Disclosure ‐ A copy of Shadow Warrior 2 was provided to us on PC by Flying Wild Hog for the purpose of this review.
Shadow Warrior 2 didn’t start off well for me. In fact, it made a fairly lousy first impression. The lack of an informative tutorial, tied to a constant barrage of hit and miss jokes, had me sludging through very samey levels with little enjoyment. But I persevered, and after a little while, I managed to embrace everything the combat had to offer. Soon enough, I found pleasure in the fluid quick-darts across screen, chaining abilities together with my vast collection of upgraded weapons, and talking shit with my mate in the game’s co-op mode. All in all, Shadow Warrior 2 isn’t winning any awards, but it does provide a bit of good ol’ fashion fun.
So the story… Exists? Look, It’s not much, but it is there. It all starts with Lo Wang, our reluctant Chi Master hero, who is hired to find a girl, Kamiko. Somewhere along the line, the job gets a bit blurred (don’t they always?); the girl’s soul gets trapped in his mind, and there are countless dirty — and a few satirical — jokes layered on top of this journey to free her, and save the world. It’s not very complicated, and the straightforward narrative is quite boring. The main plot really only exists to provide an excuse for conversations, whereby Lo Wang’s charming (yeh, right) personality can be given the full spotlight. At first, the constant running jokes were very hit and miss, with an emphasis on the miss. Thankfully, there are still some gems to be discovered; jokes that would have me laughing, only to ask myself: ‘why am I laughing?’. You just had to be there, ya know? Honestly, the writing is at its best when it pokes fun at traditional game, or narrative design. It’s unfortunate that amidst these are very repetitive and often quite obnoxious, one-liner quips. But when you base the entire script around fitting in as many jokes as possible, that’s what’s going to happen. I just wish they could have incorporated a more fleshed plot, and perhaps made the B-Grade movie comedy hit less often, but harder.
On another note, throughout the main narrative, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling I was missing something. Some crucial piece of information or backstory. It could be because I never played the original Shadow Warrior reboot, or it could be because I didn’t keep up with much of the game’s marketing material. Either way, some things just flew straight over my head, which significantly diminished my experience. For starters, the characters all felt as if they had been set up before in the previous game. Jokes were given about Lo Wang’s past experience with them, and their role in the setting seemed to have already been known by the character. Whilst I understood the general gist of the story, the world was completely foreign to me, which made understanding any and all of my actions that more confusing.
Aside from the overarching plot, for the majority of the game, Lo Wang has another person tied to his consciousness, by the name of Kamiko. This ‘relationship’ provides some funny moments, as these two obviously share very different personalities, but if you’re expecting character development, don’t. Sure, they go from hating each other to admiring each other, but the jump in-between is pretty significant. They develop less as characters and more just bond over their hatred for everyone.
The mission structure is designed with a hub-world, where you can check out vendors for items, and select on your map where to travel to next. The game clocks in around 7-10 hours if you B-line the story, however, there are a lot of side quests to complete if you want to pick up some more weapons, skills, or money in a very Diablo-style fashion. Though, they do become quite boring, considering they are very basic, randomly generated levels. Ultimately, if you’re sick of them, they aren’t crucial to completing the main story missions, as the upgrades you get do not make or break the game. Once you complete the main story, you’re free to play the missions you’ve completed in free roam, or restart the game with all your upgrades, weapons, and abilities.
Unfortunately, at the core of my frustration with Shadow Warrior 2, and the reason why it took me longer to break into it, is the lack of a useful tutorial. You’re taught to dash, sprint, jump, shoot, and attack. That’s it. You pick up new abilities, but the only reference to them is that they are listed on the side of your screen, and no information is given about them. Similarly, things like parrying and weapon customisation isn’t even actually explained. You have to learn about gemming weapons by playing around with the annoying menu, and I didn’t even realise parrying was a thing until my friend saw it in a loading screen tip. Just a simple tutorial guiding you through some of the menus and forcing you to try out a couple of the abilities, would have gone a long way to opening the game up earlier.
I was always darting around the zone, which was fun, but I didn’t engage fully in the weapon switching and ability combinations until a fair bit into the game. Suddenly, I was impaling my foes with massive spikes, force pushing regularly, in combination with quick sword slashes, and dipping in and out of invisibility to get the drop on them. I also paired certain weapons with different elemental damage to use against enemy vulnerabilities, and there’s a huge variety of new melee, and ranged weapons — which drop constantly — to choose from and upgrade. Some upgrades drastically change the performance of certain weapons, while others do minor damage increases. My personal favourite weapon to use was the frost sawed-off shotgun. It came with a chill effect, did additional ice damage, and felt weighty; it was incredibly useful at close range, which I was quite often in because I liked striking with my abilities and switching to melee.
“I was impaling my foes with massive spikes, force pushing regularly, in combination with quick sword slashes, and dipping in and out of invisibility to get the drop on them.”
My main complaint about the gameplay focusses around the enemy variety. They all come in similar forms, so you’re essentially fighting the same enemies across the entire game, short of a few elite mobs. Mostly these enemies don’t present any unique mechanics. Sure some shoot electricity, but largely they just shoot a projectile, or try to run up and hit you. Everything can be pretty effectively countered by spamming dash around them. That’s still fun, but it gets dry at a certain point. The most disappointing example of a boring mechanic is the invulnerability period. Many elite mobs go into an invulnerability stage at about half health, where they cannot be damaged until you kill all their minions. It’s just lame, lazy, and occurred far too frequently.
The boss battles were also a source of frustration and boredom. For the most part, each of them had very basic, and trivial mechanics, which either made them easy, or annoying. They had one or two abilities which would be slightly amped up later into the fight. For example, I defeated the first main boss by running in circles around him and slashing, while the final boss constantly switches to invulnerability and spawns smalls drones you need to kill. Similarly, for solo play, they possessed way too much health. It’s just a cycle of rotating through every weapon you have, dodging mechanics, and fighting the damn thing for ages.
Perhaps the enemy design wouldn’t have felt so boring if the levels differentiated a bit. It seemed that every place that featured the same setting, felt like the exact same level. The mission areas didn’t have enough distinction between them, so it felt as if I really only experienced 4 different zones. There was the neon-lit corporate headquarters, the Yakuza base, the shadow world, and the wildlands. Every time I visted one of these mission areas, it had felt like I had already been there. Fortunately, they are all pretty expansive, and offer a lot of room to bounce around in, while the waypoint system is effective at directing you where to go. Although, the minimap isn’t aided by the item drop system, which shows every single piece of ammo, health, and loot that drops as little icons. This layout severely clutters up the map, and I have no idea why the developers didn’t just mesh the items together when they spawn near each other.
New to Shadow Warrior 2 is that it comes with 4-player co-op. I had a chance to play a few hours with a friend, and it was a blast. But that’s no surprise — playing with friends is always more enjoyable. I’m not sure how 4 players would fair — whether it would get overly cluttered or whatnot, but with two there was some fun synergy to be had. We were chaining abilities, helping each other perform neat combos, and we split the focus of all the enemies, making it less of a clusterfuck (pardon my french). There’s also something to be said about sharing in on the jokes together, even the ones that don’t land are a bit funnier.
Performance wise, the review copy was on Steam, and it ran with little to no hiccups. The person I played with however, did notice a performance drop when encountering the enemies that go invisible. He is sporting a GTX 980. Although, I myself on a GTX 970 was running full graphics and didn’t notice an issue, except for some hitching which was probably due to my end.
Shadow Warrior 2 has its moments. Despite missing the mark on quite a few gameplay and story elements, it can still be a blast, especially with friends. If you’re in the mood for some mindless fun, you’ll probably get a kick out of Lo Wang’s latest adventure.