Category: Gaming

Lust For Darkness

Despite the works of H.P Lovecraft, especially his Cthulhu mythos, being completely absorbed into the pop culture landscape for years there’s been little success of translating the Lovecraft ‘vibe’ into the world of gaming, despite numerous attempts.

Primarily because the vast majority of games feature the player taking on the role of a protagonist character in a world full of antagonists which the player has to fight to progress through the game. Which isn’t really what any of Lovecraft’s numerous stories were about.  When a game is described as being ‘Lovecraftian’ it’s often just short hand for a game that features large tentacled monsters that look like Cthulhu. This video from Extra Credits explains why games in general fundamentally misunderstand the concept of Cthulhu. Even Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, which is based on ‘Shadow over Innsmouth’, and is one of the better Lovecraft inspired games, is still a first person shooter set in a ‘Lovecraftian’ world.

A major problem being that gaming in general is massively reliant on games with combat mechanics, as high lighted rather brilliantly by Pop Culture Detective in this video essay.  For any Lovecraftian game to really live up to that aim it should be focussing more on a mounting sense of helplessness, unease, creeping dread and the questioning of reality rather than fighting tentacled beasts.  Cyanide Studio’s upcoming Call of Cthulhu shows a lot of promise in this regard.

Something else that’s looking promising whilst not directly based on any of Lovecraft’s stories is Lust For Darkness from Lunar Cult Studios.

Lust For Darkness has the player taking on the role of Jonathan Moon, a man who has received a letter from his wife who has been missing for a year. The letter gives him the location of a secluded Victorian mansion. Players must navigate the mansion and  find clues to determine what happened to Moon’s missing wife.

Taking inspiration from H.P Lovecraft and artists Zdzisław Beksiński and H.R Giger Lust For Darkness puts the emphasis on atmosphere, mystery and a creeping sense of otherworldly dread. Imagine Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ mixed with Lovecraft’s eldritch weirdness and ominous atmosphere. This is aimed squarely at adult gamers too.

What really makes Lust For Darkness stand out though is the way it presents itself as more of an interactive film, where the player is like one of the character’s from Lovecraft’s stories who is stumbling on a secret that threatens to completely drive them insane, rather than a generic survival horror game.  There’s some really interesting ideas too, like players being able to put on masks that grant different abilites, like reading an ancient language at the risk of losing your sanity if you wear the mask for too long.

Lust For Darkness is currently on Kickstarter having raised over 400% of its initial funding goal.

2000AD is a potential treasure trove for gamers

News came out of the 40 Years Of Thrill Power Festival that Rebellion, 2000AD’s owner, is opening up some of their properties for development by games companies.  There have been a few licensed games featuring 2000AD’s characters ,mainly Judge Dredd, with the first appearing way back in the late 80’s. More recently Judge Dredd featured in Dredd vs Death and Rogue Trooper, one of 2000AD’s other popular characters, featured in his own game .

Saying the news of Rebellions intention to licence their properties has immense potential is a major understatement.

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One of the most obvious would be a game set in the world of Judge Dredd in the vein of Rocksteady’s Arkham games featuring Batman. This could have endless potential, a vast interesting world even if it’s restricted to Mega City One, and a vast amount of interesting characters and decades of mythology to mine. Judge Dredd has featured in 2000AD since 1977, that’s decades of stories to work from and then there’s the Judge Dredd Megazine which has been in publication since 1990.

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Whilst there will inevitably will be scores of fans that want to play as Dredd himself there could be more potential in players taking the role of a rookie Judge just hitting the streets of the Big Meg. For a start this could open up the ability to choose whether you want to be a male or female Judge even if it has no real impact on the game itself being able to choose the gender of the character you play as is a big deal . This is something that is generally lacking in most games that default to a male character. This would also allow for unlocking skills, equipment and abilities as players progress through the game which would make more sense for a rookie Judge than for a character like Dredd who is a veteran Judge.

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The main story could feature numerous characters Dredd and Judge Anderson are just the most obvious. Optional side missions could feature characters like Chopper and PJ Maybe. Beyond that there could be DLC for the Cursed Earth, East Meg One, Hondo City. There’s immense potential just in a Judge Dredd game and that’s just one character and world out of many that 2000AD/Rebellion owns.

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Other pretty obvious ideas for use of licenses would be Slaine as an RPG in the vein of Skyrim, Rogue Trooper as a third person shooter for the current generation and less likely but just as merit worthy would be using Durham Red as the basis for a Mass Effect style game set in the far future. These are just a handful of the characters Rebellion currently owns and the most obvious gaming adaptations using previous games as blueprints,  all that’s needed is a good developer that doesn’t churn them out as a half arsed cash in.

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God of War?

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So the long gestating and rumoured return of God of War has finally been officially revealed at this years E3, although as was probably intended it’s left everyone with plenty of questions.

The lengthy game play demo reintroduces Kratos ,the Spartan turned demi-god, who has featured in seven games across various platforms, as older, sporting a beard (looking a bit like a ripped Mandy Patinkin), and most interestingly having a young son.

God of War is a critically acclaimed best selling franchise,  although equally it definitely wasn’t without its problems which I can see more clearly looking back. The first game started off with Kratos determined to kill himself by leaping off a cliff, a broken man crippled with grief and guilt. As the narrative unfolded the reason why was revealed, Kratos had murdered his daughter and wife whilst under the influence of Ares, whom Kratos had pledged to serve in exchange for the power to defeat a barbarian horde earlier. Whilst there was definitely some pathos embedded in the story, it was never particularly nuanced and played out like id The Game, a violent, gory and misogynistic quest for vengeance. Women in God of War rarely served a function other than being lust objects or dying horribly, sometimes both.

With all that in mind it remains to be seen where this new God of War will go narratively, this seems like an older and wiser Kratos trying to put his tortured past of slaughtering gods and men behind him, with an obvious reference point being Clint Eastwood’s Bill Munny in Unforgiven.

This new God of War seems to have dialled down on the gorefest of its earlier entries, whilst seemingly being influenced by the critically acclaimed The Last of Us (which is not only developer Naughty Dog’s best game to date but arguably one of the best games period) with gameplay switching between Kratos himself and his son as the story unfolds.  An important factor  will be how the mother of Kratos’ son features in this game, previously women haven’t really been served that well narratively speaking and if the mother in question gets “fridged” it will really show up how little the game has matured narratively.

How will it tie into the apocalyptic ending of God of War III? Who is the mother of Kratos’ son? One theory suggests the son is Ullr, in Norse mythology Ullr is the son of Sif who is the wife of Thor, you know the son of Odin.  The father of Ullr is unknown though due to little being known of Ullr besides being “an excellent archer, hunter, skater, and skier, handsome, warlike, and an especially apt deity to invoke before a duel”. This ofcourse would lead to Thor probably wanting a quiet word with Kratos and Sif.

 Whilst those are important questions,   one of the more pertinent ones is who is this game aimed at?

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For good or ill God of War has always been a mixture of button mashing gory combat and puzzles, whilst it did both of these well and definitely featured some of the best visual moments of a generation, like Cronos crawling out of the desert with Pandora’s Temple on his back , this new God of War seems like a fundamentally different game and this is a big deal.

This is a big deal because it makes me wonder who this game is aimed at because as seen so far this game is pretty much completely different game play wise, whilst the gameplay seen featured some combat, it’s different to that seen previously. This Kratos isn’t wielding the Blades of Chaos, his signature weapon throughout the games, and combat seems very different, it’s only the encounter with a troll that is more reminiscent of games past, although this too omits the floods of gore that would accompany Kratos taking a large enemy down in previous games.

This new God of War in fact seems so different it’s almost as if it could easily be a different game entirely with all new characters, were it not for the fact that God of War is a well established brand IP which will almost guarantee a return. The tricky part is how many God of War fans are going to buy this new take on God of War? Therein lies the problem for any long running franchise, do the same thing repeatedly and it becomes boring and redundant, but change it up too much and it drives away your fan base.

The lack of a number for this entry was a deliberate move on Sony’s Santa Monica Studios part, which further complicates things implying this is a “reboot” for the franchise, in fact Creative Director Cory Barlog in a recent feature stated “Kratos is our through line, our constant through all of it, but otherwise, we’re starting from scratch”, this statement essentially proves my previous point, especially when you factor in that this game will feature Norse mythology rather than the Greek mythology of the earlier games.

The new God of War will appearing at some point in the future, check out the gameplay demo  below.

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Space Hulk: Deathwing

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The Warhammer 40,000 universe has always been an impressive work of dark science fiction, one that has benefited from several decades of lore adding more and more to its already impressively deep and rich world. Although something that I never realised back through the mists of time was that the dark future of 40K is suffering from a profound gender imbalance which is something that 40K has become rather notorious for.

Although the Sisters of Battle are seriously badass. Like really.

There are numerous games set in the 40K world (especially on PC) but one of the more intriguing ones on the horizon lately is Space Hulk: Deathwing an FPS game based on the tabletop game Space Hulk.

Originally released in 1989 Space Hulk was a tabletop game set in the 40K universe. One player played as a small squad of Terminator Space Marines investigating derelict drifting space craft (known as space hulks) via a series of different maps, whilst the other player played as the deadly Xenos (40K speak for alien) Genestealers. The game, like many from Games Workshop, proved popular with other editions released over the years the fourth edition being released in 2014.

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The now defunct Full Control Studios produced a pretty good faithful recreation of the tabletop game which you can get on Steam and a follow up game, Deathwing (which takes its name from an expansion for the original table top game released in 1990) from publisher Focus Home Interactive and developers Cyanide and Streum on Studio is something a little different. Taking the concept of the Space Hulk tabletop game but in the style a first person shooter based around a story co-written by Gav Thorpe who has written numerous 40K novels for the Black Library.

Space Hulk: Deathwing looks set to be heavily inspired by Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels a punishingly difficult and claustrophobic FPS made by Electronic Arts in the early 90’s.  Saying that this newer take on that idea has vast potential is a distinct understatement, an engrossing story featuring numerous missions spread across  various sprawling Space Hulks with a squad of Terminators could be amazing. Outside of RTS games, like the incredibly popular Dawn of War franchise, 40K games seem to come off average at best so it would be really good if Deathwing bucked that trend.

As anyone familiar with 40K will know there’s a mindboggling array of weaponry, some specifically for Terminators. Examples being the default Storm Bolter and Powerfist combination to heavy weapons like the Cyclone Missile Launcher and Heavy Flamer. Terminators also have close combat melee weapons like Lightning Claws or the Storm Shield and Thunder Hammer. How many of these will feature in the game is yet to be seen but some are shown in the trailers released so far.

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Where things get really interesting though is the player character in Deathwing is a Librarian, a special type of Terminator gifted with powerful Psyker or psychic abilities and powers. There’s no indication of how this aspect will manifest in game yet but it potentially adds a whole other level to game play. Whilst Terminators are reliant on their weaponry and armour when facing a Xenos threat Librarians can help their battle brothers with their potentially devastating powers turning defeat into victory. Having the player character be a Librarian potentially opens up skill trees and abilities to learn as you progress through the game which is something I really hope features.

A true Space Hulk inspired game needs to be more than Doom with a 40K paint job though, it needs to be a balance of ominous chilling atmosphere, tactical squad manoeuvres and frenetic action much like a distillation of the films Alien and Aliens which undoubtedly inspired the tabletop game.

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One of the tactical points of Deathwing will be the use of doors in the vast eerie gothic space hulks. Securing doors can slow down Genestealers or prevent them sneaking up on your squad as easily. Genestealers are one of the deadliest creatures in the 40K universe, agile, vicious and devastating up close, they rely on ambushing prey and swarming with Genestealers coming out ventilation ducts, hiding in shadows and various other places in sprawling ships. Another interesting aspect is the localised damage system, if a Terminator’s right arm gets damaged he can no longer use the weapon equipped in that arm which could add even more tension to what promises to already be a tense nerve shredding experience.

Ultimately Space Hulk: Deathwing looks  impressive but one of the major factors will be how AI factors into the game for both the players squad and the enemy, Streum On Studio has commented about their use of adaptive AI so the enemy aren’t just aimlessly blundering into the line of fire like cannon fodder. Just as important though will be the AI of your team, there’s nothing more frustrating as a gamer than having a character that’s supposed to be helping you get in the way or worse just stand there whilst you’re fighting for your life.

Deathwing is due for release sometime in 2016 on PC, PS4 and XBOX One.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong

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Shadowrun: Hong Kong is the third Shadowrun RPG from indie games studio Harebrained Schemes and the follow up to the critically acclaimed Shadowrun: Dragonfall Director’s Cut. If you’re interested in my thoughts on that game they are here.

This new game has your character and estranged Ork surrogate brother Duncan travelling to Hong Kong to rendezvous with your adopted father Raymond who has something important to tell you. Things don’t go exactly to plan though and pretty soon you find yourself having to go to ground in a foreign land where you don’t know anybody.

Harebrained Schemes could’ve just made Shadowrun: Hong Kong with the same features as Dragonfall, after all it was championed by fans and critics everywhere alike, Jordan Weisman and friends didn’t want to do that though. They set about thinking about what they’d like to add even if they didn’t have the budget for it. With that in mind they set about crowdfunding for the extra funds, a campaign which was profoundly successful closing at over $1,000,000.

It should be noted that there are numerous horror stories relating to crowdfunding and gaming, especially for indie studios. Woolfe – The Red Hood Diaries, Haunts and Lobodestroyo are just a handful of the Kickstarter funded games that have either failed to materialise altogether or suffered major delays and set backs for a variety of reasons but generally down to a lack of funds. Despite the trepidation justifiably associated with crowdfunding and gaming (after all Kickstarter is merely a means for people to invest in a project it doesn’t guarantee the completion of any such project) Harebrained Schemes have delivered numerous games with no problems to date.

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Aside from its slick interface and deceptively simple game mechanics the main reason that Shadowrun: Hong Kong is so good is because it focusses on what matters, the story. This story unfolds like an amalgamation of hard boiled noir and cyberpunk as you uncover how your adopted father Raymond was mixed up in………something. This story, despite some new animatic introductions with voice acting, is revealed via text as you take jobs or runs from your “Fixer” Yellow Lotus Triad crime boss, Kindly Cheng.

Much like Shadowrun: Dragonfall this game also features a selection of memorable characters which will become your crew and will become indispensable as you make your way through the neon lit streets that make up the vast sprawling city of the Hong Kong Free Enterprise Zone. Dwarf decker Is0bel, Orc shaman Gobbet, Human rigger Racter and Former Red Samurai turned Ghoul Gaichu will make up your crew and talking to them not only fills in their backstories which add to the already deep mythology of the Shadowrun world but can lead to runs associated with their own personal stories if you choose to take them.

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The whole art design aesthetic of this new Shadowrun game builds on the previous entries, featuring the atmospheric isometric layout that made the other games so enthralling, further enhanced by some excellent music and sound design by composer Jon Everist. Various different locations make up Hong Kong of 2056 and exploring them is in the player’s interest, there are numerous additional runs to be found alongside the main story if you talk to the right characters.

Shadowrun’s fully customisable archetype character generation system remains as robust as ever, players select one of several character classes to begin with, do you want to be a magic wielding Mage, a chromed up Street Samurai or raid the Matrix as a Decker? Those are just a few of the choices on offer but players are free to customise their character as they see fit as they progress through the game.

Turn based combat plays a big part as players progress and their characters archetype and race will have a major impact on how they approach the numerous skirmishes and fire fights, running head first into battle will lead to a swift and rather humiliating death for a human mage compared to a troll street samurai.

So what’s new in this Shadowrun game then?

Along with a new look skill tree new features include new cybernetics including cyberweapons that can be unlocked by investing in the new Cyberware Affinity skill, expanded magic including powerful location specific Shrine Spirits for Shamans and access to Foci for Mages and Physical Adepts but one of the biggest changes is the completely overhauled new version of the Matrix.

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The Matrix is the online world of Shadowrun where deckers, Shadowrun’s hackers, do most of their work. Their digital avatars trying to avoid Intrusion Countermeasures or IC and other deckers which are working for the mega corporations as they steal valuable data and hack systems.

This new version of the Matrix not only looks visually impressive but also adds a stealth element, deckers can in theory avoid having to fight any IC if they avoid being seen. Whilst this probably works better in theory than in practice it’s an improvement on the rather empty environments in Dragonfall’s version of the Matrix.

Each new iteration of Harebrained Schemes Shadowrun has been an improvement on an already impressive game and Shadowrun: Hong Kong is just the latest example. With such a proven track record for delivering impressive games in a unique and engrossing world Jordan Weisman and Harebrained Schemes will have a dedicated fanbase for as long they want to keep making them.

Watch your back, shoot straight, conserve ammo, and never, ever, cut a deal with a dragon.

Get Shadowrun: Hong Kong on Steam here.

Harebrained Schemes returns to Kickstarter for Shadowrun: Hong Kong

For anyone that doesn’t know Harebrained Schemes Kickstarter campaign for Shadowrun: Hong Kong is now live. This will be the third Shadowrun game from the indie developer following Shadowrun Returns and Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut, for my thoughts on the last Shadowrun game then go here (TLDR it’s excellent).

Whilst the first two games were born of a phenomenally successful Kickstarter campaign which raised over $1.8 million, utterly smashing their target of $400,000 into pieces, this campaign is a little different.

This time around Jordan Weisman and the crew at Harebrained Schemes had Shadowrun: Hong Kong all planned out and ready to be delivered but like any indie outfit they have more ideas than budget and that’s where Kickstarter comes in.

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As well as a new setting of Hong Kong 2056 which features a culture that is steeped in “guanxi” – a network of influence and relationships based upon a combination of social status, and prestige – this new game features an all new gang of Runners to join you on runs through the shadows: Gobbet a street shaman, Duncan a security specialist and Is0bel a Dwarf decker. Other additional characters were set to be added to the roster if the funds were raised including Rachter, a Russian rigger with a custom drone and Gaichu. Gaichu seems like the most immediately interesting of the crew, a former member of the Renraku Corporation’s elite Red Samurai security force. He was infected with the Human Meta-Human Vampiric Virus (HMHVV) on a mission gone wrong, forced to abandon his pure-human unit as the virus slowly twisted him into a ghoul he is now a shadowrunner.

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The law of diminishing returns dictates that people will be less interested in this campaign, the target for Shadowrun: Hong Kong was $100,000 and that was smashed in two hours. The current total sits at over $455,000 and that’s with 32 days to go.

Harebrained Schemes have a solid setting for their game, a world of Cyberpunk meets fantasy Shadowrun recently celebrated its 25th anniversay, more than that though they have the man that created it heading up the team. Along with the setting they have a solid game engine to build from and demonstrated a talent for engrossing writing and characterisation with Dragonfall.

The Shadowrun games have been a brilliant example of how games don’t have to be visually flashy to be engrossing, often it’s the opposite. Harebrained Schemes have carved out a niche here for games that feel like you’re playing an interactive novel of sorts in the best way. There’s a lot to be said for letting players imagine what characters sound like for example, which ties into the pen and paper aspect of the source material.

You can get a copy of Shadowrun: Hong Kong, soundtracks to all three games featuring the excellent music of composer Jon Everist and wallpapers for $15, which works out just under £10, if that isn’t value for money then I don’t know what it is. Value for money underscores the whole crowdfunding process, if rewards don’t seem worth the amount required then people won’t back your project simply put.

Check out the video below and visit Shadowrun:Hong Kong for more info

Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut

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Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut is the follow up to Harebrained Schemes Shadowrun Returns, the oldschool RPG game based on the paper Shadowrun RPG. Shadowrun Returns was the subject of a phenomenally popular Kickstarter campaign. A campaign which was so popular it lead to the creation of Dragonfall as an expansion campaign.

One of the things that’s always made Shadowrun so appealing is the world the game is set in. The year is 2054 and due to an event referred to as ‘The Awakening’ there has been a resurgence of magic. Long dormant creatures have awoken and other races have appeared with Dwarves,Elves,Orcs, andTrolls referred to as ‘metahumans’ living alongside man. Technology and magic collide, with mega corporations vying for more control and influence and trampling over those beneath them.

You play the part of a shadowrunner, a mercenary living in the shadows of this new world taking on jobs from anyone who will pay. When the powerful or the desperate need a job done, you get it done… by any means necessary.

The world of Shadowrun mashes up fantasy and cyberpunk to impressive effect. Mages that are just as likely blow your head off with a pistol as throw a fireball at you, Deckers Shadowrun’s hackers who specialise in tech, hacking computers and jacking into The Matrix where they wreak havok and battle Intruder Countermeasure “IC”  programmes in the digital world, Riggers who utilise drones for scouting and combat and can control machines, Shaman who utilise fetishes to summon spirits, Street Samurai who utilise cybernetics, firearms and melee weapons while Physical Adepts use magic to boost their impressive close combat skills to survive on the mean streets of 2054.

These classes or “archetypes” are loose though and you can develop your character however you want by accumulating karma points to learn various new skills.

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The world of Dragonfall in presented in a lush painted 2D isometric view, with characters each having portraits that pop up when engaged in dialogue. The game also features an excellent atmospheric and pulsating synth soundtrack. Combat is turn based and utilising your party’s action points well and understanding tactics is the key to victory.

The team at Harebrained Schemes have tweaked the few problems which fans pointed out in the first game, like being able to save the game at any point. One of the biggest appeals of the stand alone Dragonfall ,besides the setting of Shadowrun itself, is the characters that make up your party. Whilst Shadowrun Returns featured NPC’s like Jake Armitage, the character featured in the fondly remembered SNES game, the characters were generally not that memorable.

This time around your party is made up of memorable and distinct characters, Dietrich a veteran elf Shaman , Glory a stoic human cyborg with a mysterious past who is lethal up close in a fight, Eiger a taciturn troll weapons specialist whose respect has to be earned and Blitz a decker that joins your crew after being emancipated from a rather unpleasant gang.

They will often give opinions or make recommendations before and during missions or “runs”. Talking to them between runs will glean further information about their backgrounds which adds more to the rich tapestry of the setting. These characters become such a core part of the game that even though you can hire other runners to join you on runs you find yourself just sticking with the default team.

The core party members also gain skills as you progress.

Whilst the game has a linear campaign story there are numerous side quests you can take and these are often filled with the kind of moral ambiguity that Shadowrun is steeped in. Will you do anything for Nuyen or do you have a moral code?

Dragonfall’s text based dialogue and story becomes utterly engrossing as the narrative progresses. A sort of interactive novel of the best kind. One of the really surprising aspects of the game is how incredibly easy to play it is, with a slick interface and easy to navigate menus players don’t even need to touch the keyboard to play the game. This makes it ideal for anyone that might not usually play games on their laptop but might want to check it out due to being a Shadowrun fan.

Harebrained Schemes have also mentioned they are planning on a new Kickstarter for a further campaign in 2015.

Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Directors Cut is available from Steam just go here

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