Slash and shoot your way through a post-demonic world.
PC Release: October 13, 2016
By Ian Coppock
Sometimes, the state of the gaming industry inspires a lot of frustration. A lot of anger. Between broken PC ports that barely function and a waterfall of skeletal Early Access garbage on Steam, gamers really have to put on their waders and dig deep to find the good stuff. Sometimes, though, being willing to dig isn’t enough. Sometimes gamers just want to get a little crazy- a little wild- to take the edge off and regain composure in time for the autumn gaming season. Luckily, Shadow Warrior 2 is here to help with just that, as it too is a little wild… and more than a little crazy.
Now that No Man’s Sky has crashed and burned into more pieces than it has planets, it’s safe to say that Shadow Warrior 2 is 2016’s most anticipated indie game. Shadow Warrior 2 is, of course, the sequel to 2013’s Shadow Warrior, itself a reboot of a chaotic ninja game from the 90’s. Shadow Warrior 2 is a continuation of what the 2013 reboot started: namely, an ample mix of shooting and hack-and-slash insanity that was developed by a Polish studio called Flying Wild Hog, and is captained by a snarky ninja with no regard for personal safety or hurt feelings. Yes indeed, it’s time for more Wang.
Shadow Warrior 2 is set five years after the events of Shadow Warrior, five years after the lords of the Shadow Realm invaded the world with overwhelming numbers of demons. Players once again assume the role of Lo Wang, who journeyed across modern-day Japan in search of a sword that could beat back the demon menace. Wang’s quest ultimately turned out to be a mixed bag. He’s still alive, but the world as we know it is now a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Demons left over from the Shadow Realm’s invasion aimlessly wander the landscape in search of human prey. Earth’s wildlife has also become corrupted by the demons’ energies, leaving such monstrosities as cow-sized fleas and twin-tailed scorpions to overrun the wilds.
Oh, but there’s more. Orochi Zilla, a powerful Japanese businessman and Lo Wang’s former boss, has used stolen demonic technology to declare himself lord and master of the world, ruling over what’s left of humanity from massive cyber-cities. In Japan, the few humans chancing it out in the demon-infested countryside are ruled over by the Yakuza, who have transitioned from a crime syndicate to full-blown feudal kings.
So… yeah. All is not well in Shadow Warrior 2.
Lo Wang has spent the five years since Shadow Warrior out in the wilds, hiding from Zilla’s forces and taking mercenary jobs from the local Yakuza. Shadow Warrior 2 begins when Lo Wang’s called in by Mamushi Heika, an immensely powerful crime boss, who charges the sarcastic ninja with rescuing a young scientist named Kamiko. Kamiko’s been working undercover in Zilla’s metropolis as a scientist, but she hasn’t called, and Mamushi wants Wang to spring her out. He complies, albeit with no shortage of snarky remarks and dick jokes.
However, Wang’s rescue mission quickly turns into much more than search and rescue, as Zilla has shot up the woman he’s out to save with a mysterious substance called Shade. To save her life, Wang’s buddy Master Smith has to extract her soul from her body, preserving her sanity but leaving her inside Lo Wang’s mind. Just like Hoji in Shadow Warrior, Kamiko rides shotgun in Lo Wang’s consciousness, serving as Shadow Warrior 2‘s smart, if unwilling, deuteragonist. Meanwhile, her seemingly possessed body gets up and runs away all on its own, prompting the pair to get out after it and descend down another rabbit hole of demonic intrigue and bleak, bleak humor.
Just like its predecessor, Shadow Warrior 2 is a first-person arcade shooter, the term “arcade” denoting a much higher focus on pickups, loot, and waves of enemies than a more conventional FPS. As a highly trained assassin, Lo Wang is proficient with a deadly sharp katana and all manner of firearms. He’s also retained the chi powers that Hoji gave him in Shadow Warrior, enabling him to heal himself and unleash devastating dark power. Just like in the last game, Lo Wang levels up with each enemy he slaughters, and players can unlock all kinds of perks, from faster healing to new sword moves to gory shadow powers. These skill trees are extremely polished and streamlined within their own menu.
As Lo Wang, players can slash and shoot their way through hordes of enemies, be they demons roaming in the forest, Yakuza spoiling for a fight, or Orochi Zilla’s legions of cyber-soldiers. Shadow Warrior 2 aptly turns up Shadow Warrior‘s already fun gameplay by massively expanding the arsenal of weapons and adding an upgrade system. Lo Wang can find upwards of 70 different swords, pistols, shotguns, rifles, and other weapons throughout the game and customize them with Diablo III-esque power gems retrieved from enemy corpses. This gives players much more leeway than did the system in Shadow Warrior, which consisted of about 10 weapons and a small upgrade tree powered by money.
This implementation of powerful yet simple mechanics makes Shadow Warrior 2 even more of a thrill ride than its 2013 predecessor. Most levels are an exercise in utter chaos, with dozens of foes advancing upon Lo Wang from all directions. Fighting these enemies is an absolute joy, as Lo Wang can draw his sword or guns and mindlessly carve through legions of foes. Jumping into a melee has never felt so fun as in Shadow Warrior 2, and the glorious gruesomeness of its melee kills are comparable to this year’s reboot of DOOM.
The only real issue to be had with Shadow Warrior 2‘s gameplay is the same issue that plagued the last game, in that it’s oftentimes too easy. Lo Wang’s ability to run away and heal himself before jumping back into the fray neuters the challenge quite a bit, even if he has to gather energy to use it first. Players will only rarely be in true danger of dying, and that can be an issue for arcade enthusiasts seeking a challenge. This isn’t to say that Shadow Warrior 2 isn’t still wildly fun, but a rebalance of its health system could’ve made it a lot better.
One of Shadow Warrior 2‘s biggest selling points for multiplayer enthusiasts is its addition of four-player co-op. Players can team up into four-man squads to take the demon menace down as a team. Each player sees themselves as Lo Wang and their buddies as other ninjas out to party with the king of swordplay. As of writing, the feature still has a few bugs, but Flying Wild Hog has been proactive about addressing them and driving a sword through them. The game is still just as fun solo, but multiplayer enthusiasts should be excited to try it out.
Shadow Warrior 2 introduces another major change in its gameplay, throwing out the linear missions of its predecessor in favor of a hub-based model. Lo Wang can retreat to the Wang Cave to buy weapons and gems, and it’s from this cavern of manliness that he teleports into missions all over Japan. Adding a hub isn’t reinventing the wheel, but gives players a chance to take stock of Lo Wang’s powers and all the loot he picks up out on missions.
Indeed, the levels in Shadow Warrior 2 undergo all sorts of changes that extend beyond a hub. One of the problems with Shadow Warrior was that its levels, while beautiful, were rigidly linear affairs with the same pattern of terrain over and over again. Shadow Warrior 2‘s levels, by contrast, are circular and open, with objectives scattered throughout the terrain instead of at the end of a fixed path. Refreshingly, Shadow Warrior 2 also added changes in elevation. Lo Wang can now climb up and down ledges and onto buildings in order to get around, adding some much-needed variety to the level design. These changes are most welcome in Shadow Warrior 2, and they make the world feel more organic.
Additionally, for better and for worse, many of the levels in Shadow Warrior 2 are procedurally generated. The levels crucial to the plot are fixed, but Lo Wang can embark upon side missions where the terrain is switched up. The good news is that this makes it so players will never have to tromp through the same area twice. The bad news is that there’s not a whole lot of variety in how they’re switched up, so it doesn’t really matter. Sure, the level will be different, but only marginally so. Additionally, there are only maybe half a dozen different terrain palettes for the environments that Lo Wang travels to. They’re beautiful, but the small variety combined with the limited procedural generation can make Shadow Warrior 2‘s levels feel the same even if they’re technically not.
All of that said, there is no disputing the artistic power of Shadow Warrior 2. Flying Wild Hog’s proprietary Road Hog engine has been put to fantastic use, and Shadow Warrior 2 is perhaps the most visually impressive game released so far this year. The game’s worlds are awash in dozens of different lighting effects, and each environment pops with thousands of colors. Everything from the tallest Zilla skyscraper to the lowliest pagoda has been painstakingly detailed with hundreds of objects. Banners sway in the breeze, leaves fall in torrents from cherry blossom trees, and light glints menacingly off the armor of demons and cyborgs. Shadow Warrior 2‘s ability to draw the eye cannot be overstated. Some of its character animations can be a bit stiff, but the attention to detail on each one, from rivulets of sweat to wrinkles on clothing, is excellent.
It’s great that this game is so pretty, but how badly does it tank system performance? Well, to be honest, it doesn’t. Not really. Shadow Warrior 2 was built from the ground up to run on PC, and it’s glorious. The game will present a smooth framerate and run like butter from beginning to end. These days, that’s a treasured rarity. Additionally, Shadow Warrior 2‘s options menu is one of the most comprehensive ever seen, with dozens of options allowing players to fine-tune each and every facet of their Shadow Warrior 2 experience. So even if, by some chance, the game doesn’t run perfectly the first time around, Shadow Warrior 2 provides gamers an unprecedented amount of agency in allowing them to get it there. PC gamers everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief; this is no shoddy production nor broken port.
To top all of this off, Shadow Warrior 2 arrives with a new storyline and dialogue that builds upon that of the first Shadow Warrior. Lo Wang is able to find humor even in the end of the world, and keeps players’ smiles aloft with a 10-hour-long stream of wisecracks. There is nothing that this guy doesn’t lampoon, and he lets off his one-liners with far more regularity than in the last game. There’s also a lot of humor to be found in Lo Wang’s relationship with Kamiko. Unlike Hoji, who was Lo Wang’s equal when it came to wit and sarcasm, Kamiko tries to serve as Lo Wang’s conscious, almost like an ingenious Jiminy Cricket. The moment-by-moment banter isn’t quite as funny, but Kamiko quickly becomes adept at picking Lo Wang’s many moral failings apart, shooting back at his sarcasm with heavy doses of irony.
Unfortunately, Shadow Warrior 2 stumbles a bit in the structure of its core narrative. The first game’s story wasn’t anything revolutionary, but it was surprisingly poignant, and it worked well for a linear game. This time, Lo Wang’s goal of finding Kamiko’s body gets lost in a haze of convoluted lore and lots and lots of side missions. Sure, the narrative still has a bit of poignancy, but it’s considerably shorter than that of Shadow Warrior and ends on a pretty abrupt note. The developers didn’t get lazy with the narrative’s potency, per se, they just focused much more on pure humor. And sure, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Side quests are usually pretty hilarious, especially the ones where Wang has to cook drugs and retrieve a demon’s sex tape (in that order) but players who enjoyed the unexpected drama Shadow Warrior built up to will be left wanting.
Even though Shadow Warrior 2 fails to continue the poignancy that its predecessor unexpectedly delivered, that’s really the game’s only true sin. The length is reasonable for the price, it runs smoother than any other mid-to-large budget production put out this year, and the gameplay is absolutely phenomenal. Indeed, if this fall’s slate of big-budget releases is as much of a disaster as this summer’s, Shadow Warrior 2 just might be Art as Games’s game of the year. Buy it. Play it. Love it. Right now.
Seriously, right now. Thanks for reading, though.
You can buy Shadow Warrior 2 here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.