Harebrained Schemes ’superlative Shadowrun Trilogy first released back in 2013 after a successful Kickstarter campaign that saw its intriguing cyberpunk-meets-fantasy world drop onto PC and mobile devices. Set in the same universe as the long-running Shadowrun tabletop RPG series, this is a trio of games that take place in a delightfully atmospheric near-future world where elves, orcs, dwarves and humans live side by side in a complex and troubled society. .
The first entry in the series, Shadowrun Returns, wastes no time in blasting you through its simple character creation suite before plonking you down onto the rain-soaked streets of 2054 Seattle where you’ll indulge in lots of well-written conversations with a cast of interesting NPCs whilst engaging in delightfully breezy XCOM-lite style battles. Yes, that’s right, breezy. One of the main draws of Shadowrun Returns, and one of its biggest surprises given the genre, is this quick and easy breeziness that filters through every aspect of how it conducts itself. It gets to the point quickly, funnels you through its linear story and world without wasting a second of your time, makes upgrading and purchasing gear a doddle, and the whole thing is done and dusted in around about ten hours.
Basically, if you’ve ever fancied getting stuck into the likes of Divinity: Original Sin 2, Pillars of Eternity, or a similar style of tactical RPG, but felt they were far too complex or time-consuming, well, Shadowrun Returns could be right up your street. It may be a rather abrupt experience in some respects – and a fairly easy one as far as this genre goes – but it’s also been made with a careful eye for detail and an innate knowledge of what makes these sorts of games tick.
The same goes for both Shadowrun: Dragonfall and the final entry in the trilogy, Shadowrun: Hong Kong. Although both of these later entries almost double the running time and bolster the core of what’s found in Shadowrun: Returns by giving you more freedom to explore their delightful hub worlds and take on side missions as you see fit, they are essentially more of the same . They’re games that don’t outstay their welcome, get you fired right into their combat and narratives as quickly as possible and, as a result, they’re perfect for newcomers to the genre that also possess the ability to keep RPG veterans absolutely transfixed.
All three games feature essentially identical combat, with Dragonfall and Hong Kong making a few changes here and there, most notably in that you take control of a team of shadowrunners for their duration rather than hiring random nobodies, which helps in adding a little more tension. to proceedings. There are also a few new mechanics such as ley lines dotted around arenas that give magical attacks a boost, and Hong Kong introduces the ability to surprise attack groups of unaware foes. But other than that, it’s pretty much a standardized experience across the board.
In terms of narrative, where Shadowrun Returns tells a short tale very well, its sequels introduce more meat, giving you further opportunities to flex your conversational muscle and reap the rewards of pumping your karma points – which you’ll earn for completing missions – into skills that give you access to more dialogue options and let you avoid combat scenarios entirely on a few occasions. If we had to choose a favorite from the trilogy, we’d have to go with Dragonfall, as its depiction of a near-future Berlin and the story that follows as you attempt to avenge a fallen comrade and get to grips with the resurrection of a legendary dragon, is the most well-rounded and best-paced of the bunch.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong isn’t far off the pace, mind, and it’s only in a mid-section that gives you a little too much freedom to wander off for the sake of padding things out, alongside some unnecessarily long-winded conversations, that it holds itself back from reaching the same heights as its predecessor. Taken as a trio, though, the Shadowrun Trilogy is, quite simply, superb. This really is one of our favorite RPG franchises and a series we have many fond memories of playing through when it was originally released.
It’s not all perfect, mind, the combat here is fairly simplistic in how it goes about handling its cover system, you can’t control the in-game camera during fights, which makes for the odd, awkward angle, and all three games feature Matrix hacking sequences we’d sooner do without. However, for the most part, these are highly enjoyable adventures whose mechanical failings are more than smoothed over by stellar writing and world-building.
Of course, being fairly old games that we originally played on our mobile phones, we weren’t in the slightest bit concerned about the quality of the ports here and were simply looking forward to diving back in all over again on Nintendo Switch, which turned out to be a big mistake. Yes, for reasons that we can’t for the life of us begin to understand, what we’ve been served up here is a shambolic trio of ports that seem to struggle to run at all on hardware that’s more powerful than that on which it successfully launched almost a decade ago.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong fares the best of the three games here, not suffering from the constant frame rate and stuttering issues of the other two entries, although it does retain the overly long loading times and frustratingly slow and sticky menus / button interactions. However, both this final entry and Shadowrun: Dragonfall have shipped with a rather serious bug that sees both games completely freeze during sections that use the Switch’s internal keyboard to enter passwords and other information. These bugged sections, some of which are critical to your campaign progress, resulted in us having to repeatedly reboot our games and, in some cases, lose an entire mission’s worth of progress in the process. Furthermore, we found no resolution to the issue other than just reloading repeatedly, desperately switching between docked and handheld inputs until we finally, randomly, got by.
It’s not ideal, and it makes recommending this compilation – a trilogy of games that we adore – very difficult. If you’ve got the patience of a saint, you may be able to put up with the constant performance issues, frame rate problems and that bug that sees your game freeze up entirely, but otherwise this is a case of an experience best avoided until a patch drops to remedy the most egregious issues.
The Shadowrun Trilogy is a superb trio of RPG classics that we were psyched to get stuck into all over again on Nintendo Switch. However, constant performance issues, including stuttering frame rates, long loading times, unresponsive and sticky controls, and a serious bug that freezes your game entirely at points, means that this is a series of ports we find it very difficult to recommend picking up as things currently stand at launch. Let’s hope there’s a significant patch on the way ASAP as these are games that deserve to be played by as many people as possible.