This is a 3-D isometric, RPG-LITE, turn based tactical game with short, combat-oriented missions. The game design decisions are built around the idea of quick play: from the UI, to the tactical choices to the repercussions for individual actions, everything converges to generate a combat-focused fast-play experience by turn-based standards. RPG or Tactical?
As something of a hybrid Tactical-RPG title, I would say its leaning markedly towards the tactical end of the spectrum. If you’re coming in expecting a full-blown RPG with a dynamic interactive story, you’ll likely be disappointed, as the efforts of the developers is more oriented towards generating a dynamic tactical game with high replay value on their content (ie. gratuitous gun-fights with bodies dropping all around). It does tell a story, but this is a backdrop for the missions and you’re not going to alter the mission flow of the Boston Lockdown campaign (though there is a plan to have future missions change based on the total pool of player choices in certain missions, but that's not really relevant to those wanting an interactive story). From an RPG perspective, it does tell a story, but doesn’t try and make that interactive. Character Building
Character creation is also more like a richer version of a tactical squad based game than a full-blown RPG. Everything is skill tree oriented, and its like a much larger X-Com mechanism with a linear progression down each tree and many of the progressions offering “this or that” choices. Characters can have two weapon trees active, plus two trees filled with passive abilities, which in many cases are kinda like what attributes would do in a traditional RPG system.
Also of note, there is going to be a soft cap on Karma (XP), so that only the story missions will offer karma to learn new skills and end game runners will not be juggernauts of the primordial plane (repeatable missions will be there for end game runners to gain loot and buy expensive items like cyberware). New story missions released after launch will raise the cap, but you’re looking at specialists rather than Mr. Do-It-All for the end game. You can, however, create multiple runners and try out different builds.
It seems implicit that they first decided on the combat mechanics and then built the character skills and abilities while trying to keep things balanced, like you’d expect in a tactical game. It was not designed to cater to people who bought the game so that they can build a very specific sort of mage or what have you, so everyone would do well to know that before purchase.
There is a lot of potential for visual customization, though this content is still in development. Combat
This is really the strength of the game. As noted, the core philosophy is quick play, and this has come together very nicely with game mechanics that generate decisive results off of single actions. What does that mean? Well, good shots with a clear line of sight or done with melee weapons have a VERY high chance to hit. Likewise, getting hit does a LOT of damage in relation to most characters ability to take damage. Things are quite furious here, so its basically the opposite from the Shadowrun Returns attritional combat model where firefights drag out forever and sometimes see characters get hit with an assault rifle and it degrading their hit points by 8% in extreme situations.
As a counter point, targets that are buttoned up behind cover actually offer a rather low base chance to hit – lower than in X-Com in, I’d say – so you really are encouraged to use sound tactics (and you can use character creation to either have a very high chance to hit, therefore making buttoned up targets viable, or lowering the enemy chance to hit you, making you a really tough mark if you’re hunkering in the back with a long range weapon).
There’s also interesting dynamics with a rock-paper-scissors aspect based on physical-tech-magic damage and armor, some targets being extremely vulnerable to one, but immune or resistant to another (physical damage being the ‘safe but doesn’t open vulnerabilities’ option). There’s also a marking system where deckers and magic users can “mark” a target that opens up the abilities for other team members attacks.
I personally would endorse the AI as being respectable as well, though others might disagree. The melee based enemies are aggressive and generally just try and bum-rush you, while the missile enemies play it much more conservative and use cover. It’s not perfect, but I can say with 100% certainty that it’s vastly superior to the AI in ‘Sid Meier’s Starships’ (HAH!). Realistically, it’s probably comparable to the AI in X-Com:EU and better than the AI in the Shadowrun Returns games. Multiplayer or Singleplayer?
You can play either way. There’s currently a 2 player Co-Op mode with 4 player Co-Op coming soon, but you can also easily play single-player by running the whole team yourself (your main character and 3 Henchmen). There’s a global chat and I’d say its generally quite friendly, as we might expect in a game that’s currently Co-Op oriented.
There is no PVP yet, but they’re working on it, though deathmatch style PVP between mature runners probably isn’t coming anytime soon (major balancing issues there with the high end PVE abilities, stun combos and so on). However, one of the ideas is to have asymmetrical PVP where one set of players takes the runners and the other controls the Gang or Corporate troops. The other option is for an “Urban Brawl” with people putting together teams of runners without the high end abilities/kit that will break PVP blanace and then going with a runner-on-runner rumble. Bugs
Overall this is quite stable for an early release (and I’m on a Mac). A new update can see problems but they get sorted quickly enough, with most bugs being more of the nuisance variety rather than CTD type stuff.Overall
Whether or not this is a good purchase for you really just comes down to the preferences of the individual here and your expectations. You’ve got a number of things that are well developed or emphasized and then a number of things that RPG fans would be disappointed not to see.
Content has generally been developed with the idea of replayability and caters to tactical gamers at least as much as RPGers. For me its great fun and has an addictive quality as I can just bang out 15 minute firefights, but you’ll have to decide for yourself if what SRC offers is right for you.