When ‘Shadow Warrior’ saw a revival back in 2013, it came as a bit of a surprise; not because the original game was bad, but rather because it was simply forgotten. New developers Flying Wild Hog hit the nail on the head as far as re-creating the vibe of the original release went though, with the game featuring a distinctly old school design that resonated well with fans of 90s shooters.
Now we’ve got a follow up to the reboot with Shadow Warrior 2, though it has taken a completely different approach to what gamers might be used to with the old school style being replaced with a new focus on offering a dungeon-crawling loot-collecting experience that feels more like a FPS ‘Diablo’. Whilst it’s certainly enjoyable and much meatier as far as content goes, it does lose a lot of the nostalgic charm of the original in the process. Don’t worry too much though – there are still plenty of dick jokes.
Once again, Shadow Warrior 2 puts you in the shoes of foul-mouthed deadly assassin Lo Wang. It’s been five years since the events of the original game, with the world now full of vicious demons following Wang’s escapades in the Shadow Realm. Naturally, this means Wang gets to do more killing and with his heart firmly set on earning a hell of a lot of cash, he accepts a job to rescue the scientist daughter of a criminal boss. Of course, things go badly when it turns out she’s been possessed by a demon, with the only solution being for her soul to make a temporary home within – you guessed it – Wang’s body. Thus begins Wang’s new quest to find a way to purge the evil from Kamiko’s body and save her, all whilst taking on all of the new demonic threats that have spread around the world.
So let’s face it, people aren’t necessarily going to be playing Shadow Warrior 2 for the narrative but rather all the slicing and dicing you’ll be performing on the demon scum that are running rampant around the world. However, I actually found it pretty entertaining. I’m a sucker for toilet humour, so hearing the plethora of dick jokes and petty comments coming from Wang’s mouth always kept a smile on my face. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all incredibly stupid, yet it has this childish charm to it that I could really appreciate. The production value of cutscenes isn’t really there and the transition between scenes feels a little rushed, but it doesn’t really matter when you’re still chuckling at the last smutty comment Wang has come out with. It definitely won’t be for everyone, but it was all good with me.
Of course, the main hook of Shadow Warrior 2 is found within its hectic combat which allows you to mix up the killing of demons via a variety of melee and ranged weapons. Wang once again comes equipped with his sword, which feels like the most satisfying instrument of destruction as far as killing is concerned. It’s always a lot of fun to slice and dice your opponents apart – I mean literally, you’ll see enemies split in pieces when you kill them, with their deformed carcasses left as a reminder of Wang’s destructive ways. It also comes with special abilities that can be used by holding the left trigger and spinning the analogue stick in a certain direction. These attacks are neat and can get you out of some tricky situations, though they could feel a little awkward to pull off initially thanks to the fact you use the movement stick to perform them. It doesn’t take too long to get used to though, so you’ll be a sword-fighting aficionado after the first hour or so with the game.
It’s not just a standard sword (aptly named ‘Lil’ Wang’) that you’ll be using though. There are plenty of different melee weapons that you uncover, each offering their own abilities and perks that’ll help you out when in close range combat. Some of these weapons are ferocious too, with a couple of my personal favourites being a CHAINSAW KATANA and the ‘Feurhast’ – a huge gauntlet that’ll let you smash enemies to pieces. The weapons can be incredibly absurd, but so damn satisfying to use. Wang has a reputation for being a killing machine and it’s something you can help him live up to thanks to the fascinating choice of weapons.
Wang is also a talented marksman, so there’ll be plenty of firearms that you’ll be using throughout Shadow Warrior 2. Much like the melee weapons, some of these are pretty unique and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They’re enjoyable to use and vital against some of the game’s bigger and nastier demons, though I found myself preferring it when I could get up close and personal in battle. It just felt more satisfying and natural to use a sword (or chainsaw… or dual katanas… or hulking gauntlet…) – it felt like it was the way you’re SUPPOSED to play Shadow Warrior 2.
Whilst 2013’s ‘Shadow Warrior’ saw you working your way across a multitude of old school-style finely crafted levels in a specific order, Shadow Warrior 2 instead takes a more open approach that’ll see you taking on a wide variety of different missions as you please. There are not only story missions that set out specific tasks for Wang to complete over pre-created levels though, but also side missions that take place in procedurally generated environments with a string of different objectives on offer. These procedurally generated levels are much more open that the main story missions, giving you the option to explore further as you uncover extra loot or try killing more enemies to earn more karma (experience points). The problem is, they often felt TOO open – they became a little boring to explore, and with objectives easily guided to you by a marker I often found myself ignoring everything else around me after the initial few side missions. They simply felt less imaginative than the story missions, with each one featuring an assorted mish-mash of repeated situations and random enemies that you’ll get tired of after seeing time and time again. It was nice to have something extra to do in the game outside of the main story, but I would’ve preferred if it was more structured and finely tuned.
The story missions are a blast though, with levels that offer a variety of set paths that are each inhabited with well orchestrated set pieces. It’s here that Shadow Warrior 2’s gameplay really shines, with it offering plenty of situations for you to double-jump your way around the map as you blast and slice demons to smithereens. There’s been a pretty big jump in the visual quality from the last game too, so a lot of these levels look incredibly impressive. We’re not talking ‘Uncharted 4’ or ‘Horizon: Zero Dawn’ levels of graphics here, but some of the vistas you’ll spy whilst crossing through futuristic cities or enchanting forests are incredibly impressive. Naturally, killing enemies looks all the more impressive too, with blood and guts aplenty as you cut them to shreds. Everyone likes bloody, gruesome first-person action, right? Well, Shadow Warrior 2 has it in abundance, and it is glorious.
This time around there’s a big focus on collecting loot, with Shadow Warrior 2 feeling more like a dungeon crawler than an FPS at times. Hell, it’s not just the loot collecting – not only do you level up to learn new abilities and increase Wang’s stats, but enemies also have health bars which you can see dwindle away with the damage count of each of your attacks. It’s certainly a far cry from the old school shooting of the first game, though it was something I was a fan of. Collecting new weapons or items to improve your inventory and abilities felt satisfying, giving the game a bit more depth outside of all the shooting and slicing. It gave a lot of the side missions more of a purpose too, with the reward of unlocking some new equipment making up for the feeling of repetition that often came with them.
However, the shift from the old school style did make the game lose some of its sense of identity. The previous game felt refreshing; not because it offered something new, but because it did something old so well. The well structured levels that focused entirely around taking down hordes of enemies were a lot of fun and whilst you still get to do that here, the more dungeon-styled environments and emphasis on damage counters adds a more complicated nature to the game that old school shooting fans might not appreciate. It’s not necessarily a bad thing by any means, especially for those who enjoy the loot collecting side of things, but it does make Shadow Warrior 2 an entirely different experience to its predecessor. There might be a lot more to do this time around, but it sacrifices the core design of the original game in order to offer it.
With the change of gameplay style comes the introduction of multiplayer co-op, allowing you and up to three other players to take on the perils of Shadow Warrior 2 as a team. As you can imagine, being able to take on each level of the game with a friend is a real blast, making some of the more repetitive areas of the game feel more invigorating thanks to the presence of extra players. It actually adds a competitive element too, with everyone vying to have the most powerful character. Having some wicked sword that your friends don’t have is always satisfying, especially when you’re using it to smash down some enemy that they’re picking away at with their weaker inventory. It’s just a whole extra way to play the game that compliments all the changes that the developer has made.
Shadow Warrior 2 might not seem all that different from its predecessor at first glance, but once you spend a bit of time with the game you’ll see it has evolved from being just an old school style shooter with its new extended focus on loot collecting and quest completing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a real blast to play, but those who simply wanted more of the same might be a little disappointed.
Fortunately, it still has the high quality of the last game as far as gameplay goes, with Shadow Warrior 2 offering exciting fast-paced combat that features far more weapons, enemies, and entertainment than ever before. The fact you have to work to earn all of the new equipment and skills adds to the longevity of the game, whilst doing it with up to three friends makes the whole experience a lot more exciting.
Shadow Warrior 2 is a sequel in the most truest of senses, offering something that feels fresh and new whilst still offering the same top notch action that returning gamers would have been used to. Some might not necessarily like the game’s new direction, but I loved it and would thoroughly recommend Shadow Warrior 2 to both FPS and dungeon crawling fans – you certainly won’t feel shafted by Wang’s latest outing.
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: 19/05/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), PC