As a fan of turn-based strategy games, and a fan of Shadowrun tabletop since 1st edition, I was absolutely delighted when I heard about the Kickstarter for a turn-based strategy MMO designed in the world of Shadowrun.
A little background before I begin (skip past the line if you just want the review):
I have been a consistent member on their forums since donating to the Kickstarter. Through that I have found Cliffhanger to be a small independent studio, and true to their name at the start, asked for a very modest ammount for such an ambitious project. However, they got the funding to do it, and through a number of pitfalls (like losing their artist... like literally, disappeared!) and some setbacks in the initial development (realizing they needed a stronger game engine to do everything they wanted- and had to design a new one to accomodate!) they finally launched the Early Access Alpha. I have also consistently participated in this process since it launched.
The Alpha launched smooth, and for the most part each update has been tight and bug-free. When bugs have come up, they quickly take care of them. They care very much about the project, and are as passionate as the fans they're making the game for, and it shows in every update.
Now that they're about a month away from officially launching, I feel comfortable giving as complete a review as I can. I have to say I still look very forward to each and every update as it has gotten better and better! They have ALWAYS listened and responded to feedback, and extra development time was taken to make the game 'right' based on that feedback.
Shadowrun is a game set in our world's future. Magic has once again awakened, including dragons and creatures of myth, which both blend and clash regularly with Megacorporations and high-tech advancements like cyberware and AI's. Magic returning to the world was not a smooth process, and led to reshaping the landscape of politics, society, and even warfare. That's where you come in. As a shadowrunner, you exist in the shadows of those giants (politics, society, and warfare) to work for often unknown employers with even more ineffable agendas... Whatever pays the bills, right Chummer?
Character Creation is easy to grasp, You choose a gender and a race (Ork, Dwarf, Troll, Elf, or Human) each of which have their own advantages and disadvantages. You may select from a variety of backgrounds to help round out your character with other qualities as well, and help set a tone for how you want them to develop.
The list is ever-expanding with them adding to it all the time. Backgrounds examples are: Bouncer, Ex-Cop, Gutter Rat, Ganger, Spirit Talker (magic, remember), Engineer, Tribal Youth, Lucky, and even "Boring" if you don't want any of the other options (it has neither bonuses or penalties). And you'll have a place to put in your own text to expand on that and tell your character's unique story.
The most fun part of character creation is (of course) designing the character! You get to choose from a wide selection of fashions, gear, and hairstyles to build your character with. One of the best parts is THERE IS NO GENDER SEPERATION IN FASHION, giving you the widest selection to choose from! You want to make a male Ork in a mini-skirt? Go for it chummer, we don't judge! You don't want to be all girly-girl as a female Elf character? Put on a road-warrior stop sign top with some camo pants to go with your cigar and automatic rifle!
The next update before the official launch will also include a variety of skin tones to choose from as well!
You have a number of Skills to choose and build up, but you can only use two Skill-sets at a time during any given run (Pistols, Automatics, Shotguns, Conjuring, Spellcraft, Hacking, Rigging (drone combat), Blades, and Blunt Weapons). Find the combination that works best for you and build them up with the XP you earn, increasing the 'Skill Tree' system which opens up more options and manevuers for your character to use during combat. You can buy into as many Skill sets as you want, but be careful not to spread yourself too thin by doing so! Better to aim for a couple specialties, especially early on. There's a lot of really good, tough choices to be made there!
Your "Attributes" are represented by a Body Tree, and a Mind Tree that you can build up as well. Are you fast and limber, adept at dodging things, or big, tough, and built like a brick? Maybe a little bit of both? Are you knowledgeable about lockpicking, and data manipulation, or observant and quick-witted? Again, little bit of both? This should be completely nailed down in the next update, so I don't know the particulars, but we have tested a number of the systems that will be going into it. These Trees will help 'fine tune' your character with little bonuses to health or dodge, make you more adept at skills and feats you can perform (lockpicking, hacking, breaking objects, etc).
Gameplay is solid as a turn-based tactial game. The tutorial eases you into it, but it can get deadly quick as you progress further into the plot. Gangers, corporate security forces (as well-armed as any paramiliatary force), armored drones, cyber-security dogs, and spirit guardians all stand in the way of your goals, and armor only goes so far against a chainsaw-weilding ganger maniac, or a security captain with a flame thrower!
One thing. It's not 'open world' like a lot of MMO's. There are social hubs you gather in, and a map of the city that you travel through with various zoned instances, that open up more and more areas for you to explore as you progress in the game. It's easy to forget that though once you're in and playing.
The main story has mostly been hidden from us until launch, so I can't give an honest review to that. The only things we know for sure is a dragon went on a rampage, everyone's getting infected with some sort of insanity, the city's gone on lockdown, and if we want to survive we need to get a supply route going for one of our contacts, and there's a lone officer stuck in the middle of this without backup that needs our help (and can pay well enough).
Another BIG thing we've known since the Kickstarter, our combined actions will affect the world in a MAJOR way. Cliffhanger has teamed with Catalyst (the current producers of the tabletop game) to co-create this story. The combined actions of our characters will bring down one of the biggest Megacorporations in the world!!
Which one? Well that's for us to decide!
There will be OPTIONAL PvP in the game as well! They have already outlined a few modes for us. One is a run team (their characters) vs another team playing the role of NPC security forces or gangers. The other is a "Running Man" style of team vs team in a Sport style environment with leaderboards and such, and another is 'objective based' which pits two teams against an environment and an objective that doesn't mean they have to fight each other... just keep the other from it.
So if you're a fan of Shadowrun, you'll want in on the action and see what both Cliffhanger and Catalyst have in store for us!
If you don't know Shadowrun, but are a fan of tactical turn-based strategy games, this is definitely worth a look!
If you're a fan of interactive roleplaying with other players in a dystopian cyberpunk futureistic setting? Well it's still worth a look! I can already tell you from the forums there's the opportunity for a thriving roleplaying community in this game, and the Dev's are already working on possible things to encourage it (private 'hang out' areas for groups to talk away from the main social hubs, etc.)
Hope you enjoyed the review, and with any luck I'll see you in the shadows!