While I haven't finished the game yet, I still want to talk about it for a bit. I find it a pretty interesting study in game-design and story-telling. Both things are interesting in their own way, but it seems that they are connected by a single idea: Keep it simple.
When I say that, I do not mean “simple” as in “little choice” or “few mechanics”. In this case, simple means “easy to understand” and “small world consequence”. Before we get into the meat of this article, I have to do some housekeeping first. Namely:
I have NEVER played the Shadowrun pen and paper-game. So all of my influence comes from the Shadowrun-series of games on the PC. I have, for the record played the SNES version a very long time ago.
At the time of writing, I haven't what I consider finished the game yet. I did a play-through when Dragon Fall came out. But at that time, I had some personal issues that muddied both the play-through and my memory of it.
Let me start off by apologizing to each and every hard-knuckled Shadowrun-fan out there. I didn't mean to insult you by calling the game's system “simple”. I meant it in compliment, so allow me the time to explain.
I call Shadowrun's game-design simple because it's an RPG that relies on small numbers. Everything is easier when your character has “4 strength”, rather than “2398 strength”. After a certain amount, number associated with abstractions seem to lose their meaning. What does it mean when your character goes from 60 strength to 75? It is a 15 point increase, but are those points meaningful? Is it going to change your character in any way? Outside of dealing more damage that is. In Shadowrun most stats go from 0 to 11, so when you increase your stat by one or two numbers, it usually is a big (or at least mediocre) deal. The rest of the game seems to fall under the same idea, since everything from the combat to dialogue-checks rely on different stats and skills that are all collected in the character screen.
Now, the system being simple doesn't stop it from being interesting. Shadowrun has a lot of granularity in how you build your character. Since every stat/skill is linear, rather than in a tree, you are free to build your character just how you like it. This might allow you to possibly gimp your character, but I find that a small price to pay for the joy of crafting a character you truly want to play.
So, how does one summarize a story like the one in Dragonfall? Simple: There might be a dragon, there may be falling and you might have to deal with it.
For serious this time.
The story in Shadowrun is told in a rather understated way. As it starts off, you aren't “the chosen one” and you aren't trying to save the world. You are a simple Shadowrunner trying to figure out what happened to your friend. The fact that the game opens so small and, dare I say it, simple let's any player into the core of the story with ease. While it might not work for some, I appreciated that the game actually takes the time to really set up the world, let you immerse yourself, before you go hunting for dragons and what-not. This is one part of what I called “small world consequence” in the beginning of the article. The world of Dragonfall opens small, and tells you that you are even smaller. No one here is going to call you the chosen one, you won't find and dragon-soul eating powers here. And that is kind of the beauty of it.
The other part of “small world consequence” comes from your party-members. In Dragonfall, there is no true morality-system. You won't gain paragon or renegade points. You will on the other hand, be asked difficult questions, and they might have consequence.
See, most of the difficult questions comes from either A) Your own greed or B) Your party-members needs.
The game emphasizes the need for cash. Well, it does for plot reasons, but it feels very fitting with the theme. So the need to get payed is something hovering over your head, and that might affect your decisions during missions. Sometimes, the need to get payed is just greater than the appeal of doing the right thing.
Your party-members are the ones who do put the screws in, though. They react to some of your decisions, and they have back-stories and missions of their own. They will compliment your victories, the will castigate your short-comings and they might come to ask you difficult questions. The fact that there isn't a point value attached to any answer really make these moments golden. It makes you think like your character, it makes you actually role-play. Something that seems to be in fairly short supply in modern RPGs.