Review: Shadow Warrior 2A rock-solid outing for Wang
The 2013 reboot of Shadow Warrior was a game bogged down by its own history. The combat was fantastic, but everything else about it, from the humour to the level design, felt incredibly outdated to me. My time with it was nothing but frustrating, so going into Shadow Warrior 2 I expected more of the same.
Instead, Shadow Warrior 2 maintains that awesome, frenetic action and places it on a much more consistent foundation. Expansive, explosive and entertaining, it might just be the best single-player FPS in a long time.
Shadow Warrior 2 takes place a short time after the events of the reboot, which saw the human and demon worlds collide and merge into each other. Playing as wannabe ninja-for-hire Lo Wang, the game sees you rescue the soul of a woman from a fate worse than death. With the help of a family of demons, you’re sent on a wild goose chase to get her rampaging body back.
While Shadow Warrior 2013 stuck pretty rigidly to the Ye Olde FPS formula of semi-linear pathways with the odd collectible or new weapon here and there, Shadow Warrior 2 is structured more like Diablo than anything else.
Shadow Warrior 2 is structured more like Diablo than anything else
Each mission takes place in an open-ended map. They can be returned to whenever you like and are populated by bands of roaming enemies and minibosses, each with their own environmental resistances. The levels and enemies encountered are varied, ranging from demon-infested rural landscapes to high-tech cyberpunk cities complete with robotic soldiers and plenty of holograms.
Every open field, rain-sodden street, dive bar, and all the nooks and crannies of each area are rendered brilliantly
Everything looks absolutely gorgeous – every open field, rain-sodden street, dive bar, and all the nooks and crannies of each area are rendered brilliantly. While it’s apparent some enemies from each faction are just reskinned versions of others (for example, there are conveniently both demons and robots that look feminine and attack by twirling around with fan-like weapons), the pretty explosions and fancy visual effects that are unique to each faction do a good job of masking it.
On the downside, this more open level structure causes quite a lot of backtracking, particularly if you try and complete the side missions as they pop up. In a particularly egregious example, one character is holed away at the top of a tower in the middle of the cyber-city. Each mission that requires going to see them means traipsing through the same environment, up the same tower in the same way, and fighting the same enemies multiple times. The first time it was cool, each time after less and less so.
In another sign of the game’s Diablo influences, alongside the standard ability upgrades (boosting your attack power, giving you new techniques etc.) there are literally hundreds of different weapon upgrades that can be dropped by enemies. From basic stuff like “does more damage” to elemental effects, chi (mana) gain and life steal, tinkering with your loadout to make sets that fit exactly how you want to play any situation is nice. I mainly focused on melee weaponry, with a sword for each size of enemy and a couple of special elemental ones when I felt a bit flashy.
However, managing these upgrades can be a bit of an arseache. Sifting through dozens and dozens of weapon modifiers adds an unnecessary amount of number-crunching and micromanagement. It keeps you away from the slashy-slashing that makes the game so compelling for a bit too long.
Managing these upgrades can be a bit of an arseache
While the sense of humour Shadow Warrior 2 has isn’t exactly to my taste, being the usual “insufferable asshole is strangely competent and also the world’s only hope” storyline we see a bajillion times a week, it’s the characters and their development that raise the writing above the tropey bollocks it runs the risk of getting mired in.
For a game where you play as a whirling dervish of toilet humour, everybody is multi-dimensional. Lo Wang has his moments of being sympathetic and intelligent, your companion Kamiko sometimes forgets she’s supposed to be the calm genius, and even smaller side-characters like Larry the Demon or Gozu the Kinda-Pathetic Immortal surprised me with their complexity. Shadow Warrior 2’s writing could’ve been nothing but shit ‘80s references and fart jokes, but it manages to move beyond that into being something unexpectedly endearing.
The ending is a bit abrupt and naff, though. Obviously building up for either a sequel or some DLC, the game just… ends. No closure, no explanation, no nothing.
Shadow Warrior 2 is the most fun I’ve had with a single-player FPS since Devil Daggers back in January. With clever characterisation, brilliant landscapes and meaty combat, if you can get past the repetition and the number crunching, it’s almost impossible to not have a good time with it.
A review code of this game was supplied for the purposes of this review.
Platform: PC (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Developer/Publisher: Flying Wild Hog/Devolver Digital
Release date: October 13, 2016
- Stellar combat
- Gorgeous and varied environments
- Multi-dimensional characters
- The humour isn’t to my taste
- Weapon upgrades fall into a pit of number-crunching
- Repetitive enemy designs and mission locations
Shadow Warrior 2 improves on the original in basically every way. It’s messy, it’s meaty, it’s satisfying, but my god is there also a lot of backtracking.