Which Shadowrun Game Should You Play First?

Image credit: Microsoft

Shadowrun takes place in a futuristic setting where fantasy tropes meet the cyberpunk genre and become an entirely different thing. The world of cyberpunk is a place with elven hackers, human spellcasters, and legendary monsters.

In this universe, the power struggle is a complex net of interests and actual power. Wizards, dragons, the government, corporations, and big criminal organizations constantly fight for control.

If merging magic with science fiction sounds interesting, pick up Shadowrun game and try it out. However, with all the available options, which Shadowrun game should you play first? Keep reading to find out.

How Unique Are Shadowrun Games?

Many players enjoy Shadowrun for its unique world. The unique blend of genres and themes make it possible for elven mages and orc gangsters to cohexist in a sci-fi neon-lit bar. 

Now, imagine these diverse characters teaming up with street thugs, witches, and bounty hunters to take down world-threatening corporations run by actual dragons. If this sounds like an exciting plot, you’re beginning to understand the appeal many players see in the world of Shadowrun. 

However, it’s worth noting that this unique world alone may not be enough for some players. Good gameplay is important, but most players won’t spend time with a game that doesn’t belong to a genre they enjoy.

Given that Shadowrun was originally a tabletop RPG franchise, it’s not surprising that most Shadowrun games are RPGs. 

If you like retro games and RPGs, you will likely enjoy playing the SNES and Sega Genesis Shadowrun games. 

On the other hand, if you are looking for something more modern, you should try Shadowrun Returns and the rest of the Trilogy. They are some of the best tactical games on Steam

Shadowrun – SNES

Shadowrun for the SNES is one of those games that might surprise and intimidate you. That’s how I felt when I was a kid, at least. 

The setting is dense, gritty, and dangerous. The story immediately begins in a way that will spark curiosity. The main character is shot down on the streets, gets saved by a mysterious dog, and then wakes up in the morgue without any memory of who he is. 

From there, you must go around the town, talk to people, fight bad guys, and figure out what is happening. 

As for the gameplay, the SNES version of Shadowrun is an isometric point-and-click game. This can be annoying since you control your character using the SNES controller, leading to a slightly clunky user experience.

The game has an isometric perspective that is rare to see in RPGs of this era, and it allows you to feel more immersed in the city. 

As you progress throughout the game, you’ll talk to NPCs, complete quests, and fight enemies using various weapons and spells. This game’s dialogue system lets you choose how to respond to other characters and change the outcome of certain situations. 

Although the gameplay often feels clunky, the developers were bold and implemented some great ideas into the game. 

Another neat thing about this Shadowrun game is that your character becomes stronger and can learn new things. You can be a better shooter or hacker or even learn spells. 

The developers were dedicated enough to add Shadowrun’s Matrix to the game. The Matrix is basically a virtual reality representation of the online world. The gameplay even changes when you are in it. 

This game is clearly not for everyone. It is an old-school RPG that can test your patience if you don’t like point-and-click games, especially when using a controller. 

Generally, I wouldn’t recommend this game as a first Shadowrun experience. Yet, you might consider this game a hidden gem if you are fond of retro and point-and-click adventures. If you are that person, you’ll love the SNES version of Shadowrun. 

Shadowrun – Sega Genesis 

This is another Shadowrun game from the 16-bit era. It is an entirely different game with the same name and a similar premise. 

Shadowrun for the Sega Genesis is a top-down game that takes place in the same setting as its SNES namesake. Weirdly, like many other games in the 16-bit era that shared a title with another game, this version is very different from the one released for the Super Nintendo. 

In many ways, you can see some of the same concepts.  

There are guns, magic, a gritty cyberpunk world with elves and orcs, interesting storylines, many NPCs to talk to, and more. 

Unlike the SNES game, you choose a class and then further customize it, upgrading the abilities you want to focus on. 

You can also hire Shadowrunners to help you, which is something that was eventually brought back in more modern Shadowrun games. These runners have different classes, allowing you to make your own team and select your helpers with specific tactics in mind. 

The other good thing about the Sega Genesis Shadowrun is the Matrix. It looks much more exciting and has more functions than the one seen in the Super Nintendo game. 

It is quite hard to pick which Shadowrun game to play first. Both 16-bit games have had a lot of love and care put into them. The games seem similar in many aspects, but, in the end, they are very different games that happen to share a universe and a genre. 

Many players prefer the SNES version for its looks and presentation. The game also has more locations with visible NPCs roaming around, which makes it significantly more immersive. 

The Sega Genesis version only shows you a text box every time you enter a location with an NPC. You don’t really get to see the character hanging out or the place itself, and that can get old quickly. 

However, the setting is grittier, and the gameplay feels smoother in the Mega Drive version. If you are into retro games, pick the one you can find first. If you have both, start with the one that seems cooler. 

Shadowrun Returns 

As the same suggests, Shadowrun Returns is how the franchise returned to modern video games and newer platforms.

This is also considered the first game of the so-called Cyberpunk Trilogy. 

Unlike the other games, Shadowrun Returns is a tactical RPG. In this game, you create your own Shadowrunner. You can choose their class and race and customize their appearance to an extent. 

The game features a turn-based tactical combat system with an isometric view. This style of combat allows players to strategize and make tactical decisions in battles against enemies. 

It also helps make spells, melee weapons, and guns feel different, which is a good thing in a tactical game. 

Although Shadowrun Returns is not particularly groundbreaking, it still is a good game. Besides, one more Shadowrun game is always a win in my book. 

The gameplay is fun and the story is really good, but this is an indie game, and it shows. The missions are very linear, and there are no voiced dialogues. Although it doesn’t bother me, some players might not like these aspects of the game. 

Don’t get me wrong, I seriously enjoy the game, but not everyone will find it engaging. 

On the other hand, if you love tactical RPGs and this universe, there is a lot to be enjoyed. Starting from the story that begins with you being hired by a man after he gets murdered. 

Shadowrun: Dragonfall 

Dragonfall is the second game of the Shadowrun Trilogy. 

It’s another tactical RPG that feels much like the previous one but with a few additions and quality-of-life changes to make it slightly better than Returns. 

The dialogue is well-written, as expected, and the story is good, but now you have a team of your own instead of just random runners. 

One of the best quality-of-life improvements was the inclusion of an option to manually save the game. In Dragonfall, you don’t have to reach an arbitrary milestone for the game to save. You can just do it, which prevents many headaches. 

Shadowrun: Dragonfall is a good standalone game. You can jump right into it and enjoy the improved gameplay without worrying about the story of Returns.  

However, if you would rather have a more intriguing story and can survive the quality-of-life changes, play this one after Returns. 

Shadowrun: Hong Kong 

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is the third tactical RPG that takes place in the dystopian setting of Shadowrun. This standalone game is one of the best turn-based RPGs on Switch

This time, the story takes place in Hong Kong, a stable and prosperous port filled with chaos, warfare, and political turmoil. 

Although Shadow Run: Hong Kong shares many similarities with Returns and Dragonfall, it also comes with improvements. 

The story has many different paths and outcomes, providing more RPG elements besides the already good tactical, turn-based combat system. 

Since this game feels significantly better than others, it is easy to recommend it as the best Shadowrun experience for new players. 

As expected, character progression is skill-based, and players can choose from a variety of skills, abilities, and weapons to use in combat. 

On top of that, Shadowrun: Hong Kong implemented cyberwares into its gameplay. These artificial components are installed into one’s body to replace or enhance existing parts. They allow you to enhance and further customize your characters. 

If you want to start from the best turn-based RPG Shadowrun has to offer, Shadowrun: Hong Kong is the game for you.