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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Reviving old IPs has proved to be something of a double edged sword. There’s definitely a lot of demand out there as many successful Kickstarter campaigns have shown but the resulting games have always been something of a mixed bag. For the most part the ones that simply try to recreate the old game with modern technology tend to fair worse whilst those that actually attempt a faithful reboot using the world and characters fair a lot better. This was the difference between Rise of the Triad and Tomb Raider for me, although the latter’s budget probably had a lot to do with it. So you can imagine when I saw a Shadow Warrior reboot I was hesistant to try it out for fear that it would have been yet another straight port, even if came with Lo Wang’s signature tongue-in-cheek humour.
You are Lo Wang, general badass and agent to the Zilla corporation, working directly with the company’s head doing whatever is required. Your first mission is simple, offer up $2 million in exchange for a single sword and bring it back. The deal, predictably, goes south and after dispatching numerous guards you find yourself confronted with another foe: demons from the shadow realm. As it turns out that sword you were sent to retrieve was none other than the Nobitsura Kage, an ancient katana which is the only weapon that can destroy beings from the shadow realm. Guided by your new demon friend Hoji you’re sent on a quest to retrieve all the pieces in the hope that you can stop the unrelenting demon invasion. Of course not everything is as it appears and Zilla’s intentions are far from being that of a simple collector.
All aspects of Shadow Warrior have been tuned for fast paced, hack ‘n’ slash combat, including the graphics. If I’m honest they’re at the level I would have expected from a cross platform release however with Shadow Warrior being a PC exclusive that excuse doesn’t hold up unfortunately. It’s not that they’re bad or dated, indeed as some of my selected screenshots will attest to it can be quite pretty at times, but apart from those set pieces it definitely has not been designed for you to gawk at. Combine this with a healthy dose of asset reuse that you’ll see throughout the game (which includes everything from the treasure chests to whole sections of levels) says to me that the graphics weren’t the highest priority but they do serve the purpose well, even if it gets a little samey as the game goes on.
Shadow Warrior is a first person hack ‘n’ slasher, throwing hordes of enemies at you which you can dispatch in numerous ways. Your primary weapon in nearly all of these encounters will be your katana as only it has the clearing power required to churn through enemies fast enough. There’s a ton of other weapons available all of which are made available to you a various sections in the game and you’re not likely to be wanting for ammo thanks to it being strewn everywhere. However chances are if you can get within melee range of your enemies you’ll want to use the katana over everything else thanks to the synergy it has with the other primary combat mechanic: dark powers.
There are 3 separate upgrade systems in Shadow warrior, each having their own unique upgrade currency and all of them affecting different aspects of the game. The primary upgrade system, or at least the one you’ll be using the most often, is the karma system which is levelled up by defeating enemies. Using special abilities and varying your approach will also net you karma bonuses, allowing you to attain upgrades quicker. The skills you get in this tree are augments to your other powers as well as direct stats boosts which can be your saving grace in the middle of a giant firefight. There are also some unique abilities available which can radically change how you play the game although, in all honesty, you’re crazy if you don’t focus everything on the katana and the skills surrounding it, especially the life stealing abilities.
The other 2 upgrade systems focus on dark powers (upgraded through Ki Crystals of which there are usually 1~2 per chapter) and weapons (which use money). The dark powers system feels like an organic progression mechanic more than anything else as the upgrades come regularly and predictably and, past a certain point, don’t heavily influence the game play. Your initial choices will heavily influence your choices down the line however as it’s pretty clear that you can either favor an offensive or defensive style. Weapon upgrades are probably the least influential out of any of them since the katana is just so much more powerful by comparison except when it comes to the boss fights. Thus I usually found myself with a horde of cash up until I got to a point where I felt a certain weapon needed upgrading to help me out. It’s also worth noting that whilst the katana appears in this menu you will never be able to upgrade it using money, so don’t bother waiting for the unlocks to happen.
All of this combines into a combat system that is fast paced and utterly enjoyable. You’ll start off with small engagements with only a handful of enemies but it will slowly ramp up to the point where you won’t be able to remember how many enemies are on the field. Over time new enemies get thrown into the mix, including giant warlords, warlocks that raise the dead and beasts covered in metal that can only be taken from behind (snicker). Unfortunately it does start to wear on you towards the end because the only way the difficulty increases is by adding extra enemies or reducing the amount of space you have to move around in. Additionally a lot of the cool abilities you unlock will simply not work on the higher tier enemies which kind of makes them pointless, making you reliant on the one move which does the most damage.
Despite this the boss fights are probably the strongest aspect of Shadow Warrior as whilst each encounter uses the same mechanic for defeating them (shoot the glowy bits until the fall down then kill the crystal inside) they each have unique abilities and all of them are just epic in scale. They can be a tad frustrating as there are some one hit kill mechanics and the checkpoint system doesn’t always save at critical points but honestly that was only a big issue with one of them. The rest were a hell of a lot of fun as you spam all your weapons at them to bring them down and nothing can beat the exhilaration you get after you’ve spent 30 minutes circle strafing your way to victory.
Shadow Warrior unfortunately suffers from a few notable glitches as well as having some outright game crashes that happen without warning. The screenshot below shows how shurikens will sometimes just float around in space forever. This usually isn’t an issue however I sometimes heard the shuriken noise coming from behind walls which, for a game that uses sound cues for certain things, can be quite distracting. I also experienced game crashes twice which I can directly attribute to some unknown edge case in ability use as they both happened instantly after I used an ability (circle of iron was the last one I could remember and it happened right after I released it). Key press recognition also seems a little flakey when you start to get dozens of enemies on screen which can be a little frustrating when you’re trying to heal yourself or trying to clear a path so you have some breathing room.
Of course it wouldn’t be Shadow Warrior if it didn’t have signature style of humour including numerous Wang jokes as well as other tongue-in-cheek humour. Thankfully, unlike other titles that tried to use similar humour techniques, it doesn’t get overplayed at every opportunity. Sure you’ll hear the same jokes every so often but it at least doesn’t scream “HEY WE’RE FUNNY RIGHT? YEAH WE TOTALLY ARE” desperately, hoping you’ll give them some laughs out of sympathy.
This then flows onto the story which, admittedly, isn’t anything to write home about but surprisingly is far above what I expected. I guess I was somewhat let down by Rise of the Triad (which was more of a direct remake of the original than anything) and thought Shadow Warrior would be the same but it’s so much better. Whilst the shift in tone towards the end comes at the cost of the humour it does help to round out the story well and thankfully avoids the pitfalls of screaming for a sequel. Overall it’s not the dramatic story telling experience that you might expect from some games but then again you’re not playing Shadow Warrior for that, you’re playing it for the fast action and wang jokes.
Shadow Warrior is a shining example of what a reboot can do to an old IP. Instead of trying to recreate the past exactly with modern tools Shadow Warrior is instead a homage to the title of yesteryear, one that takes all the things we loved about it and bundles them up in a completely new game experience. It’s not without its faults, especially with the rudimentary challenge scaling and game crashes, but I’m hopeful that the latter will be fixed in future patches. For me Shadow Warrior is the standard to which I’ll hold future remakes as it’s faithful to the original IP without relying on nostalgia to drive it. Fans of Wang should definitely check this out.
Shadow Warrior is available on PC right now for $39.99. Game was played on the Hard difficulty with 10 hours total playtime and 59% of the achievements unlocked.