Shadowrun: Hong Kong – Final Thoughts

So, having finished Shadowrun: Hong Kong, I feel as though I should shed some new observations on the game. Now that I have completed the game once, though I will be doing another play through straight away, I must say that my opinions are not as high as they were walking into it for the first time. Please note: there will probably be minor spoilers, though I will stay away from specifics where I can! I’ll start with the good.

The music throughout was very good. Is it better than the Dragonfall or Returns soundtrack? That’s down to individual preference and it fitted the theme and locale very well. That being said, I loved the soundtrack of both the original Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall, so it’s hard to say which is better, if any. In my opinion, the music in this game is very, very good, but the previous games set a rather high bar to meet. It has at least done that.

Animations and effects also stayed better across the board. Full-auto and burst fire now feel like they really are spraying bullets everywhere with the occasional hit, as it should be. Magic effects are greatly improved from the previous games too, spells like powerbolt and manabolt feel far more magical and less… sparky. The bouncing spell mechanic is good fun as well and makes standing on dragon lines far, far more useful. I had instances where I cast aim on a character and it bounced to the whole crew.

Cybernetics have been greatly improved. Now, you need to take the cybernetics skill in order to take a lot of the more powerful cybernetic options rather than everyone being able to take whatever they want. I like this as it means that you actually need to invest in body and the cybernetics skill if you want to build a chromed up cyber-warrior rather than just every non-mage character taking all the best options. Added to that is the much larger selection of both cyberware and positions to put them, as well as extra essence given from the skill in cybernetics and you can really chrome up to the max!

There are... a lot of extra cybernetic options...

There are… a lot of extra cybernetic options…

Last but most certainly not least, possibly the best change in fact: decking. I just want to scream to the high heavens about how awesome this is. Before it was very simple, you jacked in, did some combat, activated some nodes and then jacked out. Now, when you jack in you are not automatically in combat. Combat-based IC aren’t always present, though there are usually trackers that patrol specific routes that you need to avoid.

Matrix combat is still unavoidable in the later parts of the game and trace can build quickly!

Matrix combat is still unavoidable in the latter parts of the game and trace can build quickly!

There’s a new trace mechanic which will start to increase if any IC detect your presence; while in combat with IC your trace will generally increase by 5 each turn (per IC that sees you), though if a tracker IC sees you it will increase by 20 each turn.

Avoiding tracker IC patrols is the new way to glide through the matrix without any issues

Avoiding tracker IC patrols is the new way to glide through the matrix without any issues

You get to most nodes by hacking blocker IC, which you can either force through at the cost of a large amount of trace, usually around 50+, or you can do a small minigame where you have to remember number patterns to increase your hacking time, then deduce a symbolic password as characters are periodically and very briefly revealed to you.

Sometimes there's a password option too, though most of the time it's either hack or force!

Sometimes there’s a password option too, though most of the time it’s either hack or force!

Because of this, you can largely get by in the matrix on the starting cyberdeck, though I will say now that later in the game the decking parts have actual IC and some brutally difficult tracker IC patrol webs, so don’t expect to be able to hack systems late game with a shoddy cyberdeck. I really, really love what they’ve done with the matrix portions myself; also, the music track for when you’re in the matrix is much better than the previous one. Definitely part of the soundtrack that improves upon the previous.

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You don’t have to do all of the number sequence memorisations. Each successful one gives you more time to work out the password in the next part though.

However, this game definitely has some drawbacks that I would like to visit. Firstly, I’ll go with the temporary one: bugs! As the game is a new release, there are a decent number of bugs which can be really frustrating on a play through of an RPG. There were some that were merely conversational, with NPCs saying silly things, but there were others that hampered my progress through the game. Also, there are typos aplenty. I think I counted at least a dozen on my first play through.

Where's my cyberdeck? Uh... It's right on my back. Are we both blind here?

Where’s my cyberdeck? Uh… It’s right on my back. Are we both blind here?

I also did not like the crew quite as much as the crew from Dragonfall. I got a really good idea of where Dietrich, Eiger and Glory came from and really enjoyed their story arcs and Blitz was comical enough that his otherwise insufferable bravado turned into a bit of comic relief for me. However, I don’t get that same feeling with the current crew. Duncan is your non-blood related brother and comes across fairly hollow. He’s an Ork who grew up with you and had anger management problems, eventually joining Lone Star with your foster-father’s help keeping him on task and under control. I don’t feel that there is a huge amount of depth to his character. Gobbet is one of the more interesting characters, a rat shaman with a special connection to Rat, or so she says, who grew up on a cobbled together raft with a bunch of friends. She’s probably the deepest character and her character arc is certainly the most enjoyable and simultaneously dark one to play through, her voice lines are generally the most enjoyable to read and post-run conversations with her were among my favourite. Is she on par with the Dragonfall crew? Debatable, but at least it’s up there! Is0bel is insufferable for me. It’s fortunate that I often play a decker and didn’t need her that much in this play through because I do not like her character. Anti-social deckers who claim to be the best just aren’t my cup of tea, especially when their background is sort of hollow and you have to ask a different crew member to fill in the details. During her mission you find out what an over-sensitive little brat she really is, though I won’t go into the details as it would most certainly be a spoiler. I do not like Is0bel and I dread my next playthrough when I’ll be running a mage character and will need her on my team. Racter is the other interesting member of the crew, though he falls short when compared to Gobbet and the Dragonfall characters as his personal run is just an optional objective to a run you do anyway. His conversations are interesting and he definitely has mental issues, but that’s part of what makes him interesting. His dialogue is well-written, portraying what he is quite well and he manages to narrowly avoid crossing the line where he becomes insufferable. Finally, there’s Gaichu. He’s interesting to a point and his character is good, but I feel that he might just infringe upon special-snowflake territory. His character mission is short and also brings up some fairly dark themes, but I didn’t find myself as emotionally invested as I did in Gobbet’s. Definitely not the best, but certainly not the worst.

I would also like to highlight the player character and the conversational choices that you are given throughout the game, as this drawback is related to the previous one about your crew. The character you play in this one felt as if I was being shoehorned into a type of character that I do not necessarily wish to be. In Dragonfall any lines of dialogue related to your character’s background were left wide open and there were definitely some varied inferences drawn from the various lines of dialogue, allowing you to role-play as a wide range of characters. In Hong Kong, it’s very black and white; you were a street kid who got taken in by a guy and then left for a job that, three days later, put you in a corporate prison for the rest of your life up until the present. From that point onwards, it always tries to push you into that role of a shady, either gang, thug or shadowrunner criminal type, shunning the megacorporations and the type of life working for one would entail. For example, my character was a very corporate, very businesslike decker who I played through Dragonfall with no issues, however in Hong Kong the same character feels contradictory; there are so many instances where I don’t feel like that type of character is even considered. To me, this was a real disappointment, especially given that there was a very corporate looking elf portrait in the character creator, and was only reinforced throughout the game.

Mega spoilers for Dragonfall and Hong Kong in the paragraph below, as I will now be talking about the ending. Highlight the paragraph to reveal the text and do so knowing that there will be major, major spoilers here. You have been warned!

Suffice to say, I am disappointed. In Dragonfall, you find Vauclair and he talks about his plans and why he’s doing what he’s doing; he sees the dragons as manipulative and controlling and wishes to get rid of them through a biological weapon that only hurts dragons. You can, through dialogue options, talk him out of it, fight against him or even join up with him! It was a really well done sequence of dialogue and Vauclair was a great antagonist for the game; he honestly believed that what he was doing was right and for the good of the planet. Siding with him doesn’t seem like an utterly moronic idea and I did do a game where I ended up siding with him, bringing about the near extinction of metahumanity due to the dragons being responsible for keeping some eldritch horrors at bay. All through the game, however, there are hints as to this consequence, especially if you play a mage or shaman and frequently speak to Absynthe and Aljernon, and you can use this as ammunition to talk Vauclair out of it, where he realises what a blind fool he has been. In Hong Kong, however, the choice felt really stupid. You track down Qian Ya and fight her twice before she offers you a deal where you can leave and let her have the Walled City in exchange for fourteen years of good fortune, or you keep fighting and eventually shut her out. There was no real reason to accept her deal, there was no feeling of “this is a good idea” when contemplating it, unlike Vauclair who put up a very good argument for his cause. If I missed something, it must have been due to a bug because I frequently spoke to Crafty and had enough points in conjuring to cast simple buffs and perceive things on the astral plane. I read through all of her notes and made sure to pay attention to everything about the Yama Kings, but nothing seemed that relevant. I’ve heard that you can avoid some fights through conversation options, but I did not see them. However, that is not the point I wish to make. The point is that the end of the game falls flat. There is no real reason to make a deal with the demon-goddess unless your character has large amounts of selfishness and stupidity and this disappointed me after the build up was very good and Dragonfall’s ending being so solid.

Overall, would I recommend Shadowrun: Hong Kong? Yes. It’s still a solid game with a good story and decent enough characters. However, I am a little disappointed overall. I enjoy the game and have already started playing through it a second time, though looking at it as a whole I would say that it simultaneously took steps forwards and backwards.

A Few Hours of Shadowrun: Hong Kong and What I Think So Far

I’ve been waiting for this to launch for months now. I’ve replayed Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall. I’ve brushed up on my cyberpunk style. Now it has finally come out. Shadowrun: Hong Kong released a few hours ago and I’ve only just managed to hop on, being in a Cyberpunk 2020 pen and paper session for most of the evening. I will not be giving any spoilers and I will not have an in-depth knowledge of the game just yet, only having played a few hours into it. What I can offer though are my first thoughts.

So, what is Shadowrun: Hong Kong? It’s the third game in a series by Harebrained Schemes, though it is not directly linked to the previous two, just as Dragonfall was not a sequel to the Dead Man’s Switch story in Shadowrun Returns. It is a totally stand-alone cRPG set in Hong Kong. It’s top down and set in the Shadowrun universe, cyberpunk with traditional fantasy elements, such as magic, elves, dragons etc. For a combination that does not sound as if it would work, it’s a pretty solid formula. So, I hopped into the character creator and had a bit of a play.

First thing I noticed was a small, personal thing: there’s a very corporate looking elf portrait which made me cheer and instantly know which one I was going with. My first playthrough is going to be a port of my own character, Renée Laurent, into the Shadowrun universe, so having a corporate looking elf portrait is just something that I really like. Give her a pair of pointy ears, change a few details in her background and she’s basically ported. Done.

Second thing I noticed was the general quality of the new portraits. The older portraits from Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall are still there, but the new portraits up the ante yet again. The portraits in Shadowrun Returns were decent enough, then Dragonfall stepped it up and gave us some cleaner, nicer looking portraits. Now that Hong Kong is here, we’ve been given another set of excellent portraits that just raise the bar once again. Personally, I really love a lot of the new portraits (trolls and orc dudes / dudettes don’t look particularly ugly either) and will certainly be using the new pictures in my playthroughs of Hong Kong.

Corp Elf in Character Creator!

Just look at how much business that portrait means. You don’t mess with -this- corporate elf!

Third: the music. The music in the Shadowrun games by Harebrained Schemes has always been solid and so far, Shadowrun: Hong Kong is keeping the standards as high as I would expect. The music is definitely solid in this and, combined with the art book, makes me very, very pleased that I pre-ordered the deluxe version. I have not heard a large number of tracks so far, as I am not far into the game at all, but so far I am not disappointed.

The combat is definitely solid, though if I were to be picky there is not that much that is new. Dragon lines have replaced ley lines, though I am still unsure of exactly what differences there are. There most certainly are differences as one gave my shaman health regen after casting some spells, which was nice, but I have no idea why. Also, it appears that losing control of elementals isn’t a massive pain in the backside any more, meaning I may actually play a player-character shaman, as it seemed like my water elemental just disappeared after a few turns; it should also be mentioned that I did not have to choose how many AP to give it, having a constant 4 AP until it vanished. Whether or not this is a good thing I will leave up to the veteran shaman players as I never gave it much thought in the previous games myself. Gun play, melee and spells all seem to work the same, cover is still super-important, flanking is a good way to put your enemies in the ground and armour is incredibly useful, though this was all true in Dragonfall as well. The animations in combat are smoother and seem more real than before, where the animations used to be a little clunky and robotic the new animations seem to flow quite naturally.

My main criticism is tiny and easily fixable. Starting armour is horrible. I will be buying new clothes as soon as I can because I hate the starting armour. If you’re playing a Lone Star rent-a-cop or some kind of contractor who would wear such armour, then it’s great. However, I’m playing a very corporate, private investigator style of character who I’d much rather be in at least a long leather coat like the previous games’ starting armour. Small, easily dealt with gripe, but a gripe nonetheless.

I will write more once I have gotten further into the game. There are a few things that I really want to try out, for example the supposedly revamped matrix experience as I always seem to play a decker, as well as the new cyberware options. Body is no longer just an arbitrary health statistic, there’s a cyberware skill tied to it now! Super excited to dive further in, but it’s 2:40am in the UK and I definitely need to sleep. At least being a teacher gives me stupid amounts of holiday!