The first-person shooter renaissance that we have been living through for the past year has provided the industry with some of the best FPS games in recent memory. As someone who not only loves the FPS genre, but FPS games from the nineties, I believe that it’s fair to say that we live in some truly beautiful times. The release of DOOM shook the gaming community to its core with its fast paced gameplay and open level design. Yet, three years before DOOM rocketed back onto the scene, another game had come out that harkened back on the old-school FPS mentality, Shadow Warrior. Shadow Warrior accomplished exactly what it had set out to do in as boisterous of a fashion as it possibly could. Now, three years after the release of the first game, Shadow Warrior 2 has finally been released and it looks to push the boundaries of the series into some uncharted, yet interesting territories.
First and foremost, Shadow Warrior 2 is not just a first-person shooter; it is now an FPS with a healthy dosage of RPG offerings and loot mechanics. I feel that this sentiment must be made very clear because uninformed consumers who purchase this product may be surprised by the extensive depth that has been placed on these mechanics. While the core story remains, one may notice the introduction of side quests and repeatable grinding missions to upgrade their weapons. As someone who loves games like Borderlands, Destiny, and Diablo, I found the introduction of loot elements to offer an interesting variation on the formulaic “attain x weapon after accessing y area.”
The core gameplay loop introduced in Shadow Warrior is still intact and has received noticeable improvements in the mobility and maneuverability department. Shadow Warrior 2 offers large, open areas that encourage the player to utilize the ground dash, air dash, and sprint features to asymmetrically navigate the battlefield and look badass while doing so. The iconic lil wang, Lo Wang’s sword, is still heavily prevalent in the gameplay and is an excellent tool to get that one up on the unassuming minions or the particularly nasty bosses. Sword combat is visceral and gruesome; hacking away at the soft, fleshy bits of your enemies still gives way to limbs being scattered haphazardly across the floor in a satisfying fashion. What really makes the sword combat excel a step above other first-person melee games is the use of analog combat. Rather than blindly hacking away at your enemies, Shadow Warrior 2 encourages the player to use sword combos. For example, W+Left Mouse Button offers an upwards slash, D+Left Mouse Button is a right slash, and so on and so forth. This implementation of analog melee combat invites the player to actively participate in the carnage and gore in a way that is both satisfying and refreshing.
Next to the sword action, the gunplay is the most important aspect of Shadow Warrior 2 and, luckily, Flying Wild Hog has not disappointed in delivering a fast-paced, impactful experience. Every gun has a distinctive feel, which is particularly impressive since there are so many guns in this game. Probably the most head-scratching aspect of Shadow Warrior 2 prior to release was this newfound fascination with loot elements. I was initially wary of this new addition to the gameplay loop, even though one of my favorite genres is Action RPG, because I felt as if it would tarnish the tried and true formula of the reboot. So, imagine my surprise when I played Shadow Warrior 2 and I concluded that not only is the action intact, but now there is an additional layer that encourages subsequent replays and player customization as you quest to obtain the over 70 weapons in the game. The ability to swap easily between physical and spiritual weaponry creates a rhythmic flow to the action that feels like poetry in motion, coupled with a diverse arsenal of weapons — you have recipe for one of the most intoxicating first-person shooters of the year.
Shadow Warrior 2 is an unprecedented visual feast. The environmental diversity on display in the game is absolutely breathtaking, alternating between derelict monasteries, vivacious forests, and the occasional visit to the Wang Cave. Each gun model is detailed and changes its appearance as you evolve their skills and abilities. Enemy and boss designs are similar to what was on display in the Shadow Warrior, aside from a few specific instances of futuristic enemy designs that looked particularly cool. The sound design is well-implemented and helps to engross the player in the world of Lo Wang and friends. Every slash, cut, jab, and bullet ricochet sounds weighty and poignant in relation to the frenetic combat on screen. One issue that I encountered on the visual side was an annoying pop-in that would occur every once and a while on certain textures. It wasn’t a huge detractor from the overall experience, but it was prevalent enough to take note of.
Taking place just five years after the events of Shadow Warrior, the story in Shadow Warrior 2 is an equal dosage of absurdist humor and phallic jokes. Many, many, phallic jokes. There is phallic imagery in every crevice of this game, in high mountains and low grottos. Lo Wang’s adventure begins as you might expect — still images of the lush forest landscape and giant humping bunnies are prominently featured. That is until the soft echoes of Stan Bush’s eighties rock ballad “The Touch” is heard reverberating off of the trees. After that, any semblance of reality is thrown out the window, pissed on, and set on fire as demons scurry out of the woodwork to attack Lo Wang. The crux of Shadow Warrior 2’s narrative involves a young woman’s soul being imbued into the body of Lo Wang after her own body is hijacked by an all-powerful demon. As you can assume, hijinks ensue. There is nothing “complex” about the plot of Shadow Warrior 2. It’s crass, rude, childish, unadulterated, and gruesome… and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Lo Wang is still the relentless one-liner machine that fans of all incarnations of the Shadow Warrior IP have come to know and love. His incessant usage of the words wang, fart, and just about every other low-brow term under the sun gave me a necessary form of clarity as to why Lo Wang is so beloved, or at least why I like him so much. Lo Wang is the video game protagonist that was lost to the ages, the action-movie star that spouts catchphrases at the same rate a cheetah chases its prey. He’s snappy, quirky, silly, crass, and childish, yet wrapped around all of those is a subtle brilliance. He embodies the emotions that only a well-timed fart joke is able to evoke — hilarity, stupidity, and just the right amount of wisdom to asses that the fart joke will work this time. The writing is top-notch hilariousness. On more than one occasion I gripped my sides in pain and amusement as I uncontrollably laughed at was occurring.
My one problem with the campaign is its length. Clocking in at just under nine hours, the main story will leave you wanting more. There are a few side quests scattered around the main hub area which will help to flesh out the interpersonal dynamics and relations of characters as well as providing a greater understanding of the state of the world. After the end credits roll, the majority of your time will be spent grinding for new gear or to improve your old gear with repeatable quests, a-la Diablo 3. You can also try your hand at the new game plus feature which allows you to play through the campaign again with all of your gear from the previous save or you can group up with friends online to work through the co-op campaign to collect and upgrade your weapons. So, even though the story is a shorter affair, there is more than enough end game content to keep you coming back for more.
Shadow Warrior 2 is an excellent entry for the Shadow Warrior franchise, and it may prove to be the second best first-person shooter to be released this year — only time will tell on that one. As it stands, Shadow Warrior 2 is a phenomenal game that builds upon every aspect of its predecessor to offer a more cohesive and enjoyable experience.