Shadowrun Online: VERY First Impressions

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Oh, Shadowrun, so near and dear to my heart. I first discovered you as a Sega Genesis game when I was just about to enter high school, and was enamored by your eclectic mix of sci-fi and sorcery, your dark cityscapes, and working hard to make an “honest” Nuyen without getting geeked. It wasn’t until a full year later that I discovered that you were an actual tabletop roleplaying game. I saw the second edition book at my Friendly Local Game Store, instantly gave up my short fling with the Palladium RPG, and never looked back.

 
Two more editions have come and gone, and now we’re into the brand new 5th edition. The year of Shadowrun happened, and now we’re getting a new card game, a board game, and a miniatures game. Jordan Weisman brought us Shadowrun Returns for our PCs, and now Cliffhanger Productions is bringing us Shadowrun Online.

 
SRO has a bit of spotty history…

 


Let’s skip over the days where I was part of a team designing a proof of concept demo for a Shadowrun MMO, and on to July of 2012. Cliffhanger productions put up a Kickstarter for their own Shadowrun Online, only a week or two after Harebrained Schemes ended their Kickstarter for Shadowrun Returns. Lots of chummers’ credsticks were tapped out donating their Nuyen to SRR, and had nothing to throw at SRO! By the end of the Kickstarter, SRO almost didn’t reach it’s goal.

 
SRO ran into a mess of problems, from an investor leaving them high and dry to the portrait artist being abducted by aliens, but what better way to let you know about it than to let Jan Wagner (managing director at Cliffhanger) tell you himself:

 

The day is finally here! As of the 31st of March, anyone can have access to the pre-Alpha build of Shadowrun Online. Before you tear off to go download it, I’ll have to warn you that it’s gonna cost you $30. I can already hear some of you seething with rage.

 
The first thing that comes to mind is that this is just a shameless “money grab.” It is most assuredly not. The fee is there primarily to ensure that only chummers dedicated to serious playtesting and feedback are going to play.
This build of SRO is FAR from being anything resembling “done.” This pre-Alpha is nothing more than a small introductory prequel scenario following the exploits of a couple of Shadowrunners; Payday, an ork, and Takshak, a mage. It is primarily to show off SRO’s CORE mechanics. There is no character creation, or hacking, or looting, or anything like that. That stuff is coming later.

 
Cliffhanger’s mantra of designing SRO in this way is that they want the community to be a part of the game creation process. Each build of the game is going to give the option for player feedback, so Cliffhanger will be reading everything and taking notes. This is possibly the most “in-touch” any game designer is with the game community, and while it is awesome, carries a few major risks.

 
Truth be told, the internet community largely sucks. No bones about it, internet culture is the most sociopathic, rude, and entitled culture imaginable. Couple this with the fact that many gamers are so spoiled that unless the game enables you to do ANYTHING and has the most bleeding-edge, life-like graphics, the game automatically sucks. Gamers nowadays are going to expect “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” out of a company that has only a 165th of the budget in under half of the time.

 
The point is, that you cannot judge SRO solely on what this pre-Alpha gives us. Let’s leave the “final scores” for the game after it’s commercial release, shall we?

 
Cliffhanger needs your support. Now that most of the bigger problems are behind them, they can focus on bringing us the Shadowrun game we all want!

 
I believed enough in this game to fork over the money to make me what the Kickstarter calls a “Campaign Master Fixer.” This means I dropped enough Nuyen on the project to make me an in-game NPC. Yes, Doctor Belmont is going to be in Shadowrun Online! Let’s see if Cliffhanger gets my good side, eh?

 

I'm in your Shadowruns...uh...probably selling you talismans and giving you magic-related quests!

I’m in your Shadowruns…uh…probably selling you talismans and giving you magic-related quests!

 

I want this game to succeed as much as any of you do, and I’m willing to give Cliffhanger all of my support and feedback. After all, the LAST thing we want to see happen to this is have it go the way of Duke Nukem Forever, right?

 

 

ON TO FIRST IMPRESSIONS!

 

 

Shadowrun Online is off to a decent start. It feels, right now, like a Shadowrun tabletop combat simulator. Unless you play the RPG proper, a few things are going to throw you.

 
First, is that you shouldn’t expect to see numbers like “185 damage,” or even “50 damage.” Unless you SERIOUSLY crit your opponent, you’re going to be seeing single digits for damage. This holds true to the tabletop game, where most characters only have on average 10 “hit points” on their condition monitors.

 

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Second, and this should come as no surprise, is that this is tactical turn-based strategy combat. There is no such thing as “kiting,” or “DPS,” or running circles around your opponent and click a button ’till he’s dead. Combat is deadly, and this game is going to favor the tactically-minded, not the caffeine-riddled foul-mouthed 14 year old with twitch reflexes and a top of the line computer processor with a light-speed internet connection.

 
The user interface is aesthetically pleasing, and very accessible. However, it may even be a little too simple. This is fine, because this is a very bare-bones prototype. We don’t even have half our options yet! Each character has but 3 things they can do in combat (Payday can do another 3 if he switches to his melee weapon), but again, this is only temporary. I imagine the rather large UI buttons for these abilities will get smaller, with more slots on the hotbar.

 
The audio for the game has appropriate sound effects, from the staccato of gunfire to the bleeping of a nearby computer terminal. A bit of added “awesome” is the audio “layers” within a level. As your screen passes over certain objects or bits of terrain, background sounds will cue. For example, if you drag your screen over a holovid display in the first scenario, you’ll hear a newscaster giving her broadcast! When you drag your screen away, it fades. Very subtle, but very nice, Cliffhanger.

 
Now, here’s a little bit that took me by total (albeit pleasant) surprise…

 
…see these guys and their “word bubbles?”

 

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…yeah. Those are voiced. Word for word.

 
The dialogue is pretty hilarious, too! (Takshak: “Did you find her?” Payday: “Unless she’s a dwarf with a full beard, no.”)

 
This is both exciting AND worrisome. It’s exciting, because I’m now thinking about Star Wars: The Old Republic, and their fully voiced PCs. That is AWESOME. I’d love to see Shadowrunners fire quips at each other during missions! What worries me about this is that Cliffhanger may just keep that kind of VO to NPCs.

 
I hope not. I hope that when we create characters, we can choose from a bunch of different “personality” types, which provides our voice type and dialogue, not unlike games like Dragon Age: Origins.

 

 

 

The music thus far is very evocative, but remains un-intrusive during gameplay. There is part of me that hopes that there will be transitional music tracks between “sneaking about” and “combat.” I know the entire game isn’t going to be just “load level – do combat,” and there’s something a little odd about facing down Aztechnology elite troops, while listening to soft, calm background music. Shadowrun Returns did a great job in switching ambient music into combat music (I can’t get enough of listening to “Double Cross“), and I hope SRO follows suit.

 

 

The scenery in the game is quite nice! All of the surfaces and objects are highly detailed, and while the style is similar to Shadowrun Returns, it is not limited to the 3/4 view that SRR was. Objects are not flat 2d images given the illusion of 3 dimensions. Objects are fully rendered in 3d, with capability of  4 quarter turns, letting you see everything in all of it’s 3d-rendered glory!

 

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I do, however, have a few graphical nitpicks…

 
First of all, and the most noticeable, is that the animations need to be polished up. They presently look a bit jerky. Feet tend to shift inappropriately, and bodies sometimes spasm unnaturally.

 
Second, and one that is near and dear to my Shadowrunning heart…I hope those spell effects are placeholders. For all of the attention to detail of the background, the overly simplistic spell effects seem jarring. I very much hope we can look forward to seeing mages throw electric arcs for lightning bolts, or perhaps have swirling energies and glowing hands, et cetera. Please don’t leave it as “particle streak to particle explosion.”

 
I know, some chummers out there will argue that direct combat spells are invisible, and can’t be noticed. Well, that’s both true and untrue. You can notice spellcasting. See page 280 of Shadowrun 5th edition. Besides, what fun would the game be if mages don’t have a bit of flair?

 
Another thing that I thought was rather silly was “shooting something to activate it.” I can buy shooting a control panel to open a door…but shooting morgue slabs to pop them out?

 
That’s…well…

 

What’s even MORE silly? Tossing a fireball to pop open TWO of them, and listen to the funny dialogue overlap! Again, this is all fixable way before it comes out, but I do hope that players will be forced to interact with objects themselves rather than just shoot objectives. Unless, of course, you’re letting Mages and Shamans use the “Magic Fingers” spell to do that kind of stuff at a distance!

 

 

All in all, SRO is off to a good start. Sure, they’ve been plagued by setbacks, but this is no bad beginning. SRO can only improve from here, and it’s up to you to give them constructive feedback.

 

 

Cliffhanger Productions, based on the current incarnation of SRO, this is my wishlist:

1) Keep your damage system. Keeping it as close to the RPG as possible can only benefit.

2) As the game progresses, I hope we get a few more hotbar slots than just 3.

3) Transitions from ambient background music to fast-paced combat music.

4) Voice-overs for Player characters.  Give us a few “personalities” to choose from!

5) Polish up the animations.

6) Inject some flair into those magic animations! Auras, sharp effects, sounds, hand gestures, etc.

7) It would be nice to see more combat options in the next build, such as “overwatch.”

 

I can’t wait to try the next version of SRO! Keep at it, Cliffhanger!

 

 

I hope to see the rest of you in the Shadows!

 

~Doc Belmont

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Posted on April 1, 2014, in Video Games and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the extensive, fair and funny very first impressions article – we will address a lot of the points above and of course animations will be polished and we will also do a live session this week responding to some of the most popular demands

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