Waypoint 101 — Shadowrun: Dragonfall


#362

He’s an interesting case, because if you keep talking with him…some stuff starts to get hinted at that doesn’t seem to match with what he initially says about his past.

Ambrose may be a seriously dirty rigger in his old life who did FAR worse things than initially appears. Some photos seemed edited, his old rigger name is attached to some really shady rumors, he may or may not have been in the military, ect. A lot of the holes in his stories don’t pop up until you have REALLY high stats in certain areas to pass checks, but they paint a very different picture. Its not even clear if he’s here entirely for his own redemption or retirement.


#363

Is it spoilers if I say that’s pretty much the theme of HK?


#364

So I’ve been thinking a lot about the way Dragonfall portrays choice and free will within the context of society, and I think I’ll probably write a bit about it later on in this thread, but I wanted to make a post about something that makes me very excited about this game even now: the politics.

[Post has pretty minor spoilers of side conversations.]

When looking at video games (and a lot of pop culture, for that matter), it feels like there is a massive lack of political creativity. What I mean by this is that it always seems like, if a game is willing to engage in politics in the world it creates, it always feels like it will only engage insofar that it is anti-authoritarian. Wolfenstein, X-COM 2, Half-Life 2, even games like Beyond Good and Evil. All of these feel like regurgitations of Orwellian dystopia. I’m all down to bash some fascists, but I can’t help but feel like there’s a whole range of thought and ideology that’s not going explored and analyzed in video games.

Which is why Dragonfall and the Flux-State excite me so much! The game goes for pretty much the exact opposite of authoritarianism: anarchism. Not only does this present a perfect tone for Shadowrun, it lets you explore that ideology and some of its emergent qualities. And you know what else is great? It has nuance. Yes, in a political climate where there’s no room for nuance anymore, Dragonfall has it anyway. You get to hear people talking about the values of revolution. You get to hear people talk about how much they care about the Flux-State and anarchism. You get to have conversations with people saying “I just don’t think your little kiez is anarchic enough.” You get to read forum posts of people saying “Corporations will destroy anarchism” as a bunch of other members laugh them off. The Flux-State The politics of Dragonfall are far, far from idyllic, but they’re not totally dystopic, either. The Flux-State is a complex society with complex problems and complex people. And you just rarely get to see that in video games.

I’m curious what you folk all thought: How do you feel about the portrayal of politics in Shadowrun: Dragonfall? Did you feel that it was nuanced and well reasoned? How did you feel about the Flux-State as a setting for this narrative? And how does it stack up against other video games? Please tell me what you think! :slight_smile:


#365

I’m glad you pointed this out- I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I felt games with political themes were generally lacking, but I think this captures it. Core to the theses of the sad-boy punk records I bought in college, political self-definition through negatives is ultimately juvenile and unfulfilling, which is why Dragonfall’s portrayal is so great. It lays out a stance with substance and then pokes at prods it with the plot to give it shape and nuance.

The fact that Lucky Strike seems to only exist so she can call me out for not being a big enough anarchist says volumes about the dev’s priorities.

I do think that the fantasy elements of the setting undercut their ability to do “well reasoned” in some places though, but I’m not going to fault them too much for being uncritically reverent in their treatment of a mostly fun universe that’s been starved for a good game. Still, stuff like “essence loss” and fantasy racism in the SR universe are reflections of political views that certainly warrant more criticism or subversion in the text.


#366

Okay, finished it.

One thing I increasingly appreciated about the game is its sense of scope with regards to what is at stakes. For long stretches the scopes are relatively small. I may help one person, give one corporation a bit of an edge over the other, but it feels like the big constellations within this universe are unshakable for puny creatures like me and other runners.

When then, at one or two points, it seems like I do have the chance to do something big, have a very large impact on the world. I felt like it would be impossible for me to take the responsibility. I wouldn’t have had this feeling if I didn’t care for the setting, its places and its characters, so well done, game.


#367

I can think of only a few games in which the politics felt so real rather than like plot mechanics. Metro, Fallout 1&2, Dishonored, to name a few.

Some background about Berlin:
After WW2, Berlin of course had a special status in Germany, as a divided city, as a semi-capital city (it was the capital of eastern Germany, western Germany moved it to Bonn), and with the western half being surrounded by the east. The Berlin scene was known to be very politically aware and at times tumultuous. Add to that the fact that citizens of west Berlin were exempt from mandatory military service, which made it attract many left-thinking and/or anarchist and/or artistic types.

It therefore feels natural to pick Berlin as the place to host an anarchic state in the fiction.


#368

Right, I kinda want to write a big essay on HK now that I’ve finished it, but I feel like writing about the sequel to the thread topic in any more length here is a little obnoxious to those still working through Dragonfall!


#369

Put it in a spoiler cut and tell us anyway! :slight_smile:


#370

Okay, so, some Hong Kong thoughts (with some reference to Dragonfall in the spoilered bits)

Quick Non-spoilery preamble about the mechanics not the plot:

As others have said, Shadowrun: HK is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of “polish” - it’s obvious that Harebrained spent a lot of effort on the new engine, and the writing and art design is gorgeous… but it’s also got a bunch of odd glitches, from dialogues sometimes weirdly breaking or getting stuck on a conversation tree you already completed, through the same inconsistent mouse control (not as bad as in Dragonfall, for me, where it sometimes just stopped responding completely; but bad enough to make the new real-time stealth Matrix sequences even more frustrating than I normally find real-time stealth sequences), and the infamous “being able to use Matrix powers in your normal inventory” bug.
On the positive side, a lot of the interface has been fleshed out more (you can actually give items to other characters!), a lot of the environment does a little more (Ley/Dragon Lines now have a number of special effects), and the mission designs let you avoid combat in a lot more situations. On a mixed side, the new Matrix stuff is at least different - but I deeply dislike real-time stealth games, so for me, personally, this is a strong negative on any hypothetical review score. I did a lot less hacking as a result of this change.
It feels like Harebrained were pushing at the limit of what a studio with their resources could accomplish in a given amount of time and money, and I think I would have made different tradeoffs if it were possible. (It’s nice to have a voiced opening and closing cinematic, but I don’t think it’s essential at all, especially given the rest of the game is as text-based as the previous two games in the series.)

Spoilery Bits / Discussion of Plot

As @Blackie62 notes, if the core of Dragonfall is about freedom/control and trust, the core of Hong Kong is (almost stereotypically, for a game made by Western developers about an East Asian setting) about our obligations and ties to our family and our community (and if we can reinvent ourselves or escape our past to become new people).

If the core of Dragonfall is about the tension between freedom and control (and trust), then its certainly true that Hong Kong is interested in the ties of the past, and the obligations these place on you. In some sense, this is inevitable, as one of the stereotypes that Western people get out of East Asia is the Confucian-derived model of society; Harebrained were almost guaranteed to use filial responsibility as a plot thread in a game set here. In another sense, though, whilst Hong Kong is about filial responsibility (and our wider ties to society as a whole), it’s also about telling lies and stories, often about our past, to escape them.

This turns up as a minor theme in almost all the side missions you can take: from the Geomantic Sabotage mission, where we’re hired to commit one big flashy crime to distract from a smaller one [which also echoes the minor revelation at the end that Josephine Tsang has been hiding the source of her success as a small modification of the Qi manipulating engine which so catastrophically malfunctioned in generating the main plot hooks and setting], several missions where your employer has been lying to you (or to a whole community) the whole time (including Is0bel’s story mission!), the very popular Exit, Stage Left mission (where Ku Feng is just pretending to be a Vampire Queen - but you can help her reify this!), your very first mission gets Bao back under Kindly Cheng’s thumb by showing him all the things he tried to suppress that she actually has on record, and so on.
It’s a theme for most of your shadowrunning team: Is0bel is lying even to herself (since she locked her own memories away), Gobbet obviously embellishes her stories she tells you, and Duncan is telling himself a new story about being an awesome Cop Guy at the start of the game itself. (Racter and Gaichu are ironically the most truthful characters about themselves you have in your team, despite being the most monstrous in different ways. In particular, Gaichu’s concerns are about how his personal narrative must change, now his nature has - he wants to be true to whatever his “new” being is.)
It’s a theme for most of the “shopkeeper” characters in Heoi: Ten-Armed Ambrose is most directly lying about his past to escape it (and spins you more tales even when you think he’s being straight), but the Kai Fa family’s entire set of problems are caused by bad communication and lies (by omission if not direct), and Reliable Matthew’s “fake happy” persona is the result of him literally using BTL sims to lie to himself about reality, constantly. (Crafty Xu’s research into her mother’s notes, is a related thing - researching true stories ; and of course Maximum Law can find that telling true stories to the wrong people can get you in major trouble.)
It’s a very recurring theme in the main plot: not only is Raymond Black a “story” and cover used by Edward Tsang to escape his history and demons (and allow him to try to do some good to repay his accrued bad karma), but his mother’s strategy to deal with this is to actually rewrite her own son’s memories - and she employs a significant agent whose main plot-relevant feature is his self-erasing, interrogation-resisting, memory.

If Hong Kong is about not running from your past, then it has lots of counter-examples: Ten-Armed Ambrose may be hiding from a heinous past, but he seems to be doing a lot of good as an attempt to atone for it (he’s also, literally, locked himself into this path, as his cybernetics meld him with his own offices). Reliable Matthew might be an habitual BTL user, but without them, he’d probably kill himself. Ku Feng seems to be more happy as a real Vampire Queen than she would have been if she remained as an accountant. Maximum Law gets himself into big trouble by telling the truth. Even Edward Tsang, in hiding from the world and himself as Raymond Black, was ultimately responsible for the reasons he could succeed in overturning his Big Mistake (via helping the Player Character, and Duncan, out of the Barrens).

Given that we can only achieve the Golden ending for Hong Kong by encouraging multiple people to investigate and accept their past (Is0bel must return to her own memories of her past in the Walled City; Crafty Xu must investigate her mother’s notes of her experiences; and we must both discuss our mutual pasts with Duncan and bring up a key phrase from that past with Duncan and Raymond towards the end of the game) it doesn’t seem that Hong Kong wants to encourage us to just abdicate responsibility, either.

To a large extent, though, the key difference is who the revisionist history affects. Ambrose, Matthew, Law and Ku Feng (and Gaichu) are only really affecting themselves by their mastering their own destinies. Edward Tsang is running from his obligations to society itself - hiding himself in a new story, and a series of lies is hurting an entire megaslum’s worth of metahumanity (and ushering in the coming of a cosmic horror). (In a sense, the Golden Ending robs him of the “dramatically appropriate” resolution of the “normal” ending, where he sacrifices himself to repay that debt - I sort of feel that this is a problem with Hong Kong’s plot, compared to Dragonfall. Dragonfall has 3 endings which are sort of “morally equal”, and just depend on your feelings re freedom, Dragons and predatory AIs who like anarchic states. Hong Kong has one obviously selfish/bad ending, a small palette of mostly-the-same-in-most-details endings, and one obviously Golden ending where you get to be a trickster-style culture hero. I miss the ambiguity of Dragonfall here.)

[Edited to add: it’s quite possible that the reason Racter and Gaichu don’t need to lie or embellish their past to you like others, is that the things they’re running from are externalities. Gaichu is literally hiding from his old team - but he’s come to terms with that already when you meet him (he’s just deciding how to resolve it), and it’s not the first time he’s discarded his old station to attain a new one, as becoming a Red Samurai already required him to remove all ties to his previous life. And Racter wants to escape being merely human at all - and he’s quite comfortable to talk about his lack of moral constraints with you, if you show enough interest.]


#371

I finished the game earlier today. I really enjoyed it, but I do have some qualms. In the end, I decided to free APEX and gave it control of Feuerschwinge, and did not join Lofwyr. I kind of wanted to go with Vauclair, because he’s kind of right about the dragons, except Absinthe & Aljernon, and Hans(Lofwyr?) as well, hint that the dragons hold something bigger at bay, which reading about that particular ending seems to confirm.

Gameplay thoughts

Overall I quite enjoyed the gameplay, but I do have some big qualms.

The Skill checks aren’t balanced/distributed all that well. The vast majority are Decking, Charisma, Biotech, and a handful of Etiquettes. Some of the skills that get fewer options also have some of their (sparse) checks end up being rather inconsequential. As far as I know, there’s one case where you can summon a spirit to find something, and being an Adept also does something once (and in that case you can also clear that with Body 6, which an Adept would probably have anyway).

Another problem I have is that, for the most part, the rest of the party is just there to fight. I had a case where Glory got to open a door using Strength during a fight, but other than a handful of endgame Decking checks I never saw the option to call onto a party member to clear an obstacle. Apparently, this is something they alleviated in Hong Kong, but it did feel kind of glaring in this game, considering how well the party is written.

All that being said, there were still plenty of ways to solve most problems without violence, which I liked. While the occasional fight was fun, many of the late game ones dragged on a little. I also had several moments where the game would just get stuck in combat mode, even though there weren’t any active enemies anywhere.

One small thing that did disappoint me with the role-playing part is that there’s very little reason to turn down anyone. Sure, you can tell Blitz to get lost, but that just means you get less game to play (and I got a very nice grenade launcher from his mission). Then again, the game doesn’t really telegraph which choices have consequences of that scale, so if you’re going in completely blind it might be easier to say no.

I’m really curious about what Hong Kong has to offer now, so I’m going to pick that up next time it’s on sale. Not sure if I’m going back to revisit Returns / Dead Man’s Switch, even if it might be improved by importing the campaign into Dragonfall.


#373

Also, curious! For those who finished the game: what choices do you make? Answer the poll maybe?

Spoilers for mission “Apex Rising”:

Did you end the APEX AI, doing as you were supposed to, or did you send it into the world as it requested?

  • End
  • Send

0 voters

Spoilers for the ending of Dragonfall:

Did you let Firewing die, as she asked you to, or did you get her to fly free from her cage? Or did you, if you let APEX live, did you give it control of Firewing? Or did you even get the super secret ending where you follow through Vauclair’s plans?

  • Let
  • Get
  • Give
  • Secret

0 voters


#374

Ideology’s great and all, but I’m not letting a serial killer loose just because it claims to believe in my political cause.


#375

I’m definitely interested and surprised by the number of people who feel that APEX was sincere about caring for the F-State. To me, it seemed clear that this predatory being was wearing my dead girlfriend’s face and talking her politics purely for my benefit, because it was arguing for its life. I mean, did it have Green Winters’ beliefs? The hacker Clockwork’s?

I did let it free the first time I played, but that was less about thinking it shared my ideology and more from a mix of feeling that caged things deserve to be let go and the pragmatic calculus that I thought it would be highly motivated to attack my enemies.


#376

Exactly. Even if I believed it - and that’s a big ask considering it tried to kill Alice after its supposed “conversion”, and starts off by lying to you and claiming to be Monika until you call it out - we’re still talking about a predatory AI that can kill anyone using the Matrix, anywhere and anytime, on nothing more than a whim. There are no safeguards, no ways to defend against it.


#377

You mean like a dragon can kill anyone, anywhere in the world, on nothing more than a whim? Did you free Firewing? (Also, if you believe APEX - and Vauclair doesn’t deny this bit if you bring it up - all the deckers it attacked and killed/absorbed in the time before you free it were the result of Vauclair’s directions to it. It didn’t necessarily want to attack Alice (it doesn’t particularly, in itself, care for Vauclair’s secrecy), but it was compelled to. That doesn’t mean that APEX isn’t immensely dangerous - in the Matrix, at least - but it does mean that it’s hard to make predictions about what it will do based on past, coerced, behaviour patterns.)


#378

It’s difficult to answer the second poll for me, since I did all 3 of the standard endings, and really wanted an ending between two of them (Get and Give in your poll). :slight_smile:


#379

…No? Feuerschwinge is explicitly an outlier - no other dragon went on a rampage the way she did. The rest of them clearly have some limitations on their behavior, since Lofwyr had to act through intermediaries rather than resolve the situation himself. Her previous defeat also proves that dragons are ultimately still mortal and can be destroyed; there’s no such countermeasure to APEX. If it wants someone on the Matrix dead, that person will die instantly.

As for APEX and Vauclair, it’s lying about at least one of its targets: Vauclair never directed it to kill his brother. That was a decision it made on its own, even under the doctor’s supposed control.

Summary

All other things being equal, I’d have killed Feuerschwinge. The only reason I let her go is because Dietrich said I should, and I didn’t have access to the magical skills to double-check what he was seeing. But I certainly had more reason to trust him than I would APEX.


#380

Not choosing to go on a rampage is entirely different to not being able to go on a rampage. Lofwyr explicitly discounts the concept that you can use words like “evil” to describe the moral choices of Dragons - and he’s clearly not particularly bothered by the loss of metahuman life which Feuerschwinge caused in her rampage. If he chose to, he could, as with any other dragon, near-effortlessly kill large numbers of metahumans - and certainly could easily kill any one single metahuman he wanted to, anywhere in the world. It simply doesn’t suit his purposes to go on a mass killing spree - it’s easier for him to sit in the middle of his corporation and have metahumans do his work for him. But he’s still an immensely dangerous - physically, mystically, socially, secularly - being, more so than any single metahuman can ever be.

Conversely: APEX is not totally infallible as a killer - after all, Alice escaped it, and APEX “wanted” Alice dead. Vauclair is dodging responsibility here when he claims it’s entirely APEX’s fault that Herman died, too - the directives given to APEX were to prevent Adrian’s research project being uncovered by deckers in the Matrix. Herman was decking and investigating Adrian’s research project, and so was an entirely valid target under the directives Adrian set (it’s quite possible that this was also a kill which APEX itself “enjoyed”, given how much it hates its captor, but it also did fulfill the conditions of its servitude, perfectly). If Adrian hadn’t wanted his brother to die, he shouldn’t have put a killer in charge of guarding the files! You can also push on this aspect of Vauclair’s culpability for his own brother’s death more, with further dialogue options in that conversation.

If we’re allowing Dragons a pass because they don’t always kill everyone they meet, then we should extend the same courtesy to APEX, which has definitely not killed all the deckers it could have (yet). [Plus, APEX is only without countermeasure because no-one has been trying to develop a countermeasure to it… sort of like dragons before Vauclair’s work.]


#381

To reiterate a point I made upthread: Dragons don’t get a “pass” in the way that you mean. We may not know the full nature of their limitations, but they have limitations, even if it’s just down to others of their kind keeping them in check. They’re not monolithic actants either: Lofwyr may be an amoral asshole, but Hestaby is lauded for her protection of metahumans and Mujaji’s environmentalism doesn’t come with a body count. The game ends with a reference to the assassination of Dunkelzahn, one of the most powerful Great Dragons. They can be killed.

What are APEX’s limits? It has no physical body, can kill instantaneously, and exists in total secrecy. All you have to go on regarding its possible future actions is that it claims it absorbed Monika’s ideals and personality - this, after you’ve already caught it lying to you. And if you release it but refuse its request to control Feuerscwhinge, it’ll explicitly threaten you and continue preying on deckers.


#382

The Dunkelzahn assassination, of course, is striking as an event in the wider Shadowrun setting precisely because Great Dragons aren’t supposed to be that easy to kill. (And, indeed, if we’re sourcing outside media, it’s strongly implied that it only worked because Dunkelzahn himself let it happen.)

APEX clearly does have limits: it’s not completely omnipotent even in the Matrix (it can’t free itself to begin with, despite the controls being mostly Matrix-side; and it needs your assistance to gain total control over Vauclair’s project at the end). It can apparently only kill deckers one at a time (Clockwork’s pal escaped because APEX was busy “eating” Clockwork), and given the way the Matrix in Shadowrun works as a physical analogy, it presumably has to move between victims, so it can’t just “kill every decker en-masse”. It also clearly doesn’t absorb personalities perfectly from its prey - it was unable to imitate Clockwork well, even over a purely text-based interface. Outside of the Matrix, it has to act via physical proxies such as Drones, or suborning Matrix-connected systems (which could also be suborned by other agents). [Making use of outside knowledge: there are other AI emerging at around this timescale in the Shadowrun setting, so APEX also has competitors, although it may not know that. Similarly, in around a decade or so, the first Matrix will be destroyed by the actions of Winternight, which is generally considered to have “killed” or disrupted most of the AI which were around at the time.] So, APEX is supremely vulnerable to the destruction of its medium of support, in a way in which physical entities are not. If it’s actually localised to the system it’s currently acting in, it’s even more vulnerable to someone simply pulling the right network link, and then turning stuff off.

(In addition: we “know” that APEX was at least somewhat truthful to us from the ending - it does help to defend the F-State against Saeder-Krupp.)

We could just not deck, and APEX would be much less able to act against us.
We can’t just not decide to be in reality, so Dragons are always a threat to us.