Ever since I started reviewing games on a weekly basis my awesome radar is constantly banging away: so it is actually a refreshing change to happen upon a game I knew nothing about. It was a review from ACG that initially peaked my interest and then another excellent review from Idiotech cemented the decision: my next review was going to be Shadow Warrior 2.
The original Shadow Warrior released back in 1997 and was developed by 3D Realms: a developer famous for another loud mouthed action hero. The game was then rebooted in 2013 by developer Flying Wild Hog and was received well by most review sites. I have never played the original games nor the reboot so this is my first foray into the world of Lo Wang, the fast-talking modern day ninja. Let's see how we got on.
Last action hero
Shadow Warrior 2 is a first-person shooter that throws the player into the action right from the off. You have a range of fairly standard weapons as well as some more exotic death-dealing contraptions. On top of ranged attacks, Lo Wang can utilise his skills as a ninja with many melee weapons, primarily his Katana sword but also others such as dual blades or even the claws of dead enemies.
Wang operates from a central hub area where he can chat to NPCs, pick up quests and access various shops. Once you have picked up a quest you can them chose a location from the map and are instantly teleported to that location for the mission. Unlike the previous games, the developers have opted for procedural generation for most of the missions with a few hand crafted that deal with main plot points/boss battles. As game plots go this is fairly standard fare with a little twist, you have the soul of young woman transferred into your head while you seek to save her body from demonic corruption.
If I had to describe Shadow Warrior 2 with comparison (which I have no problem with) I would say it has elements of Borderlands 2, DOOM and also Diablo 3. The game has seventy unique weapons and while this might not sound that many compared to the thousands in most loot shooters: for the most part they are well designed and have their own place in your arsenal. Sometimes having a million types of gun handle can take away the weapons personality and it's here that Shadow Warrior 2 shines. In addition, each weapon can hold up to three gems that can add a plethora of improvements from elemental damage to health regeneration and damage. Some upgrades will even add additional secondary fire modes such as arrows that can be detonated remotely. You can also unlock gem crafting at a later stage which allows you to fuse weaker gems into one more powerful version, but just be aware this is about as complicated as it gets. So all considered the loot hunting isn't on the same levels as the aforementioned games but it certainly is a welcome mechanic to keep you visiting previously visited areas.
Kiss Kiss, Chop Chop
Make no mistake about it, while there are plenty of decent systems working throughout the game, the combat is the star of the show and why Shadow Warrior 2 (SW2) is so good. Wang can leap, dash, climb his way around like lighting in a bottle. While I would have liked some feedback off the weapons they do dish out some very satisfying effects. Enemies can be dispatched in a myriad of ways and even when you have hacked the arms of sword wielding ninjas they still keep coming back at you. This fast and visceral combat are why so many gamers have compared SW2 to this year's excellent DOOM. I will say that due to the setting and overall feel of the game I prefer DOOM but that is just a matter of preference.
It is not just the blisteringly fast action that sets SW2 apart from other games, the way you can obliterate your foes adds a huge wedge of satisfaction into the mix. As your razor sharp blades cut demons to ribbons, a cacophony of gory body parts will fly around in the beautiful physics engine. The game also seems to know just when this crescendo of death is at its apex because time will slow down and allow you to enjoy your handy work. The environment itself is also seemingly made of bolster wood because even after a small fight most objects around you lie in ruins. The overall graphics in SW2 are stunning and with a dazzling amount of effects on screen at any one time. The only area of the game that does look rough is the characters Wang talks to for missions and such: these are actually pretty poor with ropey animation and sub-par texture work.
"The way of the Wang is long and hard..and ribbed for her pleasure" This and many other juvenile quips flow through the combat and I can honestly see some players growing weary of his constant banter. Of course 'Wang' itself is slang for penis so right from the off you should be on notice for lots of toilet humour. I have to say that I didn't mind this dialogue at all and on many occasions found the dick jokes hilarious. Like a famous comedian once said, it's the way you tell them. Lo Wang actually reminded me very much of the abrasive old man from The Golden Child, a classic film from the eighties starring Eddie Murphy.
After playing the game for a few hours it will become obvious that Lo Wang just can't keep his trap shut and is unlikely to miss a chance to deploy his razor sharp sarcasm. Very much like the yeast-based spread Marmite: some people will love it and others not so much. After reading a few reviews prior to playing the game it was interesting how some sites loved this style of humour and others like PC gamer actually rated the game down for it.
Four Wangs are better than one
So in addition to procedural level generation, the other big addition to SW2 is the ability to join up to three other players in a co-op game. This is one element that makes me nudge more towards Borderlands when reaching for comparisons. When you join a friend the host player will carry on their story and the players joining will effectively be playing that story for the duration of their stay. All players keep the weapon, gem and skill load outs from their own games so this can really add some good combinations where one player is melee focused and the other set up for ranged damage.
There are a few co-op runes that benefit your co-op chums but this is pretty much all there is in terms of player interaction. I would have loved to see some more thought put into players having skills that actually work in combination to create bigger effects but this would have taken a good deal of time to incorporate. In actual fact, the sheer joy of ripping through demons with your friends is justification enough for this option to be included. I hope for the next game (which I assume will happen) the developers flesh the co-op experience into some new directions.
In a year peppered with poor ports and horribly optimised disappointments Shadow Warrior 2 is an absolute breath of fresh air. Considering everything that is going on in combat, even in the most intense fights, the game engine keeps a silky high frame rate. This is how I like to see PC games released: beautiful visuals and an optimised to take full advantage of what our rigs can do (on day of release).
When procedural level design is used the experience is often left feeling lost and lacking in the direction as handcrafted set of levels can accomplish. However Shadow Warrior 2 manages to mitigate this with some very well implemented systems which make it less obvious procedural content has been used. In addition, the key story levels have been hand crafted and so these also smooth over the cracks between random and refined. I find it hard not to recommend this game to any PC gamer looking for new action game to sink their teeth into. If you are easily offended by lowbrow humour then maybe check out a few gameplay videos first.
Thank you for reading my review for Shadow Warrior 2 on PC. If you don't already please follow me on Twitter @riggedforepic as well as telling all your friends about my site.