s biggest pitfalls; role-playing gamers shouldn’t miss this campaign just because its scope and breadth isn’t as big as more expensive RPGs.
The strongly established Shadowrun fiction is a joy to explore, whether you’re familiar with its intricacies or you’re new to the universe. Magic has re-emerged in the 21st century, and decades later, tattooed elves infiltrate computer terminals, orks wield gatling guns, and dragons run corporations. Dragonfall does an admirable job rolling out its concepts without getting hung up on explanations; like the best speculative fiction, the world’s oddness take a backseat to quality narrative. The expansion maintains the top-tier writing that characterized Shadowrun Returns, painting vivid characters and encounters and slowly unfolding a conspiracy mystery of ever-increasing ramifications, this time about a dragon long thought dead and a lurking danger hiding in the online Matrix.
One of the biggest changes this time around is the focus on party building. Taking a cue from BioWare, your created lead character interacts with an established crew of shadowrunners. While mercenaries are still available, it’s more satisfying to run missions with this family of eccentric characters by your side. Between missions, you can learn more about each of them, and even help guide choices about their lives. Beyond your hideout, the hub between missions is now a lively neighborhood filled with colorful personalities, some of whom offer additional missions to help flesh out the adventure.
Perhaps responding to criticism about linearity in the original installment, most of Dragonfall’s missions can be tackled in any order. More importantly, the runs themselves offer interesting choices – do you get the keys to the elevator through brute force, or talk your way up? Destroy a dangerous computer program, or recklessly set it loose to help you later on? These decisions help to establish the personality of your character, and provide a deeper involvement in the ongoing story.
The turn-based combat remains largely unchanged, but many of the battles are more tactically engaging than last time. More opportunities exist to send your decker into the Matrix and turn the environment against the enemy. Plus, some scenarios offer cool twists, like a thrilling sequence in which you control a hulking and overpowered bio-machine against a horde of enemy combatants.
Dragonfall’s fundamentals haven’t changed enough to justify a play if you actively disliked Shadowrun Returns, which is a required purchase before enjoying this new expansion. However, if you were simply hungry for deeper role-playing options, Dragonfall makes major strides, and deserves your attention as a standalone adventure.
Harebrained Schemes has taken criticism to heart to make significant advances in its first expansion to Shadowrun Returns.