Waypoint 101 — Shadowrun: Dragonfall


#242

It’s pretty simple. Most people just do decker/samurai with a pistol build. Put points in quickness for that and dodge, so you don’t have to focus much on body. Alternatively, just invest a bit in strength and melee weapons if that’s more your thing, though this requires more body since dodge can’t really be increased much.


#243

Plus, if you follow his “personal development” to the end, he can actually learn a valuable lesson in humility and not being a moron dumbass. Albeit after destroying his relationship with the woman he couldn’t let go. (I have a tiny bit of sympathy for him, in that stealing sensitive data from his deck was just going to encourage him, and Emile should have known that, but… )


#244

That, and it’s an opportunity for real character growth on his part - his arc’s at least on par with Glory and Eiger in terms of personal development.

Not necessarily - you can convince him to lay off chasing her, and she’ll e-mail you later to say there might still be hope for them.


#245

Finished the game, so bunch of spoilers about that.

Bunch of thoughts about the ending

The writing in this game has been good all around, but the ending really surprised me - I ended up releasing Feuerschwinge, and really appreciating how the game managed to zag and complicate the matters. Vauclair being behind it all is a pretty standard twist, the thing about him being partially right about dragons being capitalist hellmonsters but wrong about the means to topple them is a very standard and often very annoying way to approach politics (see Thanos, Bane, Ultron, you name it), but the game really surprised me with the conversation you get with Feuerschwinge, where you learn she was a dragon of nature mourning what metahumanity did to the world, and essentially promises to not kill anyone again, but instead to lie asleep until the next great change in the eras. It’s a very Princess Mononoke approach, which is definitely not somewhere I saw any of this going.

And then you get the epilogue conversation with the man in the subway cart, who reveals all you did was very much in Lofwyr’s best interest, he was tailing and influencing your moves, and invites you to work for him. Accept his invitation or not (I didn’t), he’s right - the final text screen tells you that in the very next year the Flux-State is taken down by corporate forces, including Lofwyr’s own Saeder-Krupp.

In that light, one of the most interesting subplots of the game ended up being my player character trying to convince Dietrich to change his relationship with the Dragonslayer, and eventually figuring out he can refocus on trying to take down Saeder-Krupp, the largest corporation in the world. I really like the idea of where that leaves the team. Glory says it in the epilogue the whole purpose of corps, dragons and politicians is to try and keep people like them as thinking they have no say in the matters, and yet for a brief moment your ragtag bunch held incredible sway over the fate of much of the world. I like to imagine them… chasing the dragon again, if you will, saving up the cash they get to set up their next big play, in between the stuff they do trying to keep the kiez afloat. As you can say to Feuerschwinge, “nothing is over”, and it really feels like that for this crew. Big fan.


#246

So, I finished Dragonfall today, and managed to save at the point you make some pivotal decisions, so it wasn’t too hard to get multiple endings, so I did.

I’m going to hide most of this post to avoid any actual spoilers, but I’ll note in the clear that I agree with a lot of the things that @doctorcat says in their post about finishing the game - and second the recommendation of the HIGHLY SPOILERY tumblr post by colin spacetwinks. So, you know, take all that as read.

Initial comment: I’m going to use the English language name for one character - it sort of bugs me that whilst everyone is apparently speaking German in the game, we get gratuitous untranslated German Proper Nouns (especially as they then get translated for you, which is very odd if you think about it).

SPOILERY DISCUSSION

Aside from the whole extremely cyberpunk discussion of control and enslavement by those more powerful (as covered comprehensively in that tumblr post) which infuses the entire game, from the main thread through to most of the side missions, there’s other echoes and themes which struck me.
[On the topic of control, Colin also misses a few options - you can always give every “oppressed” thing free agency, even the MKVI troll (although it uses that agency to kill itself). In fact, the MKVI mission is sort of a moral trial run for Firewing, given the same options - pass control to another party to enslave them, “free” them by killing them, or return their agency to them to do what they will. It’s also notable that in the MKVI, APEX and Firewing cases, “returning their agency” entails significant trust, as they’re all quite capable of doing you significant harm if they wished to once freed.]

Firstly, there’s something interesting to draw from the comparison of APEX to Dragons. Even before the game explicitly references this, it was something I noticed - APEX is designed to be a “supreme apex predator” in the Matrix, and surely one thing Dragons definitely are is “supreme apex predators” in the physical and magical senses (although they would claim they’re much more than that mundane description implies - just as APEX would scoff at being describe as merely complex ICE). Fittingly, both APEX and dragons reject attempts to frame morality in terms of “good” and “evil” - APEX explicitly says that they’re meaningless terms, and Lofwyr-in-disguise scoffs at such limiting binary terms as showing the inability of mere metahuman minds to comprehend what Dragons do. [The only other being to demonstrate a similar “post-moral” viewpoint is, of course, Absinthe, who, unlike Aljernon, doesn’t judge any of your possible endgame choices (unless they judge allying with Vauclair, which I didn’t do, because I didn’t have a save far enough back to go and change my mind and see what happened - I assume everyone dies due to the Horrors which Absinthe shows you eating Reality). Absinthe, though, is content to be an observer.]
There’s a hint here of the other theme that Shadowrun introduces that most cyberpunk doesn’t - the battle between the “old” and the “new”. Dragons are most certainly conservative creatures - in a lot of senses beyond the mundane (they literally conserve our reality, apparently; and Firewing was explictly a “conservationist” in the modern sense of the word), and their power is in magic; they embody the past. APEX is radical, a symbol of modernity, change - it even adopts a radical political position to champion; APEX is the future. (APEX is also very much a “fabril” entity (it’s literally a product of technological invention), as much as Dragons (and again, explicitly, Firewing) are “pastoral”, echoing the other aspect of the contrast between SF and F.)

In fact, in general, the magically-capable “friendly” NPCs tend to be pretty conservative in their approaches to problems, and are often contrasted with high tech politically radical solutions.
For example: Aljernon reacts with a typical conservative response to your revelation of the Aztechnology Bloodline project, urging you to attempt to suppress the project, to prevent change, stuff that genie back in the bottle. I found this a pretty unconvincing argument - his wizardy instincts to throw dangerous things into Mount Doom might have worked before widespread information technology and global megacorporations, but it’s inconceivable that a company as sophisticated as Aztechnology didn’t have regular project updates backed up across their IT infrastructure. At best, destroying your copy of the research might set them back a year or two.
Meanwhile, your alternative options are to sell the secrets to the highest bidder (which, if we’re playing along with “metaphors for the triple choice you have at the end”, is “hand the reins to someone else”), or give the information to the Schockwellenreiter (“give agency to it”). I very much felt that the third option was the right one here - informing the public about the threat at least means that people can try to develop countermeasures to it.

So, this additional conflict adds some additional complexity to the final choice for me - handing on the control to APEX does remove Firewing’s agency, but also provides a powerful boost to forces of change and “the future”; giving agency to Firewing and convincing her to go off and sleep potentially does the opposite [it’s not clear from Absinthe’s typically vague prophecy, but it feels like Firewing will awake before the end of the Sixth age]. This was actually a really difficult choice for me, and if the option “free Firewing and give the rest of the facility to APEX” had been available…

Added later:
Reacting to @discoshark who posted as I was writing to this: it’s interesting how your impression of Lofwyr is also tinged by your choice here. If you did anything other than free Firewing, you have the option of pointing out that your actions probably weren’t exactly what Lofwyr wanted, and despite the response (dragons plan for all eventualities), it does sort of feel like a “win” for the little people being less than totally predictable.
And, if you go full-in with APEX, you double down on this, as the ending text changes to reflect the “worthy” opponent supporting the F-state against even the might of a Great Dragon.

Edited to add: Also, I sort of feel that Firewing having a freak out over seeing just Berlin’s lack of green sort of undermines Lofwyr’s whole “dragons are super awesome intellects you puny primates can’t comprehend” line. The fact that a puny primate has to remind her that the world is big, and point out that there’s green stuff doing well elsewhere is a bit sad.


#247

For me

SPOILERS

I chose to end APEX because progress doesn’t mean anything without ethics, and one thing that was clear just listening to it for long enough is that it didn’t really have ethics. Giving that thing free reign seemed like a REALLY bad idea and not a good way to fight against the dragons.

The game seems to layer that conservative and progress theme by showing both aspects have merit by showing different characters applying different ethical codes to these mind sets. Schockwellenreiter is one of my favorite examples because they’re definitely full on anarchists, both in good and bad. They want information to be free, but that’s not treated as good or evil in the game, simply as their philosophy. I backed them completely until that one project you mentioned because I figured something that powerful being out in the open would instantly be abused and cause countless, pointless deaths. I drew the line with them when it came to weaponized knowledge because that’s simply too easy to abuse. I followed the warnings and destroyed it.

This is partly because the Shadowrun games make a solid case as for why pure progress is not a worthy goal in itself just by showing you how corps operate and what’s done to achieve this progress, then how its abused.

I think Ractor’s dialog in Hong Kong is the best example, having him express fairly reasonable ideas about humanity’s next step in evolution by embracing machine bodies and minds, but then leaving his discussion in a really unnerving light when he mentions genocide may be necessary to make his vision real, and he suggests he wouldn’t be against carrying it out for what he sees as an absolute good.

These games seems to land in the middle and argue for the importance of culture and connections over the general state of a culture as marching towards progress or refusing to change at all. It expresses that people naturally change and speeding up or slowing down that process can have unintended consequences.

I ultimately landed in the middle in Dragonfall, freeing Firewing so she can have some sort of peace and await nature’s healed state while I continued to live by my own principles and reject corp control, though not at the cost of innocent people. I fought to protect a single town and helped others along the way, I didn’t want to leave the world with more unnecessary scars.


#248

I don’t mind the German proper nouns. Names are names, I wouldn’t call a guy named Wilhelm “William”. I think it’s also a good way to provide the flavour of a location without forcing the readers to actually know German. (Kiez is a bit much though.) And like I said, Feuerschwinge is so fun to say!

(Great post btw - I need to let it stew in my mind a bit before I have a more intelligent response.)


#249

I’d argue that the ending for APEX “winning” shows that it does have ethics - it apparently genuinely does strongly believe in anarchism as a political position, at least. (It’s not clear that this is worse than the ethics of Dragons - Lofwyr seems to be happy to admit that what passes for ethics amongst their kind is basically just owning all the stuff.)


#250

That’s really debatable. Sure, it follows a political philosophy, but that still raises the possibility that it doesn’t have enough of a moral compass to decide how to use the power it gets as a dragon. It can fight back against the dragons, but its hard to say what else it might do. If you chose to end it, it drops that facade it gives and it becomes clear its a spoiled child with sociopathic tendencies with incredible power, and something like that having absolute freedom is definitely something that will backfire eventually.


#251

It’s hard to say what Dragons would do either, to be fair - just because they’re ancient reptiles that have been around for a while, and are “worse than the metaphysical horrors”, that doesn’t make them in any way “moral” in a metahuman sense. Lofwyr is right about that at least: if you were a moth, does it make any difference if you’re killed by a human hand, or an electric fly-zapper?


Plus, APEX “trapped” is an entity which has only known being controlled and directed by others - Firewing is hardly rational, after a similar period of time in a state of similar torturous existence.


#252
End game spoilers:

Playing as a decker, the idea of giving a super deadly AI free reign after seeing how it instantly and grotesquely kills my friend at the opening of the game was just something I couldn’t live with. It fell into the same bucket as the Schockwellenreiter info I ended up destroying rather than risk letting out into the world.

As an aside, the fight to kill APEX was the one time combat felt tense and good to me. My team was stretched thin and barely able to overcome what the AI was throwing at me.

I guess my reasoning is hypocritical given that I chose to free Firewing and she is proven to be every bit as deadly (or moreso) than APEX. The conversation with her and her reasons for the rampage 40 years prior was something I sympathized with. I flipped my intentions during the conversations with her, which led me down a conversation tree where she wanted to give up and die and I was put me in the position of talking her into being freed.


#253

imo that kind of begs the question of whether or not someone whose actions are consistent with a particular definition of morality actually “has a moral compass” or not. Sort of like the original Turing Test, if you can’t figure out if what’s inside a black box is “real” or not, then logically you should admit that it’s real – so if APEX, despite sounding like a sociopath because it speaks like an artificial being, acts in a way consistent with defending and guarding the Flux State and allowing it to flourish, in line with the ideals of the state’s people, can you really say it’s not following their same moral compass?

It’s really great that this game has so much going on that we can even have this conversation. I love the podcast and all but they’re going to have a tough job beating this thread for pure interestingness.


#254

I’d also argue, although I don’t think this is contained in the game, so we’re going ‘off topic’ a bit:

morality and ethics, in the sense that humans / metahumans conceive them, are products of social animals. They’re ground-rules that we develop to allow us to work together in groups. Other social animals - other primates, cetaceans, corvids, etc - seem to also understand at least basic versions of this, like punishing ‘cheating’ and ‘stealing’, etc. The world in itself has no baseline “morality”.

Dragons (and APEX) are solitary apex predators. They’re polar bears, tigers, great white sharks. There’s no particular reason for them to have “morality” in the sense that we social primates develop it - they have no peers to need to work with to achieve their aims. They’re the biggest thing in the room all by themselves. Just like cats have no moral compass (and dogs do). Watch a cat playing with an injured bird. Now, scale it up a thousand times. You have a Dragon. You are a bird.

Assuming that a giant magical flying lizard with almost incomprehensible power is going to be more moral - or at all moral - than an artificial intelligence which at least internalised some radical politics seems… naïve, at best.


#255

Sorry for this long post. I did my homework. I read Cameron Kunzelmen’s post about the politics of cyberpunk, then I read Nicola Nixon’s article he cited in it, and then I played almost 40h of Dragonfall in 3~4 days, so I’ve got a little bit of cyberpunk hovering around my mind these days.

My experience with the battle system

I’m amazed by the versatility of the combat system. Despite being the weakest part of the game, how a lot of people fell it’s a hinderance to getting to the good story parts, I’m surprised with how many different ways you can play it and it still works. After obssessing with it for days, I find myself wanting to continue exploring the battle system and starting a Hong Kong playthrough.
This is the fourth time I pay a Shadowrun Returns game. I’ve played a shaman in the SR: DMS and stopped half way through. Then, months later I’ve played it all with an Adept troll, which some people considers a broken build. I was doing 57 DMG critical attacks on the last boss and was just rolling over enemies by the end. Very strong power fantasy.

Last year or two years ago I tried to play Dragonfall, again with a conjuring/summoning shaman, and again I stopped halfway. I was in the middle of Glory’s side mission. I was enjoying the story a lot, but got busy, stopped playing and never got back to it. This time, because of waypoint 101 announcement I decide to finish it. (Thanks!) Unfortunatly, steam cloud did not have my save so I had to start again.

Following tips from this forum I made a mage, very specialized, unlike your teammates. I was surprised by how much extra karma points I had. I had
90%+ to hit all game long, high health and dodge and 4 charisma (with +1 from armor) which was enough for almost everything in the game. The MC was the killer a build focused on combat to help me breeze through the combat on normal. And he was. The Inferno III spell sometimes one hit killed with a critical during mid game.

But by the last dungeon, I realized that maybe the hybrid build was equally viable, Eigar and Glory who have 6 strengh and quickness were virtually as powerful as me with 10 willpower and spellcasting. That’s great balance.

I realized that the game also allows for several types of tatics. This playthrough I abused of skills like blindness, confusion and mindwipe that takes an enemy out of battle for 2AP. At points I’ve used Cram (+3AP) blinded one enemy, mindwiped another and killed the other one by focus firing on him. That way a lot of encounters ended without me taking any damage and feeling like a master startegist.

The same with Dietrich. Later I bought him the Shadow conjuring spell. The fight started, I blind one guy, kill another and cast shadow in my whole party. Second turn I kill someone, mindwipe another and suddenly a difficult 5 enemies encounter only has one person who can attack, no threat at all.
The versatility in it is that you can also play Dietrich as a in your face punk rocker. His throwing weapons can remove people from cover and he can walk and attack with one action. Cast haste on himself and you can cover the whole map with his kunais, exposing enemies from cover and making them easy prey. The game has a comprehensive combat system that is sometimes underrated.

Musings about the story, themes, politics and cyberpunk

So this has been my obssesion lately. Rather than making statements about it, I think it’s more helpful to try to find the right questions to be asked about the themes and subtext.

  • How Dragonfall fits in the tradition of cyberpunk? Nixon puts cyberpunk in same movement as the 80’s SF: “the ’70s feminist utopias gave way to straight, uncontrasted dystopias in the ’80s”. So one lens to look at this game is how it relates to feminism. In other words the semiotics of gender.

There’s a lot of it in SR. Monika appears as a motherly figure to the Kreuzbazar, a nurturer and a protector. According to Nixon cyberpunk it’s common to have a

exceptionally talented, very masculine hero of cyberpunk, with specially modified (Americanized) Japanese equipment, can beat the Japanese at their own game, pitting his powerful individualism against the collective, domesticated, feminized, and therefore impenetrable and almost unassailable Japanese “family” corporations.[…]
The political (or even revolutionary) potential for SF, realized so strongly in ’70s feminist SF, is relegated in Gibson’s cyberpunk to a form of scary feminized software; his fiction creates an alternative, attractive, but hallucinatory world which allows not only a reassertion of male mastery but a virtual celebration of a kind of primal masculinity

By having the Kreuzbazar, a community, Dragonfall seems to evade that trapping. Another character is also a nurturer The Maiden, which probably deserves a discussion

Magic and nature are usually female forces and technology a male one. Tech in the game seems to used by large corportions as a means to control and dominate people and magic. On the subject of corporations, NIxon says:

they do not present the arena for the hero’s potential subversion of or assault on them, for it is the established power structures themselves which provide the means by which he can succeed. In Gibson’s fiction there is therefore absolutely no critique of corporate power, no possibility that it will be shaken or assaulted by heroes who are entirely part of the system and who profit by their mastery within it, regardless of their ostensible marginalization and their posturings about constituting some form of counterculture.

  • So the question is where dragonfall falls in that spectrum of being a tool of the corporate system (and profiting by it) and contesting the system. The game goes big. It’s good. But how much and how effectively does your party fights the system?

#256

With regards to APEX, I pretty much took the middle line between what @aoanla and @JKDarkSide said. I felt pretty strongly about releasing it, it seemed like a mostly benevolent force willing to hold up its end of the bargain we had made, but refused to give her the body of Firewing because I felt like the dragon was committed to resting for what seemed like eons and no longer murdering anybody. Sidenote: by the end of my conversation with her, I felt like Firewing was almost a sort of Godzilla figure, a being that rose up in reaction to humanity’s crimes against the world and might do the same again if we don’t fix our ways, and that’s a sort of narrative I have my weaknesses to.

I think what you do about APEX ends up very closely mirroring how you feel about the Flux-State, this idea of various powers weaving in and out of relevance, none ever becoming a proper ruler. I was invested in the idea, partly agreeing with Lucky Strike’s criticisms of Monika and me (it really annoyed me how she stops having new dialogue pretty early on, that was a really interesting character), but stuff like making the Aztechnology project public very much gives me pause: selling it for the highest bidder is obviously wrong, but just posting it on a public forum seemed essentially as dangerous. I ended up mentally siding with what I saw as more measured critiques of the Flux-State, like the communist gang in the APEX mission (and, to an extent, Samuel’s group in the kiez), people who attempt to organize the Flux-State into something that more pointedly helps the people who need it. In that sense, giving APEX free reign over Firewing seemed like a huge ethical breach for what was mostly a sideways move. The Flux-State we see in the game is APEX’s end goal, and it just didn’t feel like mine.


#257

So…I just realized I have a key for this sitting in my email from backing the Kickstarter a hundred years ago. Fingers crossed that it works when I go home tonight since Austin’s pitch on a recent podcast got me really excited for the game (and because I was totally underwhelmed by the Dead Man’s Switch campaign).


#258

It’s interesting to note that the “third parties” present in the APEX mission are pretty critical of the communist gang, and strongly imply that they’re about as genuinely communist as most pseudocommunist states of the 20th century, which is to say, barely.

I’m interested about your justification about Aztechnology though: destroying the info essentially just gives Aztech a monopoly on the magitech (it just sets them back a little in perfecting it). Given that we have no option available to let people know of the concept, without selling the entire info, how is this morally justified?


#259

If memory serves, the harshest critic of the gang is the shopowner on the first floor, who, well, is the owner of a shop, so that cast some doubt in my mind as to how fair his criticisms are. Yes, other people aren’t exactly fans of them, but they seemed more inclined to point out how the mage gang is way way worse. Anyhow, I’m not saying I’d cast my lot with them exactly, not without more understanding, but the rhetoric did seem very agreeable.

In the Aztechnology situation, I guess the key is “given that we have no option available to let people know of the concept”. Everytime I see a game give me the “choice” to do “whatever I want” and the choice to do what I actually want isn’t there (which would be to make public the fact that the thing exists, creating public outrage that would force Aztechnology to face consequences, and failing that, to hunt down the company), I just treat it as a very boilerplate ethics test, with “sell the blueprint to this weapon of mass destruction to the highest bidder” being the “evil” option, “post it on Reddit” being the “freedom above all else” option, and “destroy it” being the “good but censorship-y” option. Your point that the company would obviously have backups is right, but nobody brings it up, and nobody brought up my thing (which might not be viable as I said it, but the characters, as people who live in this world and understand its makings better than I do, could definitely figure out something), so I just think of it as a unsatisfying, very “morality bar” end to a storyline, and end up clicking the button that seems vaguely agreeable.


#260

Given Aztechnology’s monopoly on blood magic, making the project information public would only incentivize the other corps to launch their own shadowrunner teams to steal the data and weaponize it themselves. Frau Muller seems pretty certain that completing the mission will leave you with the only copy of the data, and given her position you have no reason to doubt her. Those being the factors at play, there’s no real difference between telling the public and telling the Shockwellenreiter - you let it out, someone’s going to use it.


#261

I finished the game a few days ago now, but I wanted to go back to try some different options and let it stew a bit before responding. In the meantime there have been some excellent posts here (particularly by @aoanla, @discoshark and @doctorcat)

About Colin’s blog post and enslavement - I read Colin’s blog right after finishing and it helped me crystallize some thoughts about this theme, but I hadn’t realized how closely the MKVI and APEX decisions mirror the final decision concerning Firewing until @aoanla pointed it out. I think the game does a great job of subtly setting up the theme and making the player think about how their character feels about this subject before the final confrontation. (for the record I freed MKVI and APEX, but gave APEX control over Firewing and the facility because I’d do a lot of shit to realize the dream of the F-state). Ultimately I think the escalation here prompts the question “what is the price you are willing to pay for people’s freedom? a ‘weapon’ in the wrong hands? probably the lives of a lot of deckers? the likely destruction of Berlin?” and because of the anarchism of the setting these become very natural questoins to ponder. Good stuff

Some politics - Despite how excited I was for the anarchist utopia of the Kreuzbasar I feel like the game kind of pulled its punches in both directions. I loved Lucky Strike’s criticisms of Monika (and the player character) taking on leadership roles and I would have loved to take that discussion further. Maybe even do a run that would hinge on this question. Do Lucky’s methods really work? can we organize society around them? which other problems do we run into? This exploration ends way too early imo
There is also the issue of structural change. Like @doctorcat (and also Cameron Kunzelman) points out there isn’t really hope for larger structural change in this genre. There isn’t even really hope for small-scale structural change. Even if you want to there is no way to change the way the Krezbasar is run. You can help people and take on responsibilities, but at the end of the game your little Kiez is either unchanged, unchanged but with a community center or leveled to the ground as far as I can tell.
On top of that there always seems to be a “grand plan” in the works. There is always a person (or a dragon, organization or an AI) behind the badness, with little emphasis on the power structures and systems that allow this to happen. At the very end you can tell the guy on the U-bahn “dragons hoard wealth and power and it’s not right to take that from eveyone else!” and his answer is “ah, but so do human and metahuman corporations” at which point there is no option to say “yes, that is bad too”. The problems of the world are either inherent or due to bad actors, and thus not something that can be fundamentally changed

Anyway, that’s a lot of thoughts from me. I really enjoyed my time with the game and on the forums. This is great