Shadowrun, an alternate reality tabletop RPG produced in 1989, is a series that continues to garner a great deal of love from a core fan base due to its unique cyberpunk mixed with Tolkien-esque fantasy setting. Shadowrun Chronicles (Formerly known as Shadowrun Online) is another game set in this dystopian, conspiracy-riddled world, where an orc with cybernetic arms is going to summon the spirit of a bear to maul you.
Shadowrun Chronicles follows the game play set by Shadowrun Returns; for everyone who didn’t play Shadowrun Returns, it has game play similar to X-Com: Enemy Unknown. For everyone who didn’t play that … It is a strategy RPG with an emphasis on strategy, focusing on cover, flanking, and one or two shots killing anybody. It is also a very good game that I would highly suggest trying.
Shadowrun Chronicles keeps it very simple in a lot of ways; you control your main character and 1-3 other spots will be either other players or henchmen. You can attack, use an ability, or use an item as your only action on a turn, cover reduces the odds of being hit, and in general if you aren’t in cover, it means you might be dead before the next turn.
Kill them before they kill you is the general rule of thumb, though a lot of missions are just about defending for a certain amount of turns, or reaching a certain point and getting out. Killing everything does not give any bonuses at the end, although leaving three times the amount of guys as you can bring to a mission on the floor does give a nice warm feeling of satisfaction.
To start any mission, you bring your main character and one to three extra friends. If you don’t have any friends to play with, Shadowrun Chronicles will helpfully allow you to bring henchmen. Henchmen allow you to play the game more like a traditional strategy RPG, controlling everybody at the same time to try and outsmart the computer. They are all extremely specialized, each focusing on a single weapon or talent. Henchmen also can’t use any tactical items, such as grenades, medkits, or performance enhancing drugs, making them a lot weaker compared to the main character.
Complete a mission, gain karma and credits. Spend karma to upgrade your character’s chosen attributes such as handguns, rifles, magic, summoning, hacking or drone rigging. Rather than give more abilities, it usually gives passive bonuses to the abilities it gave you early on. Talk to a person for about five lines of dialogue to loosely connect you to the next mission and rinse and repeat.
Which brings us to the first of many problems that Shadowrun Chronicles runs into. It has the strangest form of grinding that I personally have ever seen. You gain karma from completing any mission, including the missions you are helping other people with. This means that a good way to power level yourself is to go play with someone who is new and just redo all the early missions, which will now be extremely easy for you. That’s right, the best way to level grind is to power level somebody else.
To Shadowrun Chronicles credit, the multiplayer actually does play well. It goes into a player phase where everyone can take their turn at the same time. Unless someone is extremely slow, or possibly lagging, the turn usually goes by very quickly. Combined with that, each player is much stronger then the henchmen they would have likely been replaced with due to having two weapons and two tactical items; co-oping in Shadowrun Chronicles is faster paced, with a lot more bodies dropping.
The biggest problem Shadowrun Chronicles runs into is that nagging feeling that there isn’t much actual depth to the game. There are 11 attribute trees to go down, many of them with branches that you have to choose between one or the other, but what do 9 of those attribute trees really mean? How to kill with a weapon. The other two, Mind and Body, are just passive increases for your dodge and hit chance. And there are really only three types of characters: melee, ranged, and support.
Melee has the simple job of killing anyone who gets close or cleaning up anyone who stays behind hard to flank cover; ranged has the job of killing anyone they can see from cover either with heavy area of effect abilities or with high damage bursts; and support just has to hide in a corner and ping people from behind cover, often times aided by summons like a bear or a combat drone. The actual strategy of the Shadowrun Chronicles comes from using them together.
That’s where Shadowrun Chronicles falls apart. There isn’t enough enemy variety to add much strategical depth to the game. Most missions devolve into large numbers of melee guys swarming a choke point; after you finish them off, you face some guys in cover who will take pot shots at you until you face a mixed group where you need to kill the melee guys quickly so you can use cover effectively. After that mixed group, gather the loot and leave the mission. There are a handful of enemies that start punishing certain strategies, like suicide bombers that explode for a massive amount of damage when they die, or machine guns that will fire in a huge area of effect for massive damage but low accuracy, though they are few and far between.
This issue is made more apparent by the lack of punishment for defeat. Main character died? No penalty. Won the mission but everyone but one guy died? No problem! Mixed with enemy spawn always being the exact same, the strategy is almost always “Shoot them with a bigger gun.” A few missions become more of a strategy of run as fast as you can to the exit, and one is an interesting stealth mission at first, but the general idea of rush them and don’t care about the casualties hurts the potential depth that Shadowrun Chronicles could have had.
The other part that badly hurts the amount of depth the strategy is the removal of something that most games like this have: An ability to have an action planned during the enemy turn. The ability to shoot during the enemy turn, or lay traps, or really do anything to prepare for the enemy turn is noticeably not in any of the ability lists. Shadowrun Chronicles heavily discourages any sort of defensive play. You can hide behind cover and have a shoot out, but ultimately the only way to prevent damage is to kill them before they can attack you with the abilities all being new forms of a way to attack someone or buff a character and not much else.
The story is barely touched on, involving a dragon and you being a general criminal thug, with passable voice acting, but it ultimately is there just to connect you as you go from mission to mission. Shadowrun Chronicles runs on the MMO model of do a quest, turn in the quest, spend the loot to get better equipment to do another quest. Rinse, repeat, with talking to every NPC in the slum after each missing being the only way to explore the setting.
Which is depressing, as the small cues in the visual design showcase a lot more character then the game’s dialogue shows. When one of the Shadowrunners goes behind a wall for cover for example, they lean behind it as if they are bored, where as a security guard looks worried, constantly checking behind the wall. The cutest is what happens when you put a summoned bear behind the wall, as it sits down patiently waiting for some poor sap to turn the corner. This small visual aesthetic per character adds a little bit of extra charm to Shadowrun Chronicles.
While Shadowrun Chronicles is far from being a horrible game, it lacks a lot of depth and ends up being a bit boring when played alone. If you have a friend or three who are interested in playing a strategy RPG together with you, or have a love of the Shadowrun universe, Shadowrun Chronicles could be far worse. If only there was a bit more polish put into the combat.
You can purchase Shadowrun Chronicles here on Steam for 39.99 USD or your regional equivalent.
Shadowrun Chronicles was obtained from Cliffhanger Productions and reviewed on PC.
A bit rough around the edges, and downright buggy in others, Shadowrun Chronicles has a lot of flaws to recommend unless you are a fan of the setting.