The Shadowrun Trilogy contains three of the best RPGs ever made. Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun games overflow with tactical combat choices, gorgeous writing and unique, unforgettable characters. But with three games packaged together, it can be hard to know where to start. Shadowrun Returns, Dragonfall and Hong Kong all offer different entry points into the world of Shadowrun.
Thankfully, we’re here to give you the rundown on each of the games in The Shadowrun Trilogy. Each game in the trilogy has a different feel and flavor. No mean feat for three games set in the same world. Though each Shadowrun game is excellent individually, we’ll help you decide the right starting point for you.
Shadowrun Trilogy: Shadowrun Returns
If you’re a completionist, or simply someone that likes to start from square one, Shadowrun Returns is likely where you’ll want to begin.
The first game in the Shadowrun Trilogy is a tight, engaging cyberpunk SRPG, and one that’s worth investing your time in. However, subsequent entries in the trilogy raised the bar so high that it can be difficult to justify Shadowrun Returns as the default starting choice.
Each game in the trilogy tells a self-contained story, so you aren’t missing much in the way of plot or context if you decide to skip straight to Dragonfall or Hong Kong. Shadowrun Returns was the start of Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun-reviving endeavor, and unfortunately it shows. While the game has many bright spots, the overall package is a little rough around the edges.
Many elements players take for granted about the series actually originated from Shadowrun Dragonfall instead of Shadowrun Returns. Without a hub area to return to after each run, Shadowrun Returns is missing a lot of the atmosphere and well-developed NPC plot lines that would populate later entries. At the very least, this makes the story feel propulsive and engaging, as your runner bounces from one misadventure to the next.
Many would argue that later entries captured the runner’s lifestyle more clearly, breaking the gameplay up into a series of individual runs to be chosen at your leisure. Shadowrun Return’s campaign is a thrilling ride, but one that could have done with putting on the brakes a little more, giving everything a chance to breathe.
Overall, if you plan on playing through the whole trilogy, then Shadowrun Returns is not a bad place to start. But if you are still somewhat on the fence and want the best first impression possible – or just want to skip to the really good stuff right away, then it’s much easier to recommend Shadowrun Dragonfall or Shadowrun Hong Kong instead.
Shadowrun Trilogy: Shadowrun Dragonfall
Despite starting out as DLC for Shadowrun Returns, Dragonfall may be the crown jewel in the entire Shadowrun Trilogy package. The writing is lush, the gameplay more fleshed-out, the setting unique and specific. But what really makes Shadowrun Dragonfall sing is the characters. While your Runner in Shadowrun Returns had companions from time to time, Dragonfall brings in a whole party to ensure you’re never tackling a run alone.
The introduction of a team of companions that sticks with you for the whole game was a stroke of genius. These are lively, complete characters, whose relationship with you and each other evolve as you progress through Dragonfall’s intense story. You grow to care for these characters. They stick with you in a way that Shadowrun Returns’ cast never did. You get just enough time with the characters between each mission to get to know them bit by bit. And then you’re off out into the field again, taking on job after job. The balance between missions and downtime is perfect.
The Perfect Loop
Your relationship with Dragonfall’s characters grows and develops, but this never feels like the only thing the game is doing well. Getting more scenes with the characters feels as much of a reward for completing a mission as the cash does, and the missions are so tight and well-designed that you’ll be itching to jump into another after every check-in with your crew. It’s a perfect loop, that ensures neither part of the game ever grows stale.
If you love character-driven RPGs like Mass Effect, or just want a Shadowrun experience that’s a little less lonely, Shadowrun Dragonfall is the ideal place to start. A runner is nothing without their crew. And Shadowrun Dragonfall has one of the very best crews in the business.
Shadowrun Hong Kong
Shadowrun Hong Kong is the as-of-now final game in Harebrained Schemes’ series, and it definitely goes out on a high. The trilogy’s key mechanics are developed further and the UI is streamlined and better than ever. Accomplished art direction ensures that Hong Kong is the best the Shadowrun series has ever looked, and the plot is every bit as engaging as in games past. However, there is one aspect of Shadowrun Hong Kong that makes it a potentially difficult starting point than Dragonfall. While the game’s story is meticulously crafted, the story-to-gameplay ratio veers slightly askew compared to Dragonfall.
Shadowrun Hong Kong perhaps proves that too much of a good thing is possible, even in terms of the series’ near-unparalleled writing quality. It’s a true joy to have such full, richly-layered stories and world-building laid out on each return to the game’s hub. To have even vendors, who in lesser games would be NPCs serving a mechanical function and nothing more, deliver rich stories that build after each mission. That’s phenomenal for the word-hungry players that will likely flock to the Shadowrun Trilogy in droves. The level of craft on display from Harebrained Schemes can’t be overstated.
A Whole Lot of Reading
But, in practice, if you’re interested in seeing the full scope of all these stories, you’re going to be spending a lot or time reading. That’s hardly a bad thing, but it can lead to the actual Running – the meat of the game’s missions – feeling occasionally like an afterthought. Spend an hour or two sprinting around the hub, getting story updates from all the vendors and companions. Go out on your next mission, which may take only twenty or thirty minutes to complete. repeat.
Maybe speedier readers or more methodical mission-players will have less of a problem with this. But it feels like Shadowrun Hong Kong leans more in the direction of a visual novel at times. And this is not a mark against Hong Kong by any means. It just makes the distinction between the game’s tightly-focused missions and expansive world-building feel starker than in previous entries.
Both Shadowrun Returns and Shadowrun Dragonfall are tailored around player freedom. Someone from your character’s past kicks off each game’s story. Aside from that, you’re free to develop the specifics of their story as you wish. Shadowrun Hong Kong breaks the mold by giving your character a fixed backstory and place in the world, anchoring them tightly to a personal plot. While this may put off players who prefer to cook up their own backstories, it does serve to give your character grounding and personal stakes in the story. If you would rather your player characters come with this type of specific detail, then Hong Kong may be your preferred Shadowrun point of entry.
Hong Kong Extended Edition
Shadowrun Trilogy also includes the extended edition of Shadowrun Hong Kong, which comes with an additional epilogue campaign. This campaign is much more substantial than expected, adding several hours of content that expand on some of Shadowrun Hong Kong’s key relationships. This additional campaign gives Hong Kong a feeling of closure beyond that of the first two entries in the trilogy. If you want a story that digs into the possibilities of its world and reaches a natural, fulfilling conclusion, Shadowrun Hong Kong is where you want to begin.
Just getting started on your foray into the Sixth World? Check out our guide to the best classes.