Shadowrun Returns is a tactical role-playing game set in a future where magic, technology, humans and meta-humans co-exist. You are a shadowrunner, a professional body-for-hire doing jobs for whoever pays the most.
The core gameplay of Shadowrun Returns is a throwback to the isometric, turn-based tactical strategy games of old like Fallout 1 and 2. Plainly speaking, you and your opponent take turns trying to kill each other using a combat system that’s a bit simplified compared to games using similar mechanics. For example, turns are on a per team instead of a per individual basis, magic is cast with no resource/mana restrictions and ammo is unlimited. To balance that, there are cooldowns for the more powerful spells and reloading will usually cost a turn.
The gameplay shines when it comes to variety. You can fight using conventional methods like shooting, punching and kicking. Or you can go medieval fantasy and cast spells or summon creatures. There’s also the option of going high tech and use drones to do your bidding. Bottom line, the game offers several viable options for combat so it deserves more than one playthrough.
The combat system offers solid turn-based action, with the variety raising a lot of questions, particularly when you’re faced with a tough situation. Do you shoot or heal? Is it better to stay in cover or keep moving to avoid getting flanked? Should you pay two turns to cast that powerful spell or just shoot twice? Naturally, the deeper you go into the game the tougher the fights get so you better get used to asking those questions. To make things even more challenging, you can’t save manually. The game autosaves at the beginning of each level so you’re committed to whatever choices you make as you progress through that level.
Character customization is also handled very well, allowing you to create and develop a character that suits your style of play. There are options for guns, melee combat, spellcasting and summoning. The requirements are pretty steep if you want a character to specialize in one to two areas. It’s a good thing that the game shows you early on if paying that cost is worth it.
The game is very text-heavy so if you’re not used to reading in a video game like I am then it’s a bit jarring to get used to. There’s no voice-acting nor is there any audio at all to help you read the text. To make matters worse for me was the whole text-on-the-right thing. It was a chore to read every bit of dialogue and exposition that way.
You can’t respec in this game. Similar to the autosave function, you’re committed to however you allocate your points so think carefully. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to stick to what works for your character and leave experimentation for future playthroughs. If you’re really curious about trying other builds, you can hire shadowrunners that fit what you’re looking for and get your answers there.
Shadowrun Returns is a very good game if you’re feeling nostalgic about the original SNES game or about tactical RPGs in general. It’s got a solid combat system, enough build varieties for more than one playthrough and a decent story that’s worth the trouble of going through all that text. If turn-based action is your sort of thing, look no further.