System– Shadowrun 5e
Producer– Catalyst Game Labs
TL; DR– Great flavor, but almost no crunch! 82%
Basics-Want to ride the matrix? Want to be a digital cowboy? This is the new book for you covering how the matrix of 2076 works and the new toys to play on this matrix. It also provides a brief history of AI. The book adds new cyberdecks, add-ons to all the matrix toys out there, new qualities, and even has a section on how to play an AI character.
Theme or Fluff-Let’s start things a bit different than most of the reviews I write. Let’s focus on the theme first. Of all the things Catalyst does, covering the story of their world is the absolute best thing they do. This book has tons of world building elements: all the fiddly bits of the 6th World’s wide web, covering how the matrix works, how it’s made, how to interact with it, its history, and providing me with extra story bits for any games I run. Every aspect of the world gets a bit built on it. For the SR vets out there, this book might be a little overkill. However, for anyone who hopped on in Shadowrun 5th edition, this is an absolute essential to provide some much needed history and context to how people use the internet of the future. 4.75/5
Mechanics or Crunch-I started with theme, but theme shows how much this book is missing from its crunch. The book adds an impressive amount of story but doesn’t really have the mechanics to back it up. For your average decker, what’s here is good. You get new toys and add-ons to all the old toys to keep you fairly happy. However, even there you don’t get near as much as the other gear books. Technomancers get even less. For the rest of the 6th world, it’s not entirely worth it aside from a good reference on how the basics of the matrix work. But the best example of how mechanics don’t back up fluff is in how different matrix hosts work and defend themselves. A good chunk of one chapter is spent on how different companies defend their hosts. But, no real mechanics are given either identifying what type of ICE is used or how they attack. Furthermore, I’m glad I got a good briefing on how AI altered the matrix, but including a section on how to play them is pretty much useless for the majority of GM and players. If they included that as its own small book, I’d buy it in an instant. As a section in a core book, it’s just not a great use of space. 4/5
Execution– The thing Catalyst doesn’t do well is format their books. First and foremost, a book by Catalyst is only useful if you’ve completely read the book before and memorized the general locations of things in the book. As a quick reference to thumb through, you will be lost. The chapters are not named in a way that helps the reader, the book doesn’t have an index, and none of the new additions have a quick reference area to speed use later on. Catalyst knows how to write fiction, but their fiction bleeds a bit too much into their mechanics. In sections discussing how to create an AI or a host, the first part of the chapter will be the world story of it, and the second part will be the mechanics of it. But, nowhere in the middle will it give the firm shift of when one section ends and the other begins. All of those things are hard negatives, but what is here does read quickly and is enjoyable. The back and forth of the characters is fun while drawing the reader in deeper. This isn’t the best book I’ve read, but it’s a decent overall book. 3.5/5
Summary-Here is the quick question to help you decide if you need this book: do you spend most of your Shadowrun time in the matrix? If yes, then you buy this book. If no, maybe you’re good with what’s in the base book. As someone who’s deeply invested in the 6th world, I loved learning about the new wireless net. I just wasn’t overwhelmed by some significant parts of the book. I’m glad I know how to run an AI now, but odds are good I never will, especially as someone who almost exclusively focuses on Shadowrun Missions. I’d also like Catalyst Game Labs to overhaul their books a bit and really change some aspects of production to help the readers find what they need more quickly. Making those changes will really make me love their books. With that said, as someone who loves Shadowrun and the matrix in particular, I’m glad I got this book, even if I can’t use chunks of it. 82%