Shadowrun Trilogy: Console Edition Review (PS5)

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There’s an awful lot to like about Shadowrun Trilogy — a chunky collection of three sci-fi-fantasy role-playing games available on PlayStation platforms for the first time. At its launch price of $39.99 / £34.99, you’re getting good bang for your buck here, even if you’ll have to endure some especially rough edges throughout all three titles.

The Trilogy consists of Shadowrun Returns (2013), Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut (2014), and Shadowrun: Hong Kong – Extended Edition (2015). All of them take place in the Shadowrun universe — a future world where cyberpunk aesthetics meet fantastical races like elves, dwarves, and trolls, as well as magical spells. Thanks to its tabletop origins, there’s a lot of lore and world building to absorb in Shadowrun, which lays a solid foundation for the video game adaptations.

At their core, the Shadowrun games are RPGs that require a lot of reading (there’s no voice acting), although the writing itself is fairly straightforward and largely engaging. In fact, ‘straightforward’ is a word that we’d use to describe this collection as a whole. Despite the tabletop flavouring, these aren’t intimidatingly in-depth CRPGs in the mold of something like Divinity, where more casual players might be put off by layers upon layers of menus and the need to micromanage every little thing.

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Instead, Shadowrun adopts a mission-based structure, where the games are essentially broken down into levels. This makes each campaign feel approachable, and although you will be distributing skill points and managing multiple party members, Shadowrun is still streamlined in its design when compared to its peers. It’s kind of like an isometric Mass Effect 2, in some ways.

This streamlined approach allows Shadowrun Trilogy to focus on its storytelling, which is generally great across all three installations. The first game, Shadowrun Returns, is the least impressive of the bunch both in terms of narrative twists and player choice, but it still does a great job of setting the tone for the campaigns that follow.

Its sequel, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, actually started out as a Returns expansion, but was made standalone with its Director’s Cut release. It successfully builds upon Returns and ups the stakes in just about every way, while also offering roughly double the playtime. On that note, Shadowrun Trilogy will take you around 60 hours or so to complete — maybe more depending on the side quests that you see through.

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The third and final title, Shadowrun: Hong Kong is probably the best overall installment. It boasts more intricate environments, more nuanced characters, and a narrative that branches off in some really compelling directions.

But trying to measure the three games against each other isn’t all that productive — not when they’re practically identical in terms of gameplay and structure. Indeed, don’t go into Shadowrun Trilogy expecting significant improvements or adjustments game-to-game; this is very much a trilogy of stories rather than a typical three-part gaming franchise. And with that in mind, we would caution anyone who’s looking to play through all three titles back-to-back, because things can certainly start to feel samey two or three games in — even if the storylines are suitably unique.

Sitting alongside these storylines is Shadowrun’s tactical combat system, which works a bit like XCOM. When battles begin, you’re locked into a section of the map, often complete with cover and other environmental details that you’ll need to be aware of. The turn based system sees you expend action points to move, attack, or use specific abilities. Regardless of your weapon, you’ll always have a percentage chance to hit an opponent, so positioning is usually paramount. Flanking enemies to flush them out of cover is the kind of strategic thinking that you’ll have to engage in, while also considering the strengths and weaknesses of your current party members.

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Your own main character can be whoever you want them to be — character creation and progression being one of Shadowrun’s key selling points. When you’re not role-playing through dialogue choices — of which there are many — you’re deciding on which skills to invest in, and tweaking your build to capitalize on certain styles of play. Again, Shadowrun doesn’t have the deepest character progression, but your decisions do carry weight, and watching your hero (or antihero) transform into a force to be reckoned with is always rewarding.

fight can be a bit drab, though. It’s not what you’d call flashy — visual effects are basic and the animations lack impact — but the tactical side of things does keep each encounter interesting, at least on a cerebral level. Fights reach a point in each game where you’ll really have to start planning out your moves — either to contend with entire enemy gangs or a big boss — but combat rarely feels unfair or insurmountable, because your own arsenal is always evolving. And, if you do happen to hit a wall, there’s an easy difficulty setting, which is also a great option for those looking to focus on the story.

Shadowrun Trilogy is an enjoyable collection of RPGs, then, but as mentioned at the top of this review, it does have some rough edges that can be hard to ignore. For starters, the camera can be an annoyance — both in and out of battle. The default camera setting has a horrible habit of jerking around to keep up with your character’s, and the perspective can make movement interacting with cover way more finicky than it needs to be.

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What’s more, menus are awkward to navigate on a controller, and the technical performance across all three games is frustratingly hit and miss on PS5. We encountered more than a few bugs during our playthroughs — thankfully nothing game-breaking — and the frame rate noticeably stutters every now and then when new areas are being loaded in. Audio spiking is another issue we didn’t expect, with some music and sound effects absolutely blaring into existence for a brief moment before normalising. Weird.

Conclusion

If you can stomach its rough exterior, Shadowrun Trilogy is an easy recommendation for RPG fans. The games’ straightforward structure makes them approachable in ways that other tabletop-based titles on PlayStation aren’t, and the role-playing options are engaging throughout. Combat could do with a bit more punch, and the technical issues are an annoyance, but there’s a lot of value to this well written sci-fi-fantasy package.

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