LSO Plays Shadowrun Dragonfall: Part 1 - The Loresworn Order


LSO Plays Shadowrun Dragonfall: Part 1

We’re playing through a whole bunch of awesome games with stories that were memorable and inspiring to us. Our current subject is Shadowrun: Dragonfall. We’ll discuss it section by section as we go, and we’d love to have you guys play along and add your thoughts. This week, we get the party started with the Harfeld Manor and Das Kesselhaus runs.

We encourage you to leave your own thoughts in the comments. If you’re playing along with us, play up through the end of the Humanis compound by next Monday, November 9.

SPOILER WARNING: These discussions will contain spoilers, but only for the section we played this week. So if you’re following along, you don’t have to worry.

Dragonfall opens so swiftly and so intensely that you’re hooked until the very end, and that’s one of the things I love so much about it. Dead Man’s Switch (the first campaign Harebrained did for Shadowrun Returns) was good, but not great. And I have to say, I was expecting more of the same from Dragonfall: my money’s worth, a fun time, but nothing remarkable. Then Monika Schaeffer jacked into the Matrix and my heart rate shot up. A milk run going to shit is quite the entrance for one of the finest, most underrated RPG’s of the last five years.

Yeah, Dragonfall knocked me flat in a way that can only result from expecting “okay” and being hit with truly great. It’s actually a sublime lesson in how to start a story about a disparate group of iconoclasts who don’t get along very well—also known as every tabletop RPG group ever. You give them a good friend by whom they’re all connected, and then you kill that person savagely. The group starts to bond almost immediately in mutual grief and a desire for revenge. You never doubt what your goal is, or where you stand with any of the other runners.

And the other runners have that “player character feel”, don’t they? Like some random person you’ve just met over buffalo wings and gas station pizza rolled them up and are sitting at a table with you. They all start off playing to their core concepts, and then deepen and grow before your eyes in between missions. The stand-off with Eiger outside Harfeld Manor, then back in the Kreuzbasar, was more than just intense writing. It took me back to times at the game table when a character I was playing had a tense moment with another player’s. Just that raw feeling of anxiety and conflict, kept in line only by the knowledge that your crew has stumbled on a something way bigger than any personal grudge. These early interactions are really well done, and give you ample opportunity to shape your runner’s personality in a variety of ways.

I think you hit the nail, there. So many RPG companions feel like they were created with the idea that they’re side characters or accessories firmly in mind. Not so with Dragonfall’s crew. They’re really an outstanding bunch. I find it hard to think of an RPG with as good a stable of protagonists as this, honestly. Mass Effect and Baldur’s Gate have some companions who measure up, but Dragonfall’s companions are universally awesome and interesting. Well, maybe except Blitz… (Sorry Blitz.) And it’s far from a happy family. Other than Dietrich, everyone has some beef with you starting off. Figuring out how you’re going to deal with that is an engaging and nonlinear subplot that enhances the somewhat less narratively interesting runs after Harfield Manor.

Dragonfall plays with the “big conspiracy” plot type, and as such, knows it needs to take its time and lay the breadcrumbs for the eventual big reveals and key plot missions that come snowballing in the second half of the story. But, I’d agree. The beginning is a touch slow, and were it not for extremely engaging team building and character interaction, a dynamite opening just might have bogged down. One thing I did enjoy, however, was how dense and interesting Harebrained made the Kreuzbasar.

Yeah, it’s a cool little hub with plenty of stuff to do and flavorful side characters to meet as the campaign goes on. Harebrained also nailed the semi-fantastical cyberpunk art style Shadowrun calls out for and deserves. The little bits of info you get about the world and your character just roaming around doing odd jobs lends that “home within a virtual world” feeling to everything that makes you long to go back after the credits roll. Getting out of the ‘basar for the first time, though, is a bit underwhelming. While Das Kesselhaus offers a few different skill-related completion paths, it’s otherwise a fairly bog standard shadowrun without storytelling weight or interesting developments to throw around. But like you said, they can’t go balls to the wall the whole game.

Das Kesselhaus is all about getting you the information that you spend the mission’s aftermath viewing and absorbing. It’s a narrative bridge from the Manor to the main plot, and as such, it was an easy trap to fall into: it felt a bit forced. The introduction of Blitz and his little mini-heist at the end is a perfect example of a plot development being shoehorned in, and the pacing felt weird. That said, replaying a mission like Das Kesselhaus demonstrated to me that Harebrained actively learns from its previous efforts and endeavors to improve upon them. Check out my review of Hong Kong to see my comments on improved shadowruns.

You also have to give them credit for the little things they do throw in—like a giant, mutant scorpion who was left to his caretaker’s friend. The friend forgot to feed him, got killed, and the bug becomes your problem. I’ve always loved those “show, don’t tell” mini-narratives in sprawling RPGs, and Harebrained does them as well as anyone. It’s also very Shadowrun. The world knows how ridiculous it is, and has to poke fun at itself once in awhile. It’s a similar vibe to Fallout: New Vegas in that way.

Next up, we process the information we’ve learned, and start on the main task that consumes much of the plot. Until next week!

And thus, Dragonfall is underway. Remember, if you’re following along, play up through the end of the Humanis compound by next Monday, November 9. Send us your comments for the upcoming section on the Contact page (not in the comments, to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t gotten that far yet), and we might include them in the next discussion!

About The Loresworn Order

This post was written in collaboration between multiple staff members of the site.

One comment

  • Nathan Bohn
    Nov 25, 2015 @ 20:59 pm

    Will you guys ever do anything like the Crusader Kings Chronicles that T.J did back in the day, maybe with other Paradox titles? I think that when HOI IV comes out, a Chronicle for that would be very well received. Maybe you could add a Role Playing spin to it, each segment being like an entry in a member of one country’s High Command’s diary, like Joseph Goebbels’ diary or something? Just a thought.


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