The year is 2056 once an orphan taken off the streets by an old man you find yourself leaving your home in Seattle to chase down your foster father in the neon streets of Hong Kong. Those unfamiliar with the Shadowrun franchise will find themselves immersed in the Sixth World an earth once like our own now ruled by Mega-Corporations and home to a number of familiar fantasy races all powered up with a variety of magic, cybernetics and demonic spirits.
The game starts out with you building your character the defacto leader of the stories group that you will be exploring Hong Kong with, Hairbrained Schemes has done a good job of making a large number of options available to you from the get go with a focus on characters with one or two specialisms balanced through race choice, class templates and a “Karma” based points system.
Karma is the currency you use to level up and add skills to your character, you start the game with a pool of 55 to invest into your six different attributes and the skills within them. If you have played an RPG before the attributes all have familiar names (Body, Quickness, Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma) each with a maximum level linked to your race choice.
Shadowrun limits the level of your skills by the level of your attribute which results in you having to invest a lot in one or two attributes to gain access to a diverse selection of skills. The selection of skills is pretty large except in the case of the Body attribute, which only has cybernetics.
Each level in an attribute usually increases some passive functionality and then provides additional options during gameplay. A character with high strength can hit well in melee and may have additional options to remove obstacles in the game or threaten someone and the same goes for each of the attributes. This makes your investment of Karma matter in the long run.
When creating your character you are given a selection of six different archetypes which will pre-allocate a number of your karma points into different themes of attributes and skills, Street Samurai use cybernetics and guns, Mages cast spells, Deckers hack while Riggers command an army of robots. The archetypes allow you to get an idea of your character’s place in the world while also helping you create character if you’re unfamiliar with Shadowruns gameplay.
Those returning to the series will find all of these options very familiar but there’s an additional option to choose to have no Archetype and build your character from scratch.
Customising appearance gives you the choice of basing your character on a portrait with each gender/race combination having a good number of appearances to choose from or using the different hairstyles, beards and horns to create your own character. I was a little disappointed at the lack of cosmetic choices (a selection of glasses/hats for example) but with the game played mostly zoomed out it didn’t really have much impact on my experience.
Gameplay makes use of a top down isometric camera combined with a polished almost hand painted art style to create a number of beautiful locations that still manage to reflect the grim reality of living in the Shadowrun universe all brightened up with a large amount of neon signs.
As you play the game you play through each area exploring in real time, talking to NPCs sometimes stumbling on a minor side quest or some loot; frequently changing to turn based combat when words aren’t enough and the bullets have to fly. The enemies in SR: Hong Kong are mostly made up of the HKPD, street gangs and then the occasional supernatural being such as a vampire and a mummies spirit.
The turn based combat was relatively easy on the Normal difficulty with the formula to winning each battle being pretty simple to achieve once you understand each of the gang members skills and abilities. Your enemies will bring a mixed variety of magic, drones, guns and melee attacks to the field but it’s pretty easy to just kill their magicians (preventing most buffs and heals), hide in cover and pick everyone else off.
Characters with a focus on combat skills (so any character not purely focused on hacking) will have an easy time of getting through the game’s frequent combat encounters but despite this I did find the combat enjoyable and rewarding with the number of options on how to take on a situation keeping things fresh and those unlucky situations where you’ve been ambushed keeping it exciting enough.
The story and dialogue makes up a large portion of Shadowrun and those returning from previous Shadowrun games will find the usual good use of narrative and memorable characters to immerse the player in the Shadowrun universe. Many of the characters you meet, even those around for just one mission often have a story and interesting commentary on the situation unfolding around you providing an enjoyable tale of magic and espionage that lasted me around 17 hours.
The game ran well for the majority of my time with it, eventually becoming a little unstable and crashing to desktop in the final few hours. Otherwise I had no technical issues with the game.
Overall I’d say that Shadowrun: Hong Kong is a fantastic addition to Hairbrained Schemes use of the franchise, though it doesn’t push the envelope and go anywhere new with the RPG genre. It does provide an engaging and entertaining cyberpunk experience that I’ll be coming back too once we start see high quality community campaigns hitting the Steam Workshop.