Shadow Warrior 2: You Mess With the Bull, You Get the Wang.

Flying Wild Hog’s successful reboot of Shadow Warrior three years ago was a boon for the fledgling development studio. Their initial title, Hard Reset, was a good but not great release, one that failed to attract mainstream attention but was successful enough to ensure the studio could carry on. Shadow Warrior did a good job of revitalising the IP for a new generation, capturing that same 90s feel whilst bringing some fresh ideas and experiences to the franchise. Shadow Warrior 2 looks to expand upon this idea, again retaining that 90s shooter feel whilst mixing in even more mechanics. The resulting game is far more varied but unfortuantely the veins of nostalgia only run so deep and I think they were bled dry with the last title.

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It’s been 5 years since your failed attempts at protecting the world from the Shadow Realm resulted in it colliding with outs. Now humans and demons live side by side, for better and for worse. Lo Wang, after the betrayal of his employer, has escaped to the woodlands far away from the cybernetic metropolis that Zilla has created. To make ends meet he’s been doing jobs for the local Yakuza, using his skills and charm to get by. However when a regular job goes wrong he quickly finds himself caught in a battle between a mad scientist, the demons from the Shadow Realm and a new drug called Shade.

Shadow Warrior 2 uses Flying Wild Hog’s own Roadhog Engine which has seen significant development work between titles. It’s still a step or two behind what I’ve come to expect from the current generation but with the game’s focus on fast paced action the sacrifice is understandable. The environments of Shadow Warrior 2 are far more expansive than its predecessor, often with many more areas to explore and much more detailed environments. The colour palette is also much more varied, the mostly red/orange tones of the predecessor replaced with neon cities, dark jungles and tormented hellscapes. Like it’s predecessor Shadow Warrior 2 isn’t a game that’s meant to be gawked at, you’re meant to use it as a canvas upon which to reap your destruction.

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At a core game level Shadow Warrior 2 doesn’t change much from its predecessor. The focus is still on fast paced, gore filled combat with an arsenal of weapons that will fit any occaison. The difference comes from the progression mechanics which are more geared towards an open world, Borderlands-esque system. Now enemies will drop varies bits of loot including weapons, augments and even new skills for Lo Wang to use. You’ll still level up your character by killing enemies and earning karma but now you also have the option of earning skill points through doing missions. The missions come to you via a board which allows you to pick and choose what you do, even allowing you to free roam areas to find secrets, defeat boss for loot or just grind karma to level up. There’s also a crafting system that enables you to improve your upgrades by combining 3 lesser ones together, although that system is a little more hit and miss than I’d like. Overall in terms of scope Shadow Warrior 2 is a much grander game than its predecessor was, one that will certainly appeal to the completionists out there.

Combat retains much of what made the original great: fast paced action, waves of enemies to dispatch and numerous skills with which to deal unending hurt on them. The various weapons and upgrades feel a bit more balanced this time around with the swords no longer being the one and only weapon you should use. Part of this comes from the crafting/upgrade system which limits certain augments to certain kinds of weapons, making some vastly superior for some fights. Shadow Warrior 2 also brings with it an elemental combat system with some (initially, eventually it’s all of them) having elemental resistances and weaknesses. This means you’ll have to swtich between weapons if you want to get anywhere. Other than that though most of the enemies are pretty generic with the good old fashioned circle strafe making short work of them. Not that I was expecting much more from a hack ‘n’ slash game, though.

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You’ll progress at an unrelenting pace in Shadow Warrior 2 with all the skill, item and weapon upgrades that get thrown at you. On the one hand it’s great as even a short session means you’ll come away feeling like you’ve accomplished something. On the other though it can be a little overwhelming when you’ve got a massive inventory of upgrades to choose from and you’re trying to figure out which one you should use. Overall I like it and I definitely spent longer playing than I otherwsie would because of it. It could definitely use a little tuning to make it a little more approachable however, given the fact that not all players are obssessive min/maxers like myself. That being said it’d be hard to go really wrong with selecting upgrades and skills and, even if you did, it wouldn’t take long to realise it and rework your build in response.

The crafting system could use a little more polish as whilst it’s a good way to progress (especially when other avenues run dry) it’s far too random for my liking. For instance putting 3 of the same elemental upgrades together typically results in you getting the same element out, but usually with completely different stats than what you put in. Putting in different elements means you’ll randomly get one of the ones you put in and again with random stats. It’d also be good to be able to re-roll one aspect of an upgrade (by paying the requesite cash or whatever) so you could turn your trash high end upgrades into something useable, especially those ones with heavy negative bonuses. I think Flying Wild Hog is on the right track here, it just needs a little more polish before it can become what I think they want it to be.

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For the most part Shadow Warrior 2 runs well however there’s one technical and one design issue that I think bears pointing out. Enemies have a terrible habit of leashing and teleporting around, feeling like you’re playing on a laggy server (even though you’re playing locally). This can be quite frustrating when an enemy decides to teleport inside a wall or behind you and then ruins you before you can react. This behaviour was particularly noticeable in the larger environments with multiple levels, something that seemed to confuse the AI to no end. Additionally the game’s difficult goes up in fits and starts, meaning that you can go from feeling like the game is far too easy to punishingly hard in the space of a single mission. This is something of a solved problem these days and, whilst I get that might be part of the appeal of 90s nostalgia titles like this, it doesn’t make for the greatest experience these days.

The story is, as expected, light on with the plot and heavy with the wang jokes. It’s a little more heavy handed than its predecessor was, lacking some of the seriousness and reflection of its predecessor to contrast Wang’s irreverant humour. Not that you’d be playing this for the plot, mind, but the previous instalment did a better job of striking a balance between the two aspects. Indeed the best comedic titles are the one that aren’t all comedy all the time, something which a few developers have forgotten of late (I’m looking at you Gearbox).

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Shadow Warrior 2 brings with it the 90s nostalgia that many of us enjoy with numerous modern mechanics that ensure this is much more than a simple re-release. It’s much more broader than its predecessor was, taking on many characteristics of open world titles but on a smaller, more manageable scale. The introduction of multiple progression systems can be a little overwhelming at first but it does mean that you won’t be wanting for skill points or upgrades for long. Combat retains that 90s feel, favouring fast action over realistic encounters. The grander scale brings with it a few issues, both in technical and design terms, but none of these are beyond fixing. Overall, whilst I think Shadow Warrior 2 isn’t as great of a game as its predecessor was, it’s still worth playing.

Rating: 8.0/10

Shadow Warrior 2 is available on PC right now (with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One coming in Q1 2017) for $39.99. Total play time was 12 hours with 54% of the achievements unlocked.

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