In the world of Shadowrun, the Matrix is what replaced the internet after the great crash of 2029 destroyed it. It's a virtual reality space that Deckers interface with using Decks, and in the Shadowrun Trilogy, this takes the form of a digital space that you can tackle with avatars. Combat and exploration in the Matrix may be very similar to combat and exploration in meat space (ahem, the actual global) - aside from inside the Hong Kong campaign, in which stealth elements and a code-breaking minigame are brought, making it a far more involved part of the game.
- Matrix Basics
- Matrix Combat
- Matrix Stealth
To access the Matrix, you'll need to find a jack-in point. These are always denoted clearly in-game and can be used by anyone who has a Deck equipped. Once jacked in, the character used will be unavailable in the physical world until they jack out again. If the character in the Matrix initiates combat, it will play out just like combat in the real world - turn-based. If there is also combat occurring in the real world, the two different combats will happen simultaneously. Entering the Matrix has a number of uses - you can acquire Paydata, unlock doors, or confront other characters who may be in the digital space. As you persist in the Matrix, your Trace will increase. This tracks how known you are to the system you're infiltrating through the digital space. In the first two campaigns, your trace will increase gradually as you spend time in the Matrix, but it's actually very hard to reach higher levels of alarm. In Hong Kong, however, trace increases whenever you fail at the stealth sections, get attacked in battle, or fail at the codebreaking minigame - so it's easy to inadvertently make the trip harder for yourself.
The Deckers that the campaigns provide you with are more than adequate at their jobs, so it's not necessary for your main character to invest in Decking. That being said, there are a few times in Dead Man's Switch and a single time in Dragonfall where you will be without a Decker teammate, so there are specific benefits to being a Decker. In addition, while Blitz and Is0bel are good Deckers, a dedicated Decker player character will almost inevitably be better at navigating the Matrix and its challenges.
Combat in the Matrix is, as previously mentioned, turn-based, with similar mechanics to regular combat. Here are the main differences:
- Your health is replaced with IP, which is dictated by the Deck you have equipped. If you are reduced to zero IP, you are kicked out of the Matrix and the Decker will sustain some damage and AP drain.
- Your AP is also dictated by the Deck you have equipped.
- Instead of skills and items, you have Programs and ESPs. Programs are abilities that you can purchase and may be used indefinitely, while ESPs act as persistent summons that may be called multiple times in a single Matrix expedition. Every time you jack in, you can alter your Program and ESP loadout. Better Decks have more slots for both.
- If an ESP is defeated, you won't be able to use it again until you go on another mission.
One round of combat in the real world is equivalent to three rounds of combat in the Matrix. These three rounds will play out sequentially before returning to the real world.If you're looking for the most success in Matrix combat, here are some recommendations:
- The Blaster Program is an area of effect attack that deals a decent amount of damage. Doubling up on this program isn't a bad idea - lots of enemies like to group together in the Matrix.
- The Degrade Program is fantastic in the late game. It adds a set amount of damage to every attack you inflict upon a selected enemy - +75 IP at the highest level. This can be used to melt threatening enemies.
- The Killer Program is a high-damage single-target attack. Perfectly good for putting a dent in tough enemies.
- The Medic Program is basically necessary - you will take damage eventually and you'll never have that much IP.
- The Firewall Program acts like Shaman wall spells and is very situationally useful.
- The Suppression Program is useful only in the Hong Kong campaign thanks to the heightened difficulty of the Matrix segments there.
- An Attacker ESP is a decent choice to take with you on every jaunt into the Matrix. Its special ability is basically a Blaster Program with a rooting effect attached, which will keep enemies stuck to one spot - brilliant for countering melee-range enemies.
- A Kamikaze ESP is another decent choice. It has very low health but its special ability will deal a ton of damage to all surrounding enemies at the cost of its life. This is slightly situational but fantastic at the beginning of the game when enemies will all be one-shot by the special.
The Matrix in Hong Kong is set up quite differently than in previous campaigns. Here, you're dealing with stealth mechanics. The vision radius of your foes is denoted by white squares on the ground, and the enemies will travel in set patterns. It's up to you (or Is0bel, if you don't create a Decker character) to get through the sections unbothered. If you get caught, your Trace level will increase by 20 and you'll be thrust into a battle with whatever caught you, possibly alongside some other generic IC. Every time you get hit by one of these enemies, your Trace will increase by another five. It's important to end fights as soon as you can. While the combat is turn-based, the other patrolling enemies will continue on their path, joining the fight if you're caught in their sights. Also new to the Matrix are Blockers - large walls that must be bypassed to reach your goals, whether they're guarding security controls or Paydata. There are two ways to get past a Blocker:
- The intended way is to engage them in a codebreaking minigame, this is detailed below.
- If you are caught in combat near a Blocker, the Blocker will join the fight. They have a lot of IP, but are easy to hit thanks to being stationary targets out in the open.
The codebreaking minigame is a combination of two puzzles. On the left side of the screen is a keypad. When this puzzle is activated, a series of keys will start lighting up and you must enter the code that flashed up exactly - like a game of Simon Says. The game starts with a series of four digits, ramping up to seven. Each time you complete this part of the puzzle, you'll get some extra time added to the codebreaking game in general. The majority of the screen is taken up by two lists of codes. When you activate this half of the minigame, the tickers at the top of the screen will variably and randomly flash parts of the correct code to you. Your job is to remember which symbols are in which positions of the code and find the one that matches in the list.