A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Running the Shadows of Seattle – Shadowrun Returns

I spent this entire weekend playing Shadowrun Returns. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday it was all I played and I played A LOT. So… I think I have a pretty good feel for the games mechanics and the primary campaign the game shipped with.

First, I’d like to say that I’ve always been a fan of the Shadowrun setting. Cyberpunk meets magic? YES PLEASE. The only problem I’ve ever had with it though has been the complexity of the rules. I played 2nd edition back in High School and I own a 3rd edition rulebook and to this day I still don’t really know how to play it because there are some vagaries that I never got to work out through gameplay. I suppose it’s a side effect of playing a Street Samurai instead of a Mage or a Decker since those latter “classes” have the complex mechanics I don’t understand and combat overall is pretty straightforward when you’re using firearms.


The game Shadowrun Returns is an accessible, well-built, role-playing game that I have found to be a great vacation from all the other games on my machine. I don’t want to spoil the campaign that comes with the game, so I’ll say that it’s a fascinating journey. You’re tasked in the beginning of the game to find out who killed your old friend Sam and make sure they pay for it and you quickly get involved in corporate shenanigans (once you get yourself accepted in the Barrens) and a desperate attempt to save the whole metroplex from… well, I’ve said too much. Suffice to say, it starts out like a regular Shadowrun game and quickly becomes a memorable Shadowrun experience.

A couple of things: The music throws back to the original SNES game, adding a level of familiarity for those of us who struggled through it. There are references to all sorts of things hidden throughout the game if you have a sharp eye (I saw an old couch with graffiti on it that said “Bad Wolf”). This game has a character skill system that’s very free form (read: the classes don’t mean anything because they’re only skill templates and you can ignore them and build your character however you’d like).

When you accomplish certain things, you get karma which you can then spend on your attributes and their derived skills and abilities. Everything is tiered, so… the ability Quickness allows you to hit more often with ranged weapons and avoid attacks more often. The number of points you have in Quickness determines the maximum number of points you can have in all of the skills that fall under the Quickness Umbrella. So, say you have 4 points in Quickness, you can have up to 4 in Ranged Combat (a skill that improves only your ranged attacks with firearms) and up to 4 in Dodge (which only improves your ability to avoid physical attacks). Then, if you have 4 points in Ranged Combat, you can have up to 4 in Pistol, SMG, Shotgun, or Rifle (if you’d like). The amount of karma required to improve a skill increases the higher the skill gets, so initially you need 1 karma for 1 point in something, 2 for the next point, 3 for the next, and so on. In my prior example of having 4 points in Ranged Combat requires you to have spent 10 karma on Quickness already and then spending 10 karma on Ranged Combat.

I swear it makes sense once you fiddle around with it yourself. It’s really intuitive.

Unfortunately not everything is intuitive until you’ve made a mistake or two. I discovered the hard way that certain spells count as weapons, drones count as weapons, cyberdecks (for hacking, which is referred to as “decking”) count as weapons… and you only get so many weapon slots unless you spend a lot of points on either Ranged Combat or Melee Combat (or whatever it’s called). With a little trial and error (and several character builds later) I managed to figure out a few nifty tricks to expand my toolbox of abilities without compromising a lot of combat capability. The character I beat the primary campaign with was super simple: enough charisma to get a second etiquette, max out quickness, ranged combat, and rifle, with a few points in dodge. She rarely got hit and could go full auto across the room and still have 99% chance to hit with all 5 shots. It was quite the hammer to hit the game with and since then I’ve been trying to come up with a character build that was more general purpose and self-sufficient. Like, a couple of points in spellcasting so I could have heal wound, a few points in spirit summoning so I could have a totem, a point in drones so I could have a little drone to do stuff with. The problem I had with my latest character is that he relied entirely on spells and charisma (I was trying to get a bunch of etiquettes for conversation options at the same time as being a mage) and I wound up getting myself killed and that kind of ruins a build for me. Next time just minimal spells and go for guns.

It’s trial and error but it’s very enjoyable for me. I love this kind of stuff and it’s great to experience the Shadowrun setting again after all this time. I’m looking forward to seeing what people build with the editor that came with the game. I don’t have the patience for such things, so don’t expect anything from me. Oh, I’m also very much looking forward to Shadowrun Online, so hopefully that’s going to happen in a fashion I can get behind.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Your apartment, three o’clock in the morning. It’s got four walls, a roof, and isn’t on fire. Even the cockroaches have fled in search of better accommodations. Not exactly a Runner’s dream pad… but right now it’s about all you have left.” – The first loading screen in the Shadowrun Returns campaign Dead Man’s Switch.

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