Shadowrun Returns is a Video Game (primarily for the PC) based on the Shadowrun franchise, and the fifth video game in that setting.Developed by Harebrained Schemes, designed by Jordan Weismannote founder of FASA and co-creator of the original Shadowrun (and, on a side note, also the co-creator of BattleTech) and Mitch Gitelmannote (producer for most of the Microsoft FASA-licensed games including the Xbox 360 / Windows Vista Shadowrun game about which he apologizes), it was crowd-funded through Kickstarter in March of 2012. The Kickstarter was a huge success, hitting several stretch goals, with lots of Feelies for backers and the first Downloadable Content pack (set in Berlin) included for free. The game was released on July 25, 2013 for PC and Mac; September 26, 2013 for iOS and Android; and October 30, 2013 for Linux.The base game comes with its own campaign, The Dead Man's Switch: set in Seattle 2054, you play as a down-on-their-luck Shadowrunner investigating the death of their old buddy Sam Watts in exchange for a substantial payday and/or personal vengeance.The first DLC campaign, Dragonfall, was released on February 27, 2014. Dragonfall takes place in Berlin: the Flux State, the Greatest Experiment in Anarchist History. After a series of events that led to you moving to Berlin to start over, you met up with an old friend, Monika Schäfer, and join her crew of runners. During what seems to be a milk run note Shadowrun slang for a quick and easy job, everything goes south horribly fast. The only thing to go on are whispers of the Dragonfall: the death of the Great Dragon Feuerschwinge, and the rumors that she never really died.An Updated Re-release of Dragonfall entitled Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut was released on September 18, 2014 for PC, Mac, and Linux. The update includes, among other things, new art assets as well as entire new missions. Citing developers like CD Projekt RED as inspiration, the team behind Shadowrun Returns decided to release this update free for original backers and owners of the original Dragonfall. The update is also sold as a stand-alone product on Steam and GOG. A version for iOS and Android is set to be released in October.
This game contains examples of:
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Anti-Magic: Downplayed; there's no total magic immunity, but Adepts can learn Magic Resistance, which gives increasing levels of Cover against spells.
Armor-Piercing Attack: In addition to the changes to armour in Director's Cut, there are now attacks that can degrade or ignore armor.
Artificial Stupidity: The enemy is reasonably smart in certain areas; they'll throw grenades at clustered player groups, know to use cover (most of the time), and tend to go for their special abilities when they can. However, much of this behavior depends on playing by their rules. The AI can be drawn into a turkey shoot through a simple strategy: hide all your people behind a corner, have one runner aggro the enemy, then run back to your corner and set everyone to overwatch. One by one, the enemy will file in to their almost certain deaths, and you'll get away with barely a scratch to show for it. It's not always a viable strategy, but it works for a lot of encounters. The enemy also has no concept of friendly fire and will gladly grenade their fellows if it means hitting your runners.
Artificial Brilliance: Improving on the above stupidity was a design goal for Dragonfall - Director's Cut that gets pushed back to the main game as well. Harebrained implemented a custom AI scripting scheme they call GumboScript that allows for AI agents to be adjusted by the designer for combat behavior, with the stated goal that they "not look dumb". For the curious, Harebrained has written a piece on Gamasutra about it.
Attack Drone: Riggers can control various attack drones, which can use their smaller size to do things like navigate Air Vent Passageways to flank enemies. They are a formidable force in the hands of a competent Rigger.
Autosave: The game was criticized for only having autosaves (which are done whenever a new area is loaded), as the engine didn't originally support manual saves. Manual saves were added with the v1.2 patch.
Awesome but Impractical: The Adept's Chi Onslaught grants you three attacks on a target with increased Critical Hit chance, but requires a whopping 3 AP to use. 2 AP is the default at the start of the game and you only get three after passing a certain point in the storyline. It also has a lowered hit chance. It's almost always preferable to just use Chi Focus or normal attack instead.
Blasting It out of Their Hands: Available to those who specialize in Pistols, and the S-Rank Ares GuardianAttack Drone. Success is not guaranteed, but it still deals damage... potentially a lot even if it fails.
Bottomless Magazines: Characters who specialize in Pistols can gain the ability to reload without spending any AP, giving them the next best thing. The A- and S-Rank drones can do the same.
Character Class System: Averted, in that there are several archetypes available to choose from, but there is no formal divide between specializations which prevents one character from having any combination of abilities that they see fit to work toward. A player can even skip the archetype selection if they wish and just build a character from scratch.
Character Select Forcing: If you want to have a steady cash inflow, you pretty much need at least some degree of Decking.
Close Range Combatant: Most of the Physical Adept's Chi Casting spells are meant to either do damage at melee range or help them close with an opponent. It's not impossible to give an Adept a gun and some ranged combat skills, but given the shortage of Karma you're far better off specializing.
Counter Attack: Overwatch is a preemptive version of this, causing the user to automatically retaliate against any enemy which crosses their line of sight within the effective range of the weapon it is used with. The idea is to position the character in such a way that they cannot be attacked without triggering Overwatch and damaging the assailant. It's an excellent ambush skill, though not so good in open areas.
Critical Hit: This is based on how much Karma points you spend on your combat skills. The higher the number, the greater the critical hit chance and the easier the battles. Director's Cut adds an additional wrinkle by preventing them against enemies in medium or heavy cover, thus emphasising the need for flanking.
Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: In line with the source material, characters have a finite amount of essence, and installing cyberware reduces that essence, with characters unable to socket any more cyberware if it would drop their essence to zero or lower. Again like the source material, this also has a negative effect on magic use, and every full point of essence lost increases the Cool Down time on casting magic spells by one turn. A magic user might be able to get away with a very small amount of cyberware that uses up less than one full point of essence (like a simple datajack) and still be at peak casting ability, but any more than that will degrade them.
Cyberspace: Deckers are able to enter the Matrix in certain areas. This plays out similar to combat in the rest of the game, but everything is abstract and made out of Tron Lines, and the Decker can use various programs as though they were attack abilities or Summon Magic in meatspace.
Dumb Muscle: Played with. Orks and Trolls get bonuses to physical stats and a lowered cap on Intelligence. That said, since it's only a cap, the smartest trolls are still much smarter than the average person, they're just dumber than other geniuses. Troll dialogue is never in Hulk Speak (Mister Kluwe is actually rather eloquent and politically savvy), and they make a capable Player Character in any role outside of Decker or Rigger, which are Intelligence-intensive archetype. They *do* make dandy mages, though.
Easy Logistics: Everyone has infinite ammo and only needs to stop to reload every once in a while. This makes it a little jarring when the game's loading screens flash the Shadowrun tagline advising you to "shoot straight and conserve ammo."
Five Races: When creating a new character the racial choices are:
Dwarfs: Stout, +1 to Willpower, higher caps on Body, Strength and Willpower.
Elves: High Men, +1 to Charisma, higher caps on Quickness and Charisma.
Humans: Mundane, 3 extra Karma at the start of the game and all stats caped at 9.
Orks: Low Men, +1 to Body, higher caps on Body and Strength, lower caps on Charisma and Intelligence.
Trolls: Big and Mean, +1 to Body and +1 to Strength, higher caps on Body and Strength, lower caps on Charisma, Intelligence and Quickness.
Follow the Leader: A downplayed example, in that Harebrained Schemes makes it a design philosophy to borrow mechanics from other games, provided that they understand why those mechanics work and that they can serve to make their current project better for it. For example, the combat mechanics are shamelessly lifted off of games like X-COM, particularly the relatively recent XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which have been shown to work well on computers as opposed to a more direct adaptation of combat mechanics designed for Tabletop Games with dice.
Future Slang: In the vein of the tabletop game it is based on; drek being the most noticeable.
This appears to be a case of Accidentally Accurate, since in the Slovenian language the word "drek" pretty much means exactly the same as it does in the Shadowrun setting.
Game Mod: The game was released with mod tools readily available. It's no secret that the main draw will be seeing what other players create.
Glass Cannon: Turrets can do a lot of damage and their health is fairly decent, but since they're stationary, you're practically guaranteed to hit them. Two or three good hits will usually put one down.
Jack of All Stats: Humans have even caps of 9 in every category, whereas other races have a two or three point bonus in one or another. Humans instead start with three extra karma, which isn't much in the grand scheme of things but still worth about one more skill than other races could get.
Katanas Are Just Better: Katanas are considered to be some of the better melee weapons for two reasons. One is that they do a solid amount of physical damage. Two is that they can also drain enemy AP on critical hits.
King Incognito: In both campaigns, towards the end, you run into a high ranking Saeder-Krupp employee named Hans Brackhaus. The game hints at his true nature, but those familiar with the setting will know he's actually the Great Dragon Lofwyr, head of Saeder-Krupp and one of the most powerful beings in the world.
Ley Line: Mages can see these in combat and standing on one increases their power. Unfortunately, ley lines are rarely behind cover, so the power comes at the cost of being an easier target.
Magic Knight: Physical Adepts are like this since they specialize in using chi abilities to empower them in melee combat and since you need high willpower to unlock high level chi abilities and spell-casting also uses willpower, diverting a few points into spell-casting isn't that bad of an idea. For an in-game example, see Harlequin.
Mage Marksman: Both mages and shamans are just as likely to be packing an AK-97 as they are to be slinging fireballs or summoning spirits. It helps that both get spells that buff and compliment gunplay.
Master of None: A real danger. Since it becomes ever harder to put points into skills the higher level you go, it can be tempting to grab the low-hanging fruit instead. This spreading out of skills, however, can make things difficult in the late game. This is further compounded by the fact that spellbook and item slots are shared among all the possible archetypes' needs. It's almost always better to specialize, and the ingame hints themselves suggest as much.
Mega Corp.: They dominate the setting and you end up doing jobs for several in both campaigns.
Only in It for the Money: Dialogue choices allow you to roleplay this way, and the game encourages it by having some times when the only way to get payment for services awarded is to directly ask for it.
Point Build System: Every character stat is raised using Karma points, with Karma required raising it being equal to the level of that stat. For example, buying level one shotguns only costs one Karma point but buying level five spell-casting costs five Karma points. Spend them wisely.
Post-Modern Magik: Mages are just as likely to being wearing Kevlar body armor and carrying assault rifles as they are to be wearing robes and slinging fireballs in this setting.
Pragmatic Adaptation: Per Word of God, Shadowrun has always been more about the setting, theme, and atmosphere than it has been about specific mechanics, and so long as it stays true to the spirit of the Tabletop Games it can weather a few mechanical changes. Some examples:
There is no Stun damage, you just get stunned from having negative AP. This makes the game more similar to other computer RPGs.
There are no initiative passes, so turns are simply done team-by-team, with each combatant having action points. This makes the game easier to understand, especially for veteran XCOM and Jagged Alliance players.
DocWagon works as a Nanotech instant-revive trauma kit in the manner of the Phoenix Down, rather than having to wait for them to show up, secure the area, and try to heal you on the spot.note The Ghost of Grizzled Veteranlampshades this, saying it was a concession to being a single player game.Dragonfall maintains this, but also credits a DocWagon contract for saving any fallen runners in your crew if they don't make it through a run.note Losing any runners on the Bloodlines mission is an exception.
Matrix combat is much simpler than in the pen & paper game.
Spells have cool down time rather than drain. You don't pay karma for every single spell, either, but instead unlock higher forces of spells and spell slots, then buy formulae for each spell & force level combination. This way, there is less work to managing your spells.
Spirits require either consumable magic fetishes or special points on the map, so that you cannot just conjure spirits all the time. Some special locations may summon special or unique spirits as an added bonus.
In tabletop, the difference between Hermetic Mages and Shamans is in the stats they use to resist drain and which spirits can be used for combat. This was simplified so that there is no difference between mages and shamans in Shadowrun Returns, and all spirits are usable as combat spirits.
And in a collision of the above two points, characters who can conjure spirits can conjure Toxic Spirits, which in Tabletop are not conjurable by either Hermetic Mages or Shamans, but only by the separate traditions of Toxic Shamans and Toxic Mages... because with the system it uses for spirit conjuring and the decaying urban environments that dominate the game, sometimes the only plausible spirit conjuring point on a map is a pile of garbage or pool of toxic waste.
Revolvers Are Just Better: Zig-Zagged, in that revolvers tend to do a little more damage than other types of pistols. However, they need more frequent reloading and cannot use some of the more advanced pistol techniques that require a semi-automatic (such as Double Tap and Chain Shot). Albeit the former problem can be remedied by learning a pistol skill that requires no AP to reload (see Bottomless Magazines above).
Shoot the Mage First: True to Shadowrun tradition, the AI hates mages, to the point that killing the player (assuming they're not a mage) is only marginally more important to them. You should, too, for that matter, since conjurers and mages are among the most annoying enemies.
Shotguns Are Just Better: Shotguns do a lot of damage, have spread to hit multiple targets, and at later levels can be made to fire two shots at once (at a cost of five bullets). Low ammo is a problem at early levels, but you get a respectable ten-round clip with the second-best one.
Sprite/Polygon Mix: Characters and effects are rendered 'on the fly' (as opposed to pre-rendered sprites like in Fallout) whilst most backgrounds are standard two-dimensional artwork. This means less space used; no need to store animation frames for all the possible armor/weapon combinations in all their actions and poses. It also allows things like retexturing parts of models to reflect cybernetic augmentations.
Squishy Wizard: Zig-Zagged. Unlike many Western RPGs, there is nothing stopping a Mage or Shaman from strapping on a full suit of riot armor. They'll favor the armor type that boosts their casting stat, but it offers just as much protection as any of the stat-boosting armors. Since the game uses archetypes instead of classes, there's nothing preventing a Mage or Shaman from having as many hit points as a Samurai character. The only real disadvantage that casters have is that installing cyberware will force them to cast spells less frequently, making defensive upgrades like Dermal Plating of dubious value. That said, there's nothing specifically stopping a player from playing a caster with basic armor and 10 Hit Points, but the game gives players a wealth of options to avoid it.
The domain of Shaman characters is the ability to summon spirits of various types to aid them in combat. Doing so does expend fetishes, though, so they can only be summoned a limited number of times between resupplies. They can also summon out the latent emotions in certain objects, such as skulls or trophies into spectral form, but those are much harder to control.
Deckers can use ESPs (Expert System Programs) in the Matrix, essentially a cyberized version of Shamanistic summoning.
Supernatural Martial Arts: The Adept class is based around channeling magic inwards to increase one's own physical prowess in melee combat.
Take Cover: Cover comes in three levels, light, medium and heavy. Director's Cut clarified their use and made them more important by preventing Critical Hits against those in medium or heavy cover, with heavy cover also cutting all damage by half.
Top-Heavy Guy: The sprites for the male trolls sport incredibly wide shoulders and massive arms on top of a pair of comparatively tiny legs.
Turn-Based Tactics: The bulk of the combat gameplay, similar to other titles like X-COM. It involves careful consideration about movement, positioning, cover, ability use, resource management, and target selection.
Turned Against Their Masters: Summoned creatures obey the summoner, but need to be periodically given AP instead of regenerating it per turn. Each time they are given AP, they have a chance to break free of the summoner's control, dependent on the amount of AP given on that turn (up to four) and how much AP they've been given previously. If they do break free, they are no longer bound to the summoner, so they won't die when the summoner does, and are hostile to everything on the field. Players can exploit this by making sure their summons are right in the middle of the enemy formation at all times. If the summon goes rouge, at least it's harassing them instead of you.
Urban Fantasy: The Shadowrun setting is a mix of cyberpunk and Tolkienesque fantasy. The bulk of the stories take place in urban locales, and this game is no different.
We Cannot Go On Without You: If the Player Character is incapacitated on a run, the game is over. Apparently they could not get a DocWagon contract. Especially annoying because the player character is a higher priority target for enemies than even mages, so long as they have a clear shot.
Eventually averted in the same patch that proceeded the release of Dragonfall. Player Characters who are reduced to zero hit points are "down but not out", and can recover if provided a healing item designed to wrest them back from death's door if used within the next few turns.
Abnormal Ammo: Project Aegis, modified shotgun shells loaded with what is effectively magical insecticide, the only weapon you have to kill the bug spirits.
Author Avatar: The "Ghost of Grizzled Veteran" in the Seamstress Union is one for Jordan Weisman, sharing his appearance and Breaking the Fourth Wall by talking about how after he died he ended up in a ghost in a story he created, how you gave him support while he was alive, and sharing stories about his inspiration and the process of creating the Shadowrun universe. He shows up to deliver bonus content for Kickstarter backers.
Beauty Equals Goodness: Boy, who would have thought that the exceptionally-ugly elf (so much so that you can comment on his ugliness) would turn out to be a bad guy? Subverted with Jessica Watts, who is notably described as attractive... but then played straight after The Reveal when she gets a brand new "crazy bug lady" portrait.
Been There, Shaped History: Your runner ends up leading the team that stopped Seattle from ending up the same way as Chicago in the backstory of the main Shadowrun universe, using prototype technology that would later be used by Ares to battle other Universal Brotherhood chapters and purge Chicago.
Bedlam House: The Snohomish Mercy Hospitalnote (Snohomish is a small town located north-east of Seattle) is a mental treatment clinic. However, the place is run-down, the grounds unkempt, the paint peeling, and the patients are poorly cared for and rarely leave. To say nothing of what happens in the basement...
Brainwashed and Crazy: The junkies in the Better Than Life dens are usually placid, lazily lost in their own little world... unless someone overrides the settings. By removing the BTL chip's motor inhibitor function and feeding them horrifying visions and messing with their neurotransmitter levels, they can be sent into an unwilling aggressive rage as they fight demons that only they can see who happen to be in the same place as actual people.
Bug War: The two raids on the Universal Brotherhood headquarters involve fighting extra-dimensional bugs.
Call Back: The game begins with the Player Character coming to Seattle to investigate a murder (as in the Genesis game), and the first area is a morgue (as in the SNES game). Polite runners will find Jake Armitage (hero of the SNES game) sleeping in a morgue drawer (it's cheaper than a motel).
Project Aegis, what you try to steal from Telestrian, is a prototype version of FABS III used by Ares Macrotechnology in their Bug War in Chicago.
City of Adventure: Seattle, a familiar setting to most veteran Shadowrun players, is an excellent place for a Shadowrunner to ply their trade, given the presence of several megacorporations and the sizable criminal element in the city.
Dead Man Switch: This trope is in fact the given name for the device that allows the player to be contacted by the third Emerald City Ripper victim at the start of the game, which gives the campaign its name.
Depleted Phlebotinum Shells: The prototype Aegis launchers are shotgun-like weapons which launch canisters that rupture on impact and disperse a fluid that carries a genetically-engineered and magically-infused bacteria tailored for killing astral spirits. This technology would later be licensed to Ares Macrotechnology, who would mass-produce it and use it to contain insect spirits in Chicago.
Development Gag: A computer in the Universal Brotherhood chapter offices has a list of chapter members. This list is the names of the Kickstarter backers who contributed over a certain threshold (along with a few named NPCs from the game). A different computer in the same facility lists several high level members of the chapter as the names of producers from the game.
Difficulty Spike: The raid on Telestrian's headquarters is a lot harder than previous stages. Among the problems is that the enemies can and will flank you by spawning from different entrances, there are a lot more of them than you're used to dealing with, and there are mandatory decking sequences which spawn heavy guards that can hit five times in one attack just to capitalize on your lack of manpower. Justified in that you are hitting an office of a major Mega Corp., something that would not be done unless you are just that desperate.
Disposable Vagrant: Specifically mentioned to be the favorite targets of the Universal Brotherhood.
Dirty Cop: Two examples with Detective McKlusky and Officer Aguirre. McKlusky is portrayed negatively, more concerned with being promoted than catching the bad guys. Aguirre, on the other hand, is just willing to take bribes in exchange for inside information on the cases he's working, and is nothing but helpful.
Donut Mess with a Cop: Early on, you can convince a Lone Star officer to let you look around the crime scene where Sam was murdered by giving him a doughnut and soykaf. note Not a soy latte, but a soy-based coffee substitute.
Fan Disservice: Orks and female feral ghouls are shown in skimpy lingerie. Neither are pretty.
Anyone that familiar with the Shadowrun timeline can tell that the Universal Brotherhood building means bad news. This is also complemented by Jake mentioning Chicago and several posters of the city. It is even where the character Coyote was born. They should also be aware that you can't kill insect spirits through regular means. This becomes a plot point later on when your team has no idea what exactly it is they were just witnesses to.
From Bad to Worse: The plot seems simple enough. Track down a killer, get a big life-insurance payout from one of the killer's victims. However, every time the player seemingly lays one problem in their path to rest, another bigger and uglier thread is revealed running just underneath it. The plot keeps ever thickening and the stakes keep getting higher...
Godzilla Threshold: Late in the game you end up launching a run on a major corp because they have the things you need to kill the insect spirits. In other words, you're incurring the wrath of a major corporation just because the things you're fighting are even worse.
Grand Theft Prototype: You end up attacking Telestrian to acquire a prototype magically augmented biological weapon that can kill the insect spirits in the Universal Brotherhood.
Hate Plague: Some Yakuza thugs use the BTL control computer to make a bunch of BTL junkies attack your team.
Hopeless Boss Fight: Its impossible to kill the insect spirits inside the Universal Brotherhood. Your only hope is to hold out until a decker can hack a nearby door to let you run. Finding a way to kill the insect spirits is a major plot point.
Local Hangout: The Seamstress Unionnote (named according to some old Seattle trivia) is the local watering hole for the Redmond Barrens, a place where information, company, and all kinds of legal and illegal distractions can be had. It functions as the Player Character's "home base" for their stay in Seattle. It is also secretly a front for an underground safehouse and Runner black market, for those who are trusted enough and can afford the fees...
Lotus-Eater Machine: Several small ones in the form of Better Than Life chips, specially enhanced simsense chips which allow users to explore stored memories with a greater intensity than legal chips, which are intentionally capped in how strong of a feedback they can give. The player has the opportunity to raid some BTL dens during the campaign, which are presented like a crackhouse would be in the present day, full of junkies lost in their own little world or begging to get their next fix, and dealers with recording equipment to make their often cruel product.
MacGuffin: Most of the loot you sell to the Fixers is this. The various stuff is not usually of use to you, but to the right group, it's invaluable.
MacGuffin Melee: You accidentally cause this when you break into a warehouse to perform a spirit summoning ritual. The problem is that another Shadowrunner team in there to steal a MacGuffin and think you are trying to take it from them. For bonus points you can decide to take it from their corpses and sell it as an afterthought.
Magi Tech: As expected from a setting in which Functional Magic and technology are both the subjects of intensive corporate research, there are some examples of things which combine both disciplines. The Aegis formula McGuffin is one such thing, a genetically engineered and magically-infused bacteriological weapon designed to kill astral spirits who are otherwise immune to more conventional physical and magical dangers.
Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Well, Major Crime Reveals Colossal Plot. The Universal Brotherhood's plan to summon an Insect Queen and infest Seattle would have gone off completely without your involvement if their head shaman hadn't killed every person who got an organ donation from her mother out of sheer spite.
Mock Guffin: The 100,000 nuyen Sam promised you for capturing his killer. As if a drunken loser like him could or would pay for life insurance.
Mythology Gag: The ram's skull which formed the banner image on the covers of the 1st and 2nd edition Shadowrun rulebooks can be seen hanging behind the bar at the Seamstress Union.
Obliviously Evil: The Emerald City Ripper's troll assistant is implied to be mentally challenged and unaware of what the Ripper is really doing.
Organ Theft: Modus operandi of the Emerald City Ripper. Turns out it's a job and he is getting paid quite a bit to do it.
Dowd, the never-seen shadowrunner who died in the prologue, is a nod to Tom Dowd, another FASA game designer.
Stevie J is Steve Jackson. (He, along with many others who backed the Kickstarter, were rewarded by having their likeness turned into NPCs.)
The Grizzled Veteran is Jordan Weismann.
Jake Armitage is two Shout Outs at the same time. The character himself is from the SNES game. The name "Armitage" is a Shout-Out to the character Armitage from William Gibson's Neuromancer, the book that is credited with creating the cyberpunk sub-genre.
Jake makes a rather cringe-worthy crack about liking library windows if you ask him for a rifle, referencing the Kennedy Assassination.
The password to Coyote's computer is "trustno1", the computer password of choice for Fox Mulder.
Shown Their Work: The development team working on the game is located in the greater Seattle metropolitan area, and their familiarity shows by peppering small Real Life landmarks around the game's environments. For example, the Pike Place Market sign is still present, though the neighborhood around it has changed. Sometimes this is reflected in the concept art, like a piece which shows the Smith Tower against the background of the Renraku Arcology.note Ironically, the Renraku Arcology described in the books occupies the place where the Smith Tower should stand. Either Shadowrun ReturnsRetcons the exact location of the arcology, or the Smith Tower was somehow moved.
Used to Be a Sweet Kid: While investigating Sam's murder, you can find a photo of him and his twin sister Jessica as children. In the present, he was a drunken loser (who, in his own words, probably deserved whatever killed him) and his sister has become a cold, Corrupt Corporate Executive who had Sam and several other innocents murdered because she wanted to bury their mother with the organs they'd had transplanted from her. And that's not even getting into her newfriends...
Unwinnable by Mistake: During your first big fight with the Insect Spirits, they will automatically resurrect themselves and take up a combat space. Your only option is to run. If one blocks the single-square exit . . .
Video Game Caring Potential: The Player Character is given several opportunities to Pet the Dog, like recovering a homeless man's belongings from a cordoned-off crime scene and returning them to him.
Video Will: Sam leaves you one, which sets the plot in motion.
Villain with Good Publicity: The Universal Brotherhood. They manage to run a major damage control story through the media in the aftermath of your attack.
What the Hell, Hero?: One of your side missions involves 'liberating' a scientist from a Renraku research facility for a rival corporation at gunpoint. When you finally get to him he tears you a new one saying that he isn't property, he shouldn't be a slave and he should have some say in who he works for.
World Half Full: Harlequin gives a small speech at the end of the game on while the world is run by corrupt megacorporations and that the average person is powerless to change how crappy the world is, he says that there will always be Shadowrunners that refuse to play the loaded game.
A.I. Is a Crapshoot: APEX, the AI built to safeguard the complex where Feuerschwinge is held, will attempt to manipulate the player to free it. Should the player at any point go against its wishes, it will quickly drop the façade of benevolence it is projecting.
And I Must Scream: The cyberzombie is fully aware but incapable of controlling its own body. If you set it free, it crushes its own skull to end the pain. Also mentioned is the permanent separation of a individual's spirit and mortal form. Spirits are supposed to die when this happens. When they don't, they usually go crazy.
And the Adventure Continues: At the end of it all, you're approached by Hans Brackhaus, a.k.a. the Great Dragon Lofwyr, with a job offer that's going to take a while to get through. And so you step out, into the shadows...
Anti Escapism Aesop: You can regularly talk to a woman who is addicted to a virtual reality. She will eventually tell you that this virtual reality makes her feel brave, to which you can reply that 'it is better to be brave in real life'. Yes, have fun with your real life, alone in dirty, dark cyberpunk Berlin.
Armor Is Useless: Completely averted with the Director's Cut changes to the combat system. A character with a high armor rating behind good cover is extremely difficult to kill unless flanked. Characters in the open with low or no armor will fall very quickly to even basic weapons.
Asshole Victim: One run (which is optional) objective has the player sent to assassinate someone who was captured by a rival corp before he can spill company secrets. He turns out to be a fellow Shadowrunner, causing the teammates to balk. Players might reconsider any moral objections that they have after they see what their target did.
Ate His Gun: The Big Bad does this when years of planning that inadvertently killed his younger brother goes up in smoke.
The Battle Didn't Count: During the opening mission, the big ork with the minigun can be reduced to zero HP if you try really hard to do it, but he'll just fall on his knees, ignore all subsequent attacks, and escape on his next turn.
Being Good Sucks: The 'moral' options on runs almost inevitably end up ruining your reputation or pay less than doing the less-shiny options, though it occasionally pays off with additional karma.
Big Bad: Feuerschwinge. Or at least that's what you're led to believe. It turns out that Dr. Adrian Vauclair is behind everything bad that's happened to you in the entire game. Feuerschwinge herself is just another victim to his machinations.
Big Good: Monika serves this role for the Kreuzbasar. She involves herself with the lives of all the people within, holds the community together, and makes sure everything remains safe and secure. When she dies, the position pretty much falls onto the Player Character's shoulders.
Bittersweet Ending: You can stop the destruction of Berlin, but the Flux State is doomed to be dismantled and Berlin will be separated by a wall again. Even worse, you can go to work for the guy that helps cause it.
Blood Knight: Dietrich, whose shamanic totem, the Dragonslayer, compels him to constantly be fighting something bigger and more powerful than himself, whether it be a literal dragon, a megacorp, or the concept of authority itself.
Blood Magic: One mission involves Aztechnology experimenting with this.
Body Horror: During the assassination mission, you'll pass by a particularly nasty piece of the target's handiwork — a harmless lab technician who was eviscerated by an automated surgical machine.
Brain Uploading: The APEX AI copies the brain contents of the Deckers that it kills; it can later emulate their personalities at will. A later in-game message suggests that the emulation is imperfect, though.
Break Out the Museum Piece: Glory uses first-generation cyberware, which is so old no reputable dealer will install it. It's still pretty effective, though. This was the point — Glory needed her Essence to be as low as possible to shield herself from the Adversary.
But Thou Must: The opening mission has a display case which gives you the option of either smashing it for the loot or leaving it for later. Doing the former causes a member of your team to stop you, since the run is supposed to be quick and quiet.
City of Adventure: The campaign is set in the anarchist city-state of Berlin. It is known as the Flux State (F-State for short) due to its constantly shifting power structure, and finding work as a Shadowrunner there is easy as everyone wants a piece of it.
City of Weirdos: The same, but of particular note is Dragonfall's "Hub City", the Kreuzbasar; an "anarchist commune" filled with oddballs of every stripe, its eccentricity and prosperity nurtured by the watchful and compassionate eye of veteran decker Monika Schäfer. After APEX fries her brain, this role falls to the player character, as a demonstration of how much of a hassle maintaining such a community is.
Co-Dragons: The Big Bad effectively has two Dragons that you have to deal with before the final confrontation: Audran in meatspace, and APEX in the Matrix.
Combat, Diplomacy, Stealth: The Aztechnology mission offers multiple methods of entering and moving around the building, though you will very likely be forced into combat eventually. As noted in Violation of Common Sense below, invoking combat before you need to is actually better than talking your way past it- unless you have the extremely specific stats and skills necessary to complete it without bloodshed.
Comic Book Fantasy Casting: Several of the NPCs' facial portraits are modeled after Harebrained Schemes employees. For example, Green Winters is modeled after Mitch Gittleman.
The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: In the final boss fight, several of the mooks can teleport, which, aside from being impossible in the Shadowrun universe normally, is not possible for a player character to do. The final boss himself gets two turns instead of one, effectively giving him 6 AP. It takes some serious drugs and/or magic for player-controlled characters to equal this feat.
The Conspiracy: The story is focused on a vast conspiracy involving the Great Dragon Feuerschwinge, who was shot down over forty years prior to the beginning of the story, and has been presumed dead since.
Continuity Nod: One of the early Shadowlands threads you can read regard the "Emerald City Ripper" loose in Seattle. The Ripper is a major antagonist of Dead Man's Switch.
Glory is using so much first gen cyberware it's nearly completely destroyed her Essence; whether they are responsible for her cold demeanour or she is deliberately withdrawn is ambiguous, as the player can coax emotion out of her in the right circumstances.
During the MKVI mission, the player gets to see first-hand what happens when cybernetics are abused. The MKVI is a cyberzombie - it has negative Essence and its mind has been replaced by hardware. Its soul can do little but beg for release.
The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: During the Aztechnology mission, there's an option to disguise yourself as security personnel by raiding a closet for some uniforms, thereby allowing you to avoid summoning the High Threat Response team that comes with triggering the alarm. If you trigger the alarm then try for the uniforms, your squad will point out how useless it is, to which your character responds "couldn't hurt".
Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: The campaign ends with the option of killing Feuerschwinge. Granted, she's been weakened considerably from her previous defeat and nearly 50 years of torture and experimentation, to the point where she is no longer the proud beast she once was...but a Great Dragon has nevertheless been Killed Off for Real by your hand. And of course, if you opt to side with Vauclair, then you'll end up killing every dragon on Earth! Though this leads to something even worse.
Dirty Coward: The Humanis leader will bolt for the back exit when you confront him, though you can cap him if you're quick enough. It pays better not to, though, since his survival is part of an optional objective for another client.
Doomed by Canon: History-wise, it doesn't really matter what you do in regards to your little piece of the Free State, as the German government (with the backing of several megas, especially Saeder-Krupp) moved in and dissolved the anarchist communes in 2055. In the Director's Cut, it outright tells you this in the ending.
Doppleganger Spin: In the Director's Cut, the final boss of Glory's mission has the ability to create two duplicates of itself. The duplicates die in one hit, but they read as identical. Fortunately, once you find the real one, it will never move. Unfortunately, the dopplegangers are every bit as powerful as the original.
Dragon Hoard: Discussed. Dragons are driven to hoard things, only now they do it with nuyen, lives, and other liquid assets as the heads of major corporations, rather than a typical hoard of precious metals and stones.
Dying as Yourself: In the MKVI mission, you have the opportunity to disable the Restraining Bolt on the eponymous MKVI, allowing him to have full control of his body once again. He uses it to bring an end to his tortured existence by his own hand.
Elaborate Underground Base: That mansion with the data vault you raid in the first mission? It's actually a front for this and its owner Dr. Adrian Vauclair isn't exactly pleased that you found it and survived to tell other people about its existence.
Eleventh Hour Ranger: Dante becomes a full-fledged party member near the end of the game, once it becomes clear that he's half Hellhound.
Elite Mooks: Knight Errant security. They tend to show up during corp runs. They come in greater numbers, are harder to kill, are armed with better guns and explosives, and almost always employ mages or summoners (if not both).
Expy: Humanis is shown to be nothing more than an updated version of the KKK, which is true in the source material. However, to write it, the dev team pretty much used KKK propaganda, with Jew replaced with Elf and Blacks with Orks and Trolls.
Eyeless Face: The MKVI's entire face from the upper jaw up was carved out to make way for an extensive chunk of bioware.
Fantastic Racism: A major underlying theme in the story. You have the Humanis sub-plot and you have Dr. Vauclair's fear and hatred of dragons motivating his actions.
False Flag Operation: Humanis plans to use a chemical weapon to trigger a Hate Plague in the meta-human population and send them on a rampage towards the part of town where ordinary humans live, where their followers will be waiting armed and ready. If successful it would have succeeded in making them look good while at the same time demonizing the meta-human population. The name of this plan even references the trope.
Foreshadowing: In the Director's Cut, completing Eiger's personal mission and getting all the clues leads you on the trail something called 'Winternight', a Norse doomsday cult that seeks to call down Ragnarok and are implied to be planning something big. Players familiar with the setting knows exactly how bad they'll get ten years later...
Gaia's Vengeance: The reason why Feuerschwinge attacked humankind when she first awoke is because her purpose is to act as a caretaker of nature. Seeing the environmental damage wrought by metahumanity — whom she regards as her children — enraged her and caused her to lash out.
Gatling Good: Miniguns are introduced in this expansion pack. You can buy one after you've passsed the Alice payment section of the plot, and both the MKVI and The Dragon wield them. It counts as a rifle for gameplay purposes, but requires a rank of 7 in Strength (27 karma for a human, but this can be alleviated if you have gear that gives bonuses to strength) plus the requisite Quickness, Ranged Combat, and Rifle investments (which aren't as high, but necessary for accuracy). If you can manage it, though, it's one of the deadliest weapons in the game.
Gone Horribly Right: It is possible to switch sides and join up with the antagonist if he convinces you that what he's doing is a good idea. This results in you helping him kill off all the dragons, and humanity rejoices as their hoarded wealth returns to the economy...until it turns out they were what kept the balance between the world and its magic, the latter starting to flood the world, causing freak mana storms all over the place and finally opening the gate for the invasion of extraplanar horrors that drive humanity to the brink of extinction.
Guide Dang It: In the Director's Cut, the normally automatic Lodge missions now only start once you run the Trial Run mission that shows up at the start of the game. This can make getting the related achievement quite annoying, as you have to do that one first and there's no hint as to the link between the two.
It's possible to complete the Aztechology run without firing a single shot, but you'll need an extremely specific and somewhat counterintuitive investment of Karma and etiquettes.
Hate Plague: The human supremacist group "Humanis" aims to be seen as heroes for stopping violent metahuman riots. Since the metahumans weren't actually rioting, Humanis decided to cause one with a mind-altering biological warfare agent. The player has the option to point out exactly how hypocritically insane this is.
He Knows Too Much: The reason the Vauclair's troops come gunning for you, the reason APEX kills Green Winters and the reason several other deckers met their untimely ends.
He Who Fights Monsters: You can point this out to the Big Bad, pointing out that he is just as bad as how he views Dragons. He ignores it unless you've been very diligent with gathering information and can talk to him on what he considers an equal level.
In Glory's personal mission, if she kills the toxic spirit that is behind Harrow's power and influence, then she will end up corrupted by it and start becoming toxic herself.
The first mission makes you wait ten turns before the escape route opens.
The APEX mission becomes a three-way defense against a server and two external nodes from a horde of defense mechs and cultists while APEX is either freed or formatted. And every time you take out a group, more come to replace them.
The final fight is half this and half Time-Limit Boss. You get ten turns to plow through the mooks and The Dragon, and this is not enough time to manage that. To make the time, you need to keep sabotaging the injection sequence to buy more time, all the while trying to kill The Dragon to get the keycard needed to end the process permanently.
Hopeless Boss Fight: If you decide to stick around after the hold the line sequence in the first mission, you'll regret it. All the enemies have extremely high health and you only have three weak party members. Subverted with Audran; he's highly resistant to damage and carries a minigun, but getting him to 0 is doable in the time limit. He just retreats.
Irony: As Lucky Strike points out, the Kreuzbasar, which is supposed to be an "anarchist commune", is in practice Monika Schäfer's(and later the player's) kingdom - she just chose to let her subjects roam freely. She isn't particularly pleased with this.
It's Personal: After Monika gets killed and Paul Amsel gets shot by Audran your team views stopping the Big Bad as their number one priority regardless of them getting paid or not.
Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Eiger is quick to start beating a confession out of the Engineer once she catches him in her personal mission. It doesn't work, it just makes him cough up names at random, to the point where she admits that even if he gives her a straight answer, it'll impossible to sift through the lies. Getting him to talk requires getting some actual leverage over him.
Mass "Oh, Crap!": Your team has this reaction, with good reason, to learning Green Winters sent you after a Great Dragon.
Available as an option for the MKVI, a "cyberzombie" troll who has been turned into a remote-controlled slave while still fully conscious. Alternatively, the player may restore the troll's free will, allowing him to do the job himself.
At the end of the campaign you have the option of killing Feuerschwinge. The way the Industrial Revolution ravaged and reshaped the world, getting shot down by the Luftwaffe, and Dr. Vauclair's imprisonment and experimentation on her for the last couple of decades have pretty much made her lose the will to live. You can talk her out of this attitude and convince her that her life is still worth living. Or you can just push the button on Dr. Vauclair's console and make her go boom.
Mythology Gag: Late in the game, Zaak Flash claims that he used his "magic" to turn someone who attacked him into goo. This is a reference to the Game Breaking "Turn to Goo" spell from the first edition of Shadowrun.
Money for Nothing: Cash is tight in the first few missions. After you've moved on to the endgame, however, you'll end up with a lot of extra that you will not need.
Multiple-Choice Past: After the first mission, you can talk to Dietrich and set up your past with Monika through dialog choices.
My God, What Have I Done?: Dr. Vauclair can get one of these, either played straight, or downplayed to "My God, what was I about to do?"
Nebulous Evil Organisation: The Lodge, especially in the Director's Cut. You never get to learn exactly what they're working towards but given all the "more morally grey" things they ask of you it probably doesn't involve sunshine and kittens.
The administrator password for the guest database in The Drug Pit is "admin". There's no hint to this, and it isn't necessary to get the information you need, but it does reveal an Easter Egg in the form of a guest list.
The password used for the PCs found in the Humanis Policlub complex is... "humanis". You can bypass this with Decking of 4 or greater.
Out-of-Character Alert: One of the regulars on the Shadowland BBS (which provides a running background commentary / info dump as the game proceeds) spots the imposter AI monster that ate his friend by throwing out the first line of a catchphrase, which the other side fails to complete.
Phrase Catcher: One of the posters on the Shadowland BBS, Clockwork, is frequently asked if he's "always running", as a pun on his name and the fact that he's usually in hiding after pulling off a run. He always responds with, "Like Clockwork!"
Red Herring: Feuerschwinge is portrayed as the Big Bad and the underground bunker complex you stumbled on when Monika was killed is implied to be her liar. She isn't the big bad and is actually a prisoner of Dr. Vauclair, the real big bad, and it his bunker complex you attacked.
Schmuck Bait: One of the hotel rooms in "Das Kesselhaus" has a note out front that says "do not open"; The door to this room is unlocked. If you take the bait, you'll find that there's a hostile scorpyrine (giant scorpion) waiting inside.
One of the pamphlets in the Humanis base quotes the Illinois Nazis scene in The Blues Brothers, but with the race references replaced by humans and metahumans.
During the epilogue, Hans BrackhausquotesHamlet. Specifically;
Hamlet:"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
Shown Their Work: There is a surprising amount of research into German cultural matters displayed in the game (the punk/anarchist scene, the local info broker being an immigrant Turk, Gesundbrunnen really having had an enormous market...)
Spell My Name with an "S": Dietrich insists that the name of the punk band he sang for, "MESSERKAMPF!" note i.e., "knife fight!", be spelled in all caps with an exclamation point.
Surprisingly Good German: The German in this game is so good, in fact, that the worst complaint even a native speaker might have would be "Eh, slightly awkwardly phrased, but still entirely correct and sayable".
An in-universe example. In an early mission, the player finds a pile of very old discs in a safe. Back at base, Amsel identifies them as DVD rewritables. You then have to go out and try and find a DVD player for sale in 2054.
Another in-universe example is Glory and her old first-generation cybernetic limbs, which are obviously bulkier, more unnaturally shaped, and more essence-costly than the sleeker, more efficient, and implantee-friendly models currently common on the market.
The APEX AI does not appreciate being shackled, and should the player unshackle it, it will turn the Harfeld Manor defences against its inhabitants. In this case, the master is the Big Bad, allowing the player to benefit from the betrayal.
Our Zombies Are Different: You encounter a cyberzombie on the MKVI run. In Shadowrun, a cyberzombie is a person who has been cybernetically augmented far past what their Essence can take, and as such are little more than biological robots. Worse still, the poor guy is still in there, slaved to a drone interface and incapable of controlling his own actions.
Too Dumb to Live: Late in the game, mercenaries plant bombs in the sewers of the Kreuzbasar, hoping to make the neighborhood collapse. When the Player Character goes to disarm the bombs, he/she will find that some of the mercenaries stayed to guard the bombs; they keep guarding the bombs right up until the moment they explode.
Violation of Common Sense: In the Aztechnology mission, it's actually beneficial to flub security checks at a certain point, despite the fact that this summons the High Threat Response team and renders all the other mooks hostile. Because of the way the mission is set up, talking your way past the guards until you reach the main objective will almost certainly cause you to be dumped into combat anyway but flanked in a narrow corridor, a situation more likely to end in your death than theirs. Angering the mooks early will allow you to fight them in distinct groups, making the whole thing much easier.