Harebrained Schemes' superlative Shadowrun Trilogy first released back in 2013 after a successful Kickstarter campaign that saw its intriguing cyberpunk-meets-fantasy world drop onto PC and mobile platforms. Set in the same brilliant universe as the long-running Shadowrun tabletop RPG series, this is a trio of games that take place in a delightfully atmospheric near-future world where elves, orcs, dwarves, humans and more live side-by-side in a complex and troubled society.
The first entry in the series, Shadowrun Returns, wastes no time in blasting you through a simple character creation suite before plonking you down onto the rain-soaked streets of Seattle circa 2054 where you'll indulge in lots of well-written conversations with a cast of interesting NPCs whilst engaging in delightfully breezy XCOM-lite style battles. Yes, that's right, breezy. One of the main draws of Shadowrun Returns, and one of its biggest surprises given the usual output of the tactical RPG genre, is in the quick and easy breeziness that filters through every aspect of how it conducts itself. It gets to the point quickly, funnels you through its linear story without wasting a second of your time, makes upgrading and purchasing gear a doddle and the whole thing is done and dusted in around about ten hours.
Basically, if you've ever fancied getting stuck into the likes of Divinity: Original Sin 2, the Pillars of Eternity series or a similar style of tactical RPG, but felt they were far too complex or time-consuming, well, Shadowrun Returns could be right up your street. It may be a rather abrupt experience in some respects - and a fairly easy one as far as this genre goes - but it's also been made with a careful eye for detail and an innate knowledge of what makes these sorts of games tick. What your left with is an experience that respects your time whilst serving up an adventure that will live long in the memory.
The same goes for both Shadowrun: Dragonfall and the final entry in the trilogy, Shadowrun: Hong Kong. Although both of these later entries almost double the running time and bolster the core of what's found in Shadowrun: Returns by giving you more freedom to explore their delightful hub worlds and take on side missions as you see fit, they are essentially more of the same. They're games that don't outstay their welcome, get you fired right into their combat and narratives as quickly as possible and, as a result, they feel like perfect experiences for newcomers to the genre that also possess the ability to keep RPG veterans absolutely transfixed.
Both sequels definitely overshadow the first game in the trilogy, and you may find some players who think you should just skip Returns and get stuck straight into Dragonfall, but we wholeheartedly disagree. Take your time, start at the beginning and savour every last second of this delightful franchise, it's not often such a wonderfully well-formed trio of games drops into our laps, and it's a trio that feels absolutely perfect for Game Pass, a real treat that you can download - they don't take up much space on your SSD - and have tucked away to dig into when you get a bit of spare time, safe in the knowledge you can breeze through the entire thing in fairly short order.
All three games feature essentially identical combat, with Dragonfall and Hong Kong making a few changes here and there, most notably in that you take control of a team of shadowrunners for their duration rather than hiring random nobodies, which helps in adding a little more tension to proceeding. There are also a few new mechanics such as ley lines dotted around arenas that give magical attacks a boost, and Hong Kong introduces the ability to surprise attack groups of unaware foes, but besides this it's pretty much a standardized experience across the board.
In terms of narrative, where Shadowrun Returns tells a short tale very well, its sequels introduce more meat, giving you more characters to get to know and further opportunities to flex your conversational muscle and reap the rewards of pumping your Karma Points - which you'll earn for completing missions - into skills that give you access to more dialog options and let you avoid combat scenarios entirely on a few occasions. If we had to choose a favourite from the trilogy, we'd most certainly roll with Dragonfall, as its depiction of a near-future Berlin and the story that follows as you attempt to avenge a fallen comrade and get to grips with the resurrection of a legendary dragon, is the most well-rounded and best-paced of the bunch.
Shadowrun: Hong Kong isn't far off the pace mind, and it's only in a mid-section that gives you a little too much freedom to wander off for the sake of padding things out, alongside some unnecessarily long-winded conversations, that it holds itself back from reaching the same heights as its predecessor. Taken as a trio, though, the Shadowrun Trilogy is quite simply superb stuff. This really is one of our favourite RPG franchises and a series we have many fond memories of playing through when it originally released.
Of course it's not all plain sailing, the combat here is undeniably fairly dated in places and rather simplistic in how it goes about handling its cover system, you can't control the in-game camera during fights, which makes for the odd awkward angle, and all three games feature Matrix hacking sequences we'd sooner do without. However, it's still engaging stuff overall with lots of tricks and trap to play around, and any real mechanical failings here are more than smoothed over by the stellar writing and world-building on offer.
As far as these Series X versions go, as expected you've got super slick performance across the board with quick loading times, smooth scrolling around levels and all-new console-friendly controls that work well as a replacement for the touchscreen/M&K setups we originally used to blast through these adventures. You've got the option to switch to 4K in the in-game settings too, and the game's hand-painted backdrops and gloriously detailed little hub worlds still look excellent all these years later. We did notice a slight issue with some of the text looking a little bit warped here and there, with bits missing out of the odd letter, but it's all still completely legible.
On a more negative note, we also encountered a few instances where we needed to reload our most recent save due to the game freezing during action. This only occurred a handful of times in our entire playthrough of the trilogy, and for us it only happened during the game's Matrix hacking sequences in Shadowrun: Hong Kong, but it's something to look out for as you play and a bit of a disappointing blemish on what are otherwise nice ports.
Overall then, Shadowrun Trilogy is a strong series of games and a first rate addition to Xbox Game Pass that should delight tactical RPG fans and anyone else who takes the opportunity to dive into their wonderfully atmospheric and well-written worlds. It really is quite nice to have this trio of classics so readily available on modern hardware.
Shadowrun Trilogy is an excellent trio of tactical RPG titles that serve up wonderfully atmospheric worlds, well-written stories and entertaining turn-based combat to boot. With surprisingly breezy core mechanics and fairly short running times for all three entries it's a perfect series for newcomers to the genre and tactical RPG veterans alike, and another fantastic addition to Xbox Game Pass that we highly recommend you check out ASAP. Let's just hope that freezing bug gets patched out nice and quickly.