Wot I Think – Shadowrun: Hong Kong

Shadowrun: Hong Kong [official site] is the third-and-a-half time around the block for this cyberpunk-but-with-elves roleplaying series, and by now there’s a routine and a rhythm. You build a Shadowrunner, a secretive mercenary who can fight with technical or mystical powers (or a combination of the two), leading a team of fixed-spec allies with big personalities through real-time exploration and turn-based action. This time, the setting is one of the touchstones of 80s cyberpunk, and we’re dealing with Triads, social segregation and city-wide nightmares in addition to the usual gang war, troll mercenaries and magic-assisted corporate espionage.

The scope is larger – some of the environments are enormous – but broadly speaking it’s business as usual, with a few new tricks to dabble with and a ton of new art and writing. Further Adventures In Shadowrun rather than Great Leap Forwards. Granted, this is what was promised in the successful Kickstarter (the series’ second), but there is now that nagging sense that this could perhaps be a (very generous) expansion pack rather than whole new game.

The most obvious place the money’s been spent is on art: these massive locales and missions with bespoke, hugely ornate decor, most of which is purely backdrop. Take, for instance, the main hub, a sprawling, dockside underworld town which houses your base, quest-givers, a load of different shops, a bunch of oddballs to chat to and a smattering of micro-missions.

In theory, it’s great that there’s so much to look at, from Majong parlours to docked battleships, magic dens, caravans full of mad drones and illicit augmentation labs, all adorned with dirty neon or sinister leylines. The art is meticulous, luxurious (at least within the confines of this series’ slightly cardboard cut-out presentation). In practice, it’s a hell of a lot of schlepping around static scenery you saw hours ago, absorbed and then took for granted because all you need from it is to hit the same few spots again and again. It’s big for big’s sake, and not supported by quite enough to do.

The other big focus is story, deemed to be What The Fans Want, and that too feels Big For Big’s Sake at times. The central mystery, of why a foster-father you haven’t seen for years has summoned you to a nightmare-plagued Hong Kong, only to immediately go missing and for you to be framed for a crime you didn’t commit, certainly has some grab, probably more so than the conspiracies of the two preceding games.

There are also some wonderfully detailed character descriptions and conversations which amp up the ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek hardboiled atmosphere, but by and large every conversation goes on just a little too long. It’s perhaps over-dependent on florid description to convey what its static backdrops and fixed-expression characters cannot. There’s too much front-loading of exposition too, several hours of prescribed plotting – albeit with plenty of options about how your want your character to treat others – before it releases you to quest and shop and chat to your gang at relative leisure. I suspect devoted Shadowrunheads will lap this stuff up, but some of it really seemed like needless bulk to me, as though Hong Kong was trying to be a more substantially new Shadowrun game than it really is.

The embiggenation is not limited to presentation, fortunately. The game proper has a little more flex than the last one, a couple of more memorable squad members (one, a cannibalistic, Samurai ghoul who’d like to be a more valuable member of society, particularly feels like he walked right out of one of the better Bioware games) and some big, setpiece missions which often offer a choice of violence or avoidance. It’ll keep you busy, and you’re generally left free to be dick or diplomat. An open world it is not however, which I think is why that massive hub level feels a bit off. It’s as though SHK is trying to carry itself like a freeform game, but didn’t or couldn’t fill it with enough #content. I enjoy the setting and characterisation of this one more than the preceding Dragonfall, but the latter’s scale felt like more of a sweet spot. SHK might up the stakes, but getting around is a little fatiguing.

Flabby it might be, but boring it’s not, however: this builds on most everything that came before in minor ways, and though its places are still populated by a handful of people rooted to the spot, they’re certainly flashier, and it’s a pleasure to behold its string of cyberpunky sights.

It worth mentioning that the game takes few prisoners in terms of explaining its many systems, classes and abilities. Token efforts are made to explain how to build a capable character or use advanced skills, but it’s pretty clear it presumes that most of its audience has played at least one of the other games. The last thing I’d do is request more tutorial before the game begins in earnest, but an optional, more extensive one would make a lot of sense if you don’t know your Conjuring from your Chi. Fortunately it’s not a terribly difficult game, being much more about the hours you put in rather than strategic skill, but expect some brow-furrowing if this is your first time. A new system to occasionally choose new powers for squad members, similar to the upgrade tree in XCOM, is at least far better explained, given it involves essentially brand-new, bespoke abilities.

I like Shadowrun: Hong Kong well enough, and it’s without doubt the series’ glossiest, most generous and flexible instalment yet. I do feel I’m repeating myself to some degree, however. Building up a character, accruing cash to spend on only marginally better weapons and armour, unravelling a conspiracy, occasionally diving into Tronish cyberworld sequences: I’ve done this twice before, and though I don’t resent doing it again I am ready for something more substantially different next time.

On the other hand, I suspect the developers know exactly what fans want and exactly what they’re doing, and I’ll be surprised if Hong Kong isn’t considered the series’ new high watermark. While the fantasy elements sometimes felt air-lifted into the earlier games’ cyberpunk setting, this meshes the mystical and the science-fictional from the off, using Eastern mythology as a framing construct for its high concepts without tumbling into stereotype too often. Though a section in which you try to improve the feng shui of a slum was a bit much, admittedly.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is a substantial and in some respects lavish cyberpunk romp, which, if looked at purely in its own right, is only really guilty of a bit of visual and narrative flab. It’s got fun characters, loads of skills and spells, eschews melodrama in favour of allowing you to choose how seriously you’re going to treat the world you’re thrown into, and pretty reliably offers multiple, if slightly perfunctory, quest solutions. If this is your first time with the series, you’re in for a merry old time, although I’d still point to the tauter Dragonfall: Director’s Cut as a slightly superior Shadowrun experience.

If you’ve been round the neon block a few times already, then Hong Kong’s going to feel pretty familiar, despite being perfectly solid and having a few new toys plus a wider, more ostentatious stage than ever before. This might well be what you want, of course, but speaking as someone who isn’t here first and foremost for the love of the setting, I’m not entirely sure all those Kickstarter funbucks have been spent quite as effectively as they could have been.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is out now.

104 Comments

  1. Lars Westergren says:

    I liked both the earlier games a lot, but thought they were a bit sparse, both visually and with the world building, so this sounds great to me. Haven’t played it yet of course, so I’ll wait to see if I agree with the “big for it’s own sake” view.

  2. MasterPrudent says:

    I’m surprised this review skipped over the thing I was most curious about: the revamped matrix. Have whatever changes they made not had much of an impact on the way it plays?

    • emotionengine says:

      This. I was very curious about the new revamped Matrix, it being one of the major stretch goals and all. Right now I’m inclined to think that Alec not even mentioning it suggests the changes were less profound than one would hope.

      • Philopoemen says:

        Its got a few differences than what it used to be, and it’s not really explained that well in-game.

        Matrix is now real time with Watcher IC roaming, if they spot you, same as normal combat. So early part of Matrix missions is more of a stealth game, moving to the blindspots.

        Then you reach Blocker IC, which require a little mini game if you want to stay passive. It’s not explained that well, especially if like me you’ve got a more than a few SR hours under your belt. But once you get the hang of it, it’s okay.

        Matrix certainly looks better, and feels a lot more engaging than the previous games efforts.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I was wondering about that, because the cyber combat was the least enjoyable part of Dragonfall for me (and I didn’t play the first one). It just seemed like reskinned normal combat.

      Maybe the devs were limited by the game engine, but I was expecting something more like the disembodied hacking and dealing with threats in the classic cyberpunk novels.

  3. megazver says:

    Hmmm.

    Hard to say from this review if it’s you or them, really. Either way, I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy this.

    • Alec Meer says:

      I enjoyed it too.

      • Laurentius says:

        But your SW Dragonfall is similiarly lukewarm as this one. Just enjoyable. So it doesn’t matter if it is one and half year later or 3 years, it would still be enjoyable at best for you. Not for me because I wasn’t a fan of Shadowrun (never played tabletop ) but Dragonfall DC is superb and I am so pumped for Hong-Kong that even finishing Witcher 3 seems like a meh.

        • Alec Meer says:

          It’s very sad to live in a world where ‘enjoyable’ is treated as if it means ‘bad.’

          • Laurentius says:

            Nah, not read it that way. It’s just a bit wierd to graduate “enjoyable” that way for me. All I am saying that basicly this is the same WIT that you’ve written for Dragonfall but written one and half later, it really reads as: if Honk-Kong was from last year’s title and Dragonfall came right now, you’d probably reverse your positioniong of these two titles because both read as “enjoyable” but later with additional ” I played it before”.

          • Harlequin says:

            You think people confusing enjoyable with bad is bad? I used to go to console forums when I owned one and if it’s metacritic (yeah, wrong from the get-go) score was below 80, people considered it a bad game.

            As to the author’s criticism, I can understand it. It is, strictly speaking, just more of the same – for better or worse, depending on whether you liked Dragonfall. I felt the same way with Pillars of Eternity – nice writing, nice characters, very expansive… but nothing novel in terms of combat or interaction.

          • Harlequin says:

            *its metacritic

          • Morlock says:

            Dragonfall got a more positive review than Hong Kong. It’s not fair to reduce a WIT to a single statement, but the core sentence back then was: “Dragonfall’s a big improvement on Shadowrun Returns even if it is inescapably the same game, and it pulls off the smart trick of being both a superior starting point and a more satisfying follow-up.”

            I am currently falling in love with The Witcher 3, but know that when I get around to Hong Kong I will enjoy it a lot. The new Shadowrun RPGs have been the perfect “red wine” games for me. You can just lean back, relax and enjoy. They are not perfect, but they have a real soul to them.

            At the same time I can understand how the formula can bet a bit stale and how developers may overstretch a design instead of building something new.

          • Rumpelstilskin says:

            “Enjoyable” is clearly just a 75%, so there you go.

          • Shadow says:

            I’m not about to quantify the unquantifiable, but the article has a distinct, semi-ambivalent tone. It’s perhaps Alec’s trademark. It’s a positive review, but there’s a ‘but’ to every good point: no matter how minor, there’s flaws no matter where you look. In this case, ‘enjoyable’ might mean ‘good’ but certainly falls short of ‘excellent’. It doesn’t help that ‘enjoyable’ can apply to many levels of quality, from a merely decent indie game to a AAA masterpiece.

            I suppose it’s a matter of connotations. The article constantly implies ‘could be better’, and while that’s technically always true and there’s no perfect game, repeating it enough can paint the subject of the review in a worse light than intended.

            It could also be a matter of structure: it might be better to be more traditional and separate the good from bad, keep them in different parts of the article and assign proportionate spotlight to each. Instead of mixing it all and risking this ambivalence, perhaps a by-product of trying to strike a balance or achieve ‘fairness’.

            Just my two cents.

          • MisterFurious says:

            “It’s very sad to live in a world where ‘enjoyable’ is treated as if it means ‘bad.’”

            Yeah, that’s the truth. These idiot Millennials have binary brains that can only process in two extremes. Everything is either “The Greatest Thing Ever!!!” or “The Worst Thing Ever!!!”. Every User Review score is a 1 or a 10. If you didn’t cream your pants in pure orgasmic ecstasy then it’s a pile of crap. Everything is Black or White to them. There are no shades of grey. No mediocre. No varying degrees of Good or Bad. Only one extreme or another. That’s all their brains can process.

  4. LuckyLuigi says:

    As an original backer who really enjoyed what he got, more of the same but bigger en better is perfect for me :)

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      Hell, I’ll take just bigger as long as it’s at least as good.

  5. Sirius1 says:

    “Further Adventures In Shadowrun rather than Great Leap Forwards”

    Several times, this review seems to regret the lack of new shiny features. There seems to be a pervading consensus amongst game journalists especially that the same game engine with a different story is bad – lazy development etc. I, for one, don’t agree.

    There have been numerous games where I would have loved it if they had kept the engine largely as is was, and just added a new story. Fallout (the original) and Deus Ex spring to mind. Progress for progress’ sake does not a better game make.

    • Alec Meer says:

      I don’t say it’s bad. I don’t even remotely imply it’s lazy, and nor do I think that. I say that my own interest wavered because the experience feels very familiar now.

      • malkav11 says:

        I’m not sure there’s as much of a distinction there as you seem to believe. It strikes me as very much the phenomenon being talked about – reviewing a game worse than its predecessor for being a new story with much the same gameplay. I mean, I for one am clear from your review that you still enjoyed it, so it’s a relatively light version of that (especially since WITs don’t have scores). But it’s certainly a trend I’ve noticed too.

      • Shadow says:

        Personally, I think it’s perfectly fine for reviewers to expect innovation from the medium. That’s not to say an innovative game is automatically better than a more conservative one done right, and failed innovation can end up worse. Still, “more of the same” has a quality ceiling, and innovative done right can surpass that.

        • malkav11 says:

          I think it’s great to look for innovation, but that’s something I’d expect from entirely new games, not sequels in the same franchise, where big deviations in gameplay are often actively unwelcome (as was my experience with both of Bioware’s major franchises lately). And I certainly wouldn’t automatically mark a game down merely for following closely in its predecessor’s footsteps, as long as it offered a new narrative to explore.

          Besides, you almost never get games that are genuinely identical to their predecessor. It’s just a question of whether they make small, incremental changes or big, risky changes. And yeah, the latter have more scope for improvement…but they also have more scope for harm. When you’re already in a spot that works, taking big risks isn’t really the smart play.

      • guygodbois00 says:

        ” and nor “!?

      • Apocalypse says:

        “I’m not entirely sure all those Kickstarter funbucks have been spent quite as effectively as they could have been.”

        Some might misunderstand something like this as implying incompetence on developer side or laziness. And I am totally not saying that this was your intention, though overall your review sounds a little bit disappointed, like you did get a new campaigned, but hopped for a new game.

        Personally I would actually say: I enjoyed SRR:HK quite a bit, even when it was overall not as good as Dragonfall. Worth every minute still, even when they went on the “more writing” kickstarter goal a little bit overboard imho.

  6. It's not me it's you says:

    So based on this review – would it be impossible to create, for example, a series of games based on, say, the Vampire table top rules, with each game focusing on a different set of characters, in a different environment, with a different story focus, but all taking place in the same game play engine without setting of ‘more of the same’ alarms?

    I’m not being snarky, I’m just trying to work out how could you create ‘more Shadowrun games’ without creating games that are ‘samey’. Given that tabletop systems host games for years, sometimes decades without changes to the underlying system it’s possible in other media at least. Is it something to do with making so much explicit (images on screen over descriptions), the relative lack of freedom compared to tabletop situations?

    I wonder if in some alternate timeline the team behind Baldur’s Gate 2 continued to create games at that quality level with that engine and after one or two more also ran into ‘this game feels way too similar to the previous ones’. I think they probably would have.

    I wonder how this could be avoided or mitigated. Engine reuse and gameplay system reuse seems like a path towards highly narrative / experience focused games (by this I mean compare BG2 to BG1 – far less time spend on systems meant more time / budget for additional writing / quests / art etc) and it seems to me what Harebrained is hoping to do with this Shadowrun tech. If it becomes unmanageably difficult to create novel experiences this way after a few outings though, does that mean you’re basically on the hook for redoing Everything From Scratch every few iterations?

    Or is it simply a problem in execution more than theory? The Spiderweb Software games seem to share tech extensively and have 5ish entries per series, from memory. Never played them enough to get a sense of this though.

    • Curled Woofy says:

      I think it’s a matter of taste. After all there are people out there who still play Thief Mods etc. so the market for a series with x iterations in the same engine is there. Other people like to have a new experience in every game they play and that’s ok too.
      Normally I count myself as someone who likes to play a lot of different games but I’ll definitely come back to SRR for SHK at some point in the future.

    • Alec Meer says:

      That sounds exactly like something fans would adore but floating traffic might be more ‘well, ok, but maybe I want something different to play.’ To be clear: I am not saying this is bad, but I am saying that, as someone who definitely likes the Shadowrun theme but wouldn’t self-identify as a ‘fan’ as such, it’s not quite got the grab that, particularly, Dragonfall had. But we are seeing these games in relatively quick succession: a gap of a few years would definitely have created more hunger for more of That Sort Of Thing.

      • Emeraude says:

        That’s kinda par for the course though – I mean, technically, this is an expansion pack by any other name, and historically those used to almost invariably sell a bit less with each new release, generally to the portion of the audience whose appetite hadn’t yet been satiated.

        Sounds good to me though. More of the same with a maybe a bit more polish is exactly what I expected, and I know I will have a great time of it.

      • Apocalypse says:

        Your sure that it is the re-use of the engine and not that it plays out story-wise and mechanically quite the same too?

        Planescape: Torment did nothing new engine-wise, but it did something drastically new story-wise.

        For SRR:HK the main story is surprisingly shadowrun standard stuff, while the npcs like Gaichu, Keng fu, racteer, Is0bel and Gobbler would give the developers room for much more interesting stories instead of a classic “magic threat” shadowrun story, which they have done already twice on top of being done a million times in the tabletop already.

        Is it btw ironic when I wish for a bug city campaign next? ;)
        I think not, because that scenario makes at least sure that the MC stand no chance to just kill the problem, so it has to follow a different tale.

    • schlusenbach says:

      I think this has to do with how game journalists look at a new game. For some reason “more of the same” is inherently a bad thing for a reviewer, even if “the same” is very good. It’s just a mindset that is always present.

      Last time I read this was for “Wolfenstein – Old Blood” where the RPS review noted: “At the same time, it’s hard to make a case for buying this if you’ve played The New Order lately. It’s more of the same but slightly lesser…” and then later “Even so, this just feels so hot on the heels of The New Order without taking it anywhere new.”

      I would have said the opposite: if you have played “The New Order” and liked it, you’ll have a great time with the Old Blood. I wouldn’t have a problem if there was a new “samey-but-great” Wolfenstein title for the next five years, but for some reason the reviewer (oh, it was Alec) thinks it has to be “better, fresher, whatever”. I believe the majority of the players don’t have this expectation.

      • Emeraude says:

        Given the volume of games they have to play, I can easily imagine why novelty would be a very desired quality to people whose job happens to be reviewing games.

        • trn says:

          To be fair, I don’t have as much time as I would like to game and ‘more of the same’ is often a helpful indicator – especially if the game is a long one. I can only play one game at a time, maybe 25-30 a year, do I want to be trying something novel, or something familiar? Having played the first two Shadowrun games I am not eager to jump in again (yet) without a guarantee of significant changes.

      • MisterFurious says:

        Well, not everyone wants to play the same damn game over and over or watch the same damn movies over and over or hear the same damn songs over and over. Some people want new experiences. If you like the same crap over and over and over and over then good for you, but some don’t.

      • malkav11 says:

        The Old Blood specifically missed out on one of the biggest parts I liked about The New Order – the really thoughtful depiction of this alternate 1960s where the Nazis won. So, yeah, it’s more of the same but lesser. I wouldn’t have had a problem with more New Order, though.

  7. Curled Woofy says:

    How about some bigger screenshots if you clicky? They look very beautiful and well chosen but I for one can’t make out very much on them.

  8. dorobo says:

    I tried directors cut but it’s just too much reading and it’s not that good of a read for me to go all the way to the end and I’d rather pick up a good book :) And this just seems like they doing more of the same and cashing in on the fame of the first part.

    • Curled Woofy says:

      Are you talking about Dragonfall? Compared to other RPGs there isn’t really that much to read.

    • geisler says:

      You must read a lot of beefy books if you consider what’s featured in these games “too much to read”…

  9. bobbobob says:

    I really struggle to play these as anything other than a pistol-type street samurai. Has anyone ever played primarily as a rigger or melee and just thought it wasn’t a wasted choice?

    • Curled Woofy says:

      Playing as a Katana-wielding Chi-Dwarf right now and I’m having more fun with Eiger, so there.

      • Laurentius says:

        Beat both campagins as Katana wielding street samurai, it was fun.

        • bobbobob says:

          Do you just bump all points into that, or shuffle them around for conversation options?

          • Curled Woofy says:

            I put 3/2 Points in charisma/intelligence, the rest body/strength/chi. The reason a melee-only-character isnt so much is that the tactics o positioning don’t apply, you just have to run up to your enemy and beat them to death. Would have been better if you could take a few more grenades.

          • Laurentius says:

            Not only, because you can give enemies pause with your attacks, make them losing AP.

          • Curled Woofy says:

            Yeah, perhaps I have to experiment more with that.

    • Philopoemen says:

      My first run through of SR games is always as as a pistol wielding Shaman, but I’ve found any class is viable. I finished a run through DF:DC in anticipation of HK as a non-combat face character – no weapons or magic, just speech options and medkits. And whilst there were some hard bits – it was a completely viable way of playing the game.

      Very much looking forward to finishing work today to play this :)

    • cpt_freakout says:

      I played SR as a hacker (sorry, can’t recall the name) and DF as a rigger. In SR I only used the class abilities a few times, really, and felt that most of the matrix encounters were not made particularly more interesting by me having the supposedly most apt class for them. DF was a much more interesting experience (strictly speaking of how the rigger plays), and while the upgrade options for bots were somewhat limited, it did change the way I fought battles; I felt that I truly had different tactical opportunities, whereas with the hacker I couldn’t really do much beyond hiding and shooting. With the revamped matrix in SHK it might be more fun to play a hacker now, but I think I’ll run a shaman this time around.

    • malkav11 says:

      I’m running a rigger through Dragonfall DC right now and it’s great. The NPC riggers have tended to be pretty anemic in my experience – sporting drones that can barely hit the broad side of a barn and don’t do much when they do – so if that’s your experience with them it’s understandable. But as a player character you’re free to emphasize Intelligence and Drone Combat and suddenly you can be a 2 AP character fielding 6 AP worth of rifles, mortars, healing and stun grenades. Not to mention you regularly have opportunities to take over automated defenses or bypass elevator security, etc, and your drones can pop through vents. There are downsides too, of course – your drones don’t get the full flexibility of a street sam in terms of inventory and special attacks. But still – very effective.

    • Juke says:

      More or less been answered at this point, but might as well add that I played Dragonfall as a rigger/decker character, and generally had a ton of fun. I say “generally” because there were some points where my drones were underpowered in combat, but the higher-tier drones weren’t “unlocked” for purchase, so I had to essentially run several missions as a hacker with small arms and only brought a perfunctory drone for optional use in quests.

      Also, for some reason, it seemed like enemies lock onto drones in combat almost without concern for greater threats, to the point where my drones would get destroyed faster than I could repair them. And once they go “boom,” you’re droneless for the rest of the mission. So while rigging is fun as a secondary skill, I would definitely include combat skills as a primary, and/or another important role like decking to have a character that’s flexible and stays fun to play. That said, I did think Dragonfall did a decent job of balancing skillsets so that almost any character can be a viable PC, even if they aren’t all quite “equal.” Have fun!

      • malkav11 says:

        I suspect treating rigging as a secondary skill is why it isn’t performing for you. It’s a role that really needs a heavy focus on its relevant skills, because by default drones have terrible accuracy, unimpressive damage, and are fairly squishy, but as you invest in intelligence, move up in drone class, and add the substantial array of buffs from Drone Combat, they get much more accurate, faster than you, get dodge and armor boosts, and end up potentially doing comparable damage to a top-end shotgun. I’m only about midway through Dragonfall and my drones rarely take much damage and routinely blow through enemies in a turn or less. I’ve never lost one.

    • theoriginaled says:

      I played through SRR as a full melee chi caster and had a blast. By the end with the help of a shaman I could bump my ap to insane heights and clear a room in one turn with just my fists. (though the forced mystical shotgun bit at the end made things a bit awkward) In Dragonfall I played a pure rigger with 2 full time drones and a host of cybernetic support implants. Each drone had their own combat and even out of combat options for getting things done. It was great and I think I connected with that character more than I have in almost any other RPG before. I think Id get bored actually if I tried to play just straight run and gun.

  10. Laurentius says:

    Well, that’s interesting, another ShadowrunReturns installemnt, another lukewarm RPS WIT. No matter, for me it’s most fun series that came out of KS, SR Dragonfall being my favourite cRPG last year, even with my high praise both for D:OS and Wastland . So I wouldn’t suprised if SR:HongKong would ultiamtely won this year again even dethroning PoE and W3. Especically due to robust dialogues, giving PC a chance to actually talk. I am so tired and was deeply disappointed with Pillarsof Eternity when despite a lot of writing PC dialogues were still almost exclusivelly oneliners and questions. You hear me devs, don’t force me to play this saving a world interviewr, that bustle around asking questions, I want to play someone cable of forming opinions and stating them in more then one sentence !

    • limbo12 says:

      So far, this is my favorite comment. Well said, mate!

    • MisterFurious says:

      Yes. How interesting that anyone could dare have a different opinion that you. It truly boggles the mind.

  11. Fredward says:

    So what about the new cyberware that [according to KS] comes with its own animations/visuals? Are the foci a noticeable addition? And what about the brand spanking new Matrix? Did they change anything with the etiquette system? I can’t tell if these aren’t touched because they don’t much of an impression or because this is a half-assed review.

  12. Sonntam says:

    I feel like the article unintentionally sold Hong Kong on me pretty well.

    Several hours of plot content before you get released into the wild? Bioware-like flashy companions? Pretty much the same game as Dragonfall and Shadowrun: Returns, only bigger and prettier?

    Sign me up.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Yep, it’s a good RPG.

    • Emeraude says:

      That’s something I’ve caught some flack for daring to say, but I do think those Shadowrun games have basically been the modern Bioware formula done right.

  13. merbert says:

    Good and fair review imo.

    My meh-ometre reads 100.

    Roll on Satellite Reign.

  14. Stevostin says:

    All of their game have been decent way to spend time to me but leaving me with a feeling of “a bit too bland”. I don’t know why because exactly, maybe the cheapness of characters models and animation or the soundtrack or the very apparent script triggered. Or probably the reuse of portrait (that one should be totally forbidden practice)

    My main issue was combat: no way to make move speed “accelerated” and in result way too much waiting, making them a drag. Has this been solved ?

  15. Tsolis says:

    I’ve liked the last 2 I’m sure i wont regret buying this one.

  16. cpt_freakout says:

    I’m quite excited about playing this, particularly if the writers put as much effort in the setting as they did in Dragonfall. I understand they had some actual Berlin writers for that, so I really hope they also got someone from Hong Kong to do the backdrop. I mean, that’s not a guarantee that there will be a sci-fi interpretation of the ‘spirit’ of an entire city like in DF, but it would be great.

    (All that coming from someone who couldn’t care less about Shadowrun in general… I thoroughly enjoyed how DF presented Berlin, a kind of writing on cities that I think is quite unique for RPGs and games at large.)

    • Apocalypse says:

      Uhm … the berlin writers should have been the same writers as in the shadowrun berlin sourcebooks.

      There is iirc a shadowrun hong kong sourcebook as well, but was not on the same level of detail as the german source books at least as far as I know.

  17. jarowdowsky says:

    How linear is the gameplay? The illusion of freedom was my favourite part of the SNES Shadowrun (still my favourite RPG). So if the hub does feel unnecessary I’m thinking I won’t enjoy this.

  18. MadMinstrel says:

    Lies! The game is not at all “out now”. It will be late evening by the time it launches in fact. It’s the usual PST shenanigans with using PST where every reasonable person expects UTC.

    • MadMinstrel says:

      Whatever happened to the edit button?

      • Raja Blast says:

        I dunno, man. I like to think I’m pretty reasonable, and my expectation for releases is based off the company’s home time zone. It also helps to check with the source- for example, Harebrained Schemes explicitly said PST in their announcement for the launch date.

        “Hey everyone!
        Mitch here, with just enough bandwidth to pull my head out of polishing the game to let you know that Shadowrun: Hong Kong has an official release date! During the Kickstarter, we estimated that we would release the game in August… and that’s why we’re releasing the game in August!

        August 20th, 2015 at 10am PST, to be specific.”

        Regardless, I hope you enjoy the game. I know I was disappointed yesterday when I misremembered the launch date.

  19. xenn says:

    Alex, I’ve never played a Shadowrun game before. Would playing Hong Kong spoil me in terms of gameplay mechanics before diving into the older games? As in, would it be difficult playing the older ones (especially Dragonfall as that is high up on my wish list) if the gameplay isn’t as improved as the newest release?

    • xenn says:

      Shit, I’m sorry I misspelled your name… it’s early…

    • Alec Meer says:

      Not Dragonfall, although the decking (cyber-world) sequences will seem a bit more humdrum against the flashier, less perfunctory ones here. Shadowrun Returns will feel pretty barebones and on-rails by comparison I suspect, though. HK is best story and character-wise, but Dragonfall feels tighter. Suspect you’re good to start with either one.

  20. kud13 says:

    I’ve been a day 1 backer for SR, and I’ve enjoyed my time with these games quite a lot.

    Although currently i’m still making my leisurely way through Witcher 3, I backed this on KS as well, and will certainly get to it next.

    Alec’s review addresses the fact that HK is iteration over innovation, and we’re invited to make our own conclusion on whether we’ll like the game from that. As a backer who’s been engrossed by the “cyberpunk + magic” concept ever since reading a few Shadowrun novel in my teenage years (never played the tabletop game), I was aware of this, and i’m ok with it. Sure, what I’d ultimately like to see is the cyberpunk equivalent of Arcanum. But given HBS is a fairly small dev, and they don’t even own the Shadowrun license anymore (M$oft does), i’m happy with what I get, esp since the devs were very upfront about what should be expected with SR.

  21. rondertaker says:

    oh man these comments. god forbid a review is not a full on rave.

    • limbo12 says:

      God forbid the comments aren’t filled with sycophantic praise for the reviewer.

      • Lars Westergren says:

        It’s hardly “sycophantic praise” to recognize that people may have different opinions on things. Most of the people who are so angry with him for not liking it just the right amount probably haven’t even played it yet either…

  22. Foosnark says:

    I felt like the reason why Dragonfall was better than the first setting was character and story — I cared more about my runners (they felt like my runners) and I was more engaged. So this review encourages me.

    The main “flaw” I felt Dragonfall had was a story strong enough, and NPCs interesting enough, to not make me want to replay it with a different main character.

    It’s not as if I wasn’t going to play SRHK anyway though. It’s just a question of whether I finish the campaign before Satellite Reign comes out. :D

  23. Lord_Mordja says:

    Has the internet just discovered the word “bespoke” or something? I’m seeing people use it for everything nowadays and it’s used twice in this article alone.

    • limbo12 says:

      I had this issue with the phrase “infinite loop”. Makes everyone sound like a half-baked TED presenter.

  24. Juke says:

    It does seem to have gained in popularity. I suspect the rise of online suit tailoring sites… semse like everyone’s wearing “bespoke” fashion these days. But hey, can’t a guy have a pet word? It’s fun to say, and has a very specific meaning, when, if used properly, does not actively assault my ears with its disrespect of the rules of modern language, like most of the neologisms you see online these days. More “bespoke,” and less “dankswibbyjah” nonsense, I say.

  25. Shake Appeal says:

    Why all the complaints about Meer’s review? I feel he did a really good job of conveying the aloofness and yawning disdain we should all feel for the work of independent developers who create outstanding RPGs for a dedicated following on a modest budget.

    • xsikal says:

      Well played, sir.

    • Epicedion says:

      I think if there had been 50,000 more words on DOTA and LoL it would’ve been better received.

    • Alec Meer says:

      That’s neither fair nor true, man.

    • Josh W says:

      I think the problem (if there is one), is creating an outsider’s review of a game with a dedicated following, but it’s not like this is championship manager or farm simulator 2015 or something; you don’t need to have an insider knowledge of 90s books featuring immortal elves to be able to review it as an rpg, you just might not have the extra enthusiasm of a dedicated fan.

  26. hungrycookpot says:

    I was pretty disappointed with the original shadowrun, didn’t really feel like I got my money’s worth. I couldn’t even bring my character close to fully leveled in a playthrough, and then it was over. Maybe if I had looked closer at the site, I would have noticed something telling me that I was paying for a section of a game, and would have to purchase the other installments for the same price, but I didn’t, and I’m not really interested in doing it again.

  27. Geebs says:

    “You’re free to be dick or diplomat” is pure poetry.

    • alms says:

      Confess, you don’t play any games actually, you’re just here for the wordage. (j/k)

  28. gun661 says:

    The review’s description of the game nails an apparent pattern of many uninspired games and other media nowadays: There’s a working production pipeline but there are no interesting ideas to feed it with. Since this pipeline can’t be unproductive, it somehow has to be productive, i.e. you let that pipeline be productive anyway – creating loads of assets, bloating the game. That would be sad for SR: HOng Kong, since I wished it were otherwise.

    Also, originality doesn’t have to overthrow the core gameplay. Remember Baldur’s Gate 2: the first of many examples in which the core remained the same, but the devs were really inspired to take the sequel to new heights.

  29. alms says:

    Poor Alec. All he’s saying is this game is bigger/more expensive to make in ultimately unexciting ways that don’t add to the experience, and all he’s taking is “but I’m soooo happy with more of the same, how dare you?!”

    • maglieri says:

      No, it’s also the fact that (as someone pointed out earlier) that almost every positive statement is qualified with a negative, so there’s a dichotomy between what Alec thinks (it’s a good game) and the impression a reader gets. Writing doesn’t just rely on the literal words set down, it’s also structure and repetition and lots of other tricks.
      That said, I don’t have to constantly write WITs and try to keep them interesting and honest.

      • alms says:

        Impressions just like reviews are subjective and FWIW mine wasn’t that the game is bad.

        I see no problem with balancing positives with negatives, this whole matter is looking to me like a matter of mismatched expectations: that the vast majority of the unhappy commenters walked in thinking SHK somehow was going to get a glowing review.

  30. Philopoemen says:

    Played a few hours now, and getting used to the differences.

    I’m playing on hard mode as a Leopard Shaman, which was a very uninteresting choice in hindsight, and I’m finding crowd-control is much more important than previous games, and your companion’s abilities reflect that.

    AS to the companions, HBS has hit the mark of a good RPG in that you want to take all of them with you – because of the writing; each companion has their own ethics and manner, and it really comes across. In DF:DC, I tended to take the comapanions whose abilities offset my own. In SRHK so far, I’m taking companions on runs whose presence I enjoy more.

    Matrix revamped takes a little getting used to. I haven’t delved into it enough to say how different it is overall. On initial play, it’s a quite a bit.

    The new cyberware system looks good, with cyberware/weapons getting their own ability tree through the Body attribute. That said, I’ve got 200+ hours on the SR games, and I’m strugglign to remember ever using cyberware on my PC, just the NPC’s like Glory.

    Overall, so far it looks good. Even better when your realise the mini-campaign is following soon.

  31. limbo12 says:

    They changed up the hacking and you don’t say a word about it. Here’s an excerpt from a better review/er:

    “Most notable is the improvement to decking, the in-game equivalent of computer hacking. A Simon-style number pad puzzle, as well as an encryption mini-game and non-combat stealth mechanics have been added to the cyberspace portion of Shadowrun: Hong Kong. Hacking computer systems and engaging in VR battles has been my favorite thing to do since this franchise was on the Sega Genesis , and Shadowrun: Hong Kong provides the best Matrix combat of them all. In short, hacking is no longer an exhausting repetition of take cover-fire-repeat. It feels different from standard combat, as it should.”

    link to idigitaltimes.com

    • Zenicetus says:

      Thanks for that, it was the main thing I was wondering about. Adding a stealth component should make it feel a little less like reskinned normal combat.

      Anyway, I decided to try it, and I’m only just into the intro to your team section. I’m not too impressed with the writing so far, but that’s mainly just the initial setup that seems kinda predictable. I do like the setting, and looking forward to seeing how the team interaction works.

  32. AyeBraine says:

    I’m still dragging through the enormous exposition (so no real word on mechanics, though they seem OK and improved), but I’ve already seen the “backstory” part, “setting up the mystery” part, “proving yourself” part, and “meeting your fixer, crew and locals” part. And I have to say that the writing (which was the reason I loved Dragonfall so much) took a big hit, sadly.

    All the characters are incredibly verbose and prone to noir purple prose. Every one of them has committed the sin of talking at length about things that everybody present already knows (and would describe in a different way). After that, they repeat these things at least three times. Worse, everybody talks in the same bookish style as the narrator – with sudden bursts of extra-gruff, grimdark one-liners (that actually stretch into two or dozen lines). Every two minutes someone strikes a dramatic pose, punches the air or cracks their joints – mostly in adjacent phrases. For crying out loud, I’ve heard people GRIND THEIR TEETH AUDIBLY two times already! (Try this at home.)

    I feel that this is a combination of: short development time; desire to expand (resulting, maybe unconsciously, in less stringent editing for length); and desire to go to the roots (pulpy early cyberpunk). In Dragonfall, characters and setting were established in a very economical, concise and understated fashion. Moreover, everything applied to the player character. Here, the writing is all over the place. At least so far.

    • AyeBraine says:

      I’ve progressed a good bit, and must say that it definitely gets better (of course, the question of it being “worse” is also just my hasty opinion).

      Anyway, when settled in the familiar and stable structure of milking multiple familiar characters for info&emotions between mission vignettes (plus random new NPCs and computer loretext) – all of this comes together very nicely. The “big mystery” arc is pushed on the player relentlessly (such that to brush it aside, as you can in conversations, is a bit ridiculous), but it is indeed mysterious as hell. Characters settle down and find their voices, more or less. Hub fills up and feels lived-in. The sense of enormous scope is really strong.

      I’ve played Dragon Age: Origins very recently for the first time, and these games are interesting to compare in this regard. Unlike SRHK, Dragon Age obviously has a killer of an exposition – several of them, in fact! But it also felt just a little bit small at the very first, but came to feel gigantic and very lived-in later.

      In any case, both of my comments are rambling. Maybe I simply seldom play games just as they come out. Sorry.

  33. Gibs says:

    So, you enjoyed the setting and characterization of SR:HK more than Dragonfall, but getting around is fatiguing??? Hmm OK man, sure.

  34. SaunteringLion says:

    “Granted, this is what was promised in the successful Kickstarter (the series’ second), but there is now that nagging sense that this could perhaps be a (very generous) expansion pack rather than whole new game.”

    The game costs $20 on Steam/GOG right now. Most expansion packs in the hey-day of isometric RPG’s cost as much or more than that, with the necessity that you had already purchased the original game. It has as much content as many expansion packs, with the added advantage you can purchase it as a stand-alone title.

  35. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Oh I liked Dragonfall for its setting in unexplored Berlin and their effort to include any SR sourcebook content.
    But boy, the engine. I’d rather have Aurora back (NWN). Endured the battles, the terrible inventory and the character progression just to experience the SR setting and the characters.
    It sounds like SRHK is more of the same with a new story to tell.
    Gonna get this one on sale for sure but I’d rather have a AAA-Shadowrun product in any case. How about a “Renraku shutdown” themed 1st-person RPG or some elves vs. horrors themed open world game?

  36. detarame says:

    Not liking it is not a bad thing, but for an article whose major punch is that this game series isn’t innovating, I’m kind of disappointed not to hear anything – *anything* – about the one major change to the game.

    I don’t even mean that in a gotcha sort of way.

    My understanding is that the new systems are some sort of real time minigames, which I’m not sure I’d like. It’s the main thing that has me nervous about buying the game. RPS editorial position is constantly “wait for the review, wait for the review!” and then I wait for the review and now I still have to go in not knowing what I want or need to know about the game.

  37. Ejmir says:

    They make new game that you have to pay for instead of new campaigns for the same game. It’s not a game series, it’s always the same game that is slightly enchanced each time – the only thing that truly change is the campaign.

    I backed their first game. I found it unfinished, bland and very short. I was hugely disappointed when I saw that I should pay for Berlin (=Dragonfall). I’m not paying for anything else from them.
    Their game was firstly design to host new campaigns. I knew that I would probably need to pay for the biggest ones, but certainly not so much, and not each time.

    I don’t understand how they contituted a community of fanboys so quickly and how they can still be so popular with that betrayal.

    • Foosnark says:

      Eh. I enjoyed the first campaign, despite some flaws (including length). I really enjoyed the second campaign, which was better in basically every way (including length). I have so far enjoyed the third campaign.

      The thing I am most disappointed about is that the user-created content has so far been nowhere near the quality of Harebrained’s campaigns. And that’s sort of a backhanded compliment as well as a complaint.