Shadowrun: Dragonfall starts as the simple story of a robbery gone wrong in a magic-meets-cybernetics corporate dystopia, but quickly spirals off the rails. Multiple conspiracies including an invisible cyberkiller, a radioactive ghost, a missing genius, and a fallen dragon shake the uneasy foundations of neo-anarchistic Germany. However, the game isn't all sturm und drang; the mercenary shadowrunners tasked with untangling the conspiracies are nuanced enough for quiet moments and black humor as well as action-movie intensity.
It isn't just the main story of Dragonfall that wins our praise, but the side quests too. Being a shadowrunner means taking money from some pretty dodgy people — or at least considering the notion. The political zealots, monomaniacal corporate overlords, and outright twisted NPCs are more than just quest-givers: their compelling motives flesh out the world and add shading to the personal stories of the main character's crew. The runners' home base, the Kreuzbasar, anchors the plot threads in one politically autonomous neighborhood. The wide-ranging main plot is anchored to regular people just hoping to get by, sandwiched between global issues, national strife, and more downhome concerns. Good thing their local shadowrunners are such nice people.
Sit by the fire and grab a horn of mead. Listen to the beat of the drum and watch as light vanishes from the world. The Banner Saga weaves the stories of desperate men and women into a banner of heroism and betrayal. The sun has stopped its march across the horizon, and the gods of legend have died. In this desolation, isolationist giants work with humans to survive as best they can. The arrival of an ancient enemy shatters the tense peace. Only tenacity and rage can keep civilization from being extinguished.
The struggle for survival is violent and nuanced. Few of the characters encountered outright agree with the protagonist. Everyone has an angle for getting by, usually at the expense of someone else. Navigating between the conflicting factions and ideologies allows rich ground for asking questions like, "At what cost, salvation?" and "What am I really fighting for?" All of this focus on present survival highlights the clues about the world's past. Many mysteries remain in the world of The Banner Saga, from the activities of the gods to the greater political dealings. Uncovering partial answers to these mysteries while traveling is an effective way of pacing the big reveals. When food, warmth, and steel are being stockpiled, knowledge also needs to be unburied piece by piece. This allows the player to make smaller connections and piece together theories about what's actually happening while the blood and thunder and rolling drums drive the immediate action in the foreground.
The Dragon Age series has always been a bit better at dialogue than overall plot, but Inquisition contains a lot of great payoffs for fans of the first three games. Several mysteries introduced in the first two games are solved, while others are grown and dangled tantalizingly in front of our faces. Within the narrative of the game itself, players have a chance to grow their Inquisitor as an angry tyrant, self-satisfied prophet, reluctant leader, and more. Plus, we finally get to make some huge, world-shaking decisions as the leader of a powerful organization instead of the head of a ragtag group of wanna-be heroes. Climactic story moments such as the siege of Haven, the dance at the ball in Orlais, and the decision at the Well are well-done and memorable. Plus, while we won't talk about that post-credits scene because the game is still fairly new, the twist it contains is pretty great, too. We can't wait to find out what happens to Thedas in Dragon Age 4.
by Zach Welhouse, Becky Cunningham