Shadow Warrior 2 Review

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The original Shadow Warrior was a game that I missed out on when it was in its prime but in my defense, I didn’t have a computer that could run it in 1997 anyway. Plus, I never heard of it back then. I was just a kid and at that time and I was always outside or begging my parents for a Nintendo 64. I did get to play it for the first time several years ago and am glad I did because it made me appreciate the reboot a lot more. In 2013, indie developer Flying Wild Hog released the Shadow Warrior reboot, a first-person shooter with a focus on swordplay and was a breath of fresh air compared to all of the other modern shooters. I greatly enjoyed my time with it and go back to play it often. When Shadow Warrior 2 was announced I was really excited but its clear focus on co-operative play kind of had me skeptical about changes made to the existing formula. Shadow Warrior 2 was released in October, 2016, developed by Flying Wild Hog and published by Devolver Digital. Since I didn’t follow it too closely after it’s initial announcement, I only knew that co-op was a focus and didn’t realize how much things have changed. But are these changes for the better is the real question. Let’s take a look.

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Set five years after the events of the first game, you once again play as the wise cracking ninja warrior Lo Wang and blast away hordes of demons and even Yakuza gang members using a wide array of firearms and melee weapons. With these types of games, I don’t expect much in terms of story but at least in the first game we got a surprisingly decent story that was coherent with interesting characters. The story in Shadow Warrior 2 is just complete shit. After Lo Wang rescues the corrupted body of a woman named Kamiko, Master Smith transfers her soul into Lo Wang’s body. So once again Lo Wang has a person in his head which is actually good because the dialogue between them can be humorous as was his banter with Hoji in the first game. After the transfer, Kamiko’s body escapes and begins to mutate into this large hideous creature so you need to track it down and stop it from… doing something. I don’t know, I lost interest very early on. You will have to fight a few bosses which are pretty lame, actually, as is the ending which is just anti-climactic. Other than Lo Wang, none of the characters are really interesting and the voice acting is all over the place. Some of the voice work is good but some of it kind of sounds phoned in, especially when it comes to minor NPCs throughout the areas. Some characters return from the first game which is cool but they just blend in with every other generic NPC and the only thing I looked forward to during the cut scenes was Lo Wang’s dialogue. I’ve heard players say that many of his one-liners here are corny or just not funny but honestly, I thought he was hilarious and he frequently made me laugh. I don’t know, I guess I enjoy juvenile humor. Maybe people are just negative nancies and can’t enjoy the simple shit but at least I had a good time. Just like with Hoji in the first game, Kamiko’s soul in Lo Wang’s head just seems like an excuse for more one-liners and jokes from Lo Wang so at least if you’re not following the story, you can still get a good laugh from some of the dialogue. But as always, the story in games really doesn’t matter to me all that much as long as the gameplay delivers.

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While the first game took a linear approach in its level design, Shadow Warrior 2 changes things up quite a bit. It aims for more of a Diablo/Borderlands type of style like randomly generated elements, acquiring loot, levelling up, and even improving equipment using gems. After finishing the prologue, you’ll find yourself at Dragon Mountain which is the hub area. From here you can interact with NPCs that ask you to complete missions and after Kamiko’s soul is transferred into Lo Wang’s body, she gives you the power to teleport to any mission areas on the map. In addition to the main storyline missions are various side missions, and while they, themselves, are not that interesting, the rewards for completing missions are always well worth it. Actually, without doing any of the side missions, you’re looking at a really short story here. With that said, you may see the side missions as just padding to increase the length of the game but because I found the gameplay to be addicting, I can’t really say I ever got bored. Missions normally require you to kill certain enemies or retrieve specific items, nothing really new there. In addition to monetary rewards for completing missions, some NPCs give you the option to choose from multiple rewards, like weapons and gems, and you can always obtain the weapon you didn’t select later down the line anyway. Dragon Mountain also contains two shops where you can buy various weapons and gems using the money earned from missions, fallen enemies, and even just scattered throughout the environments like it’s a natural resource.

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After completing a mission you can free roam that area of the map if you wanted to grind or collect items but I never found that necessary, at least on the normal difficulty mode, and was able to get through the game without much of a problem. After reaching certain points in the story, trying to start certain missions will prompt the game to warn you that all previous missions will be unavailable from this point on so you’re given the option to either wait or just proceed forward. I don’t know why the developers felt the need to lock you out of areas because this happens around the halfway point and you’ll just be revisiting these areas again. You’re not travelling to a new hub area or anything and the map is exactly the same. And it’s not like these new missions take you to new areas and the only difference is there’s new NPCs in the hub area. This just feels kind of lazy considering there’s only a handful of areas and you revisit them frequently. The layouts of each area and NPC placements are randomized but it doesn’t change the fact that these areas get stale after a while. Simply not locking you out of missions and adding more diverse areas could have solved this problem.

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Just like in the first game, Lo Wang has special powers that require Chi to perform. Chi is acquired from killing enemies and can also slowly regenerate over time. I found the most useful power to be Healing Flame since you can heal yourself but other powers do serve a purpose. For example Vanish turns you invisible for sneak attacks and Chi Blast is a powerful burst of energy that will damage all enemies nearby. With a bigger focus on the weapons this time around, I didn’t really use most of the powers but they’re nice to have if you end up in a tight spot. At some point during the game you will acquire a power called Shadow Fury which has it’s own meter that can be filled from what I’ll call “Fury ammo” dropped by enemies and when activated your view turns all read, you deal out more damage, your defense boosts up, and enemies will move in slow motion. You’re basically an unstoppable force for a limited time. Shadow Fury is great when up against some of the tougher enemy types and I think it’s probably more useful on the higher difficulties.

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As you blast away hordes of demons you earn karma which is basically experience points, and after earning enough karma, you acquire a skill point. Skill points are also awarded for completing missions. You can distribute skill points into various skill cards that will… improve your skills. In addition to the skill cards you start out with, you can acquire more as you play whether it be from fallen enemies, rewards, or just buying them from shopkeepers. Each skill card will be added one of your multiple skill trees. The Life tree applies to any skills related to health like increasing your maximum amount of hit points or a bigger chance that enemies will drop med kits. The Warrior tree is for any skills that improve your abilities with melee weapons. The Powers tree is obviously for skills that improve your powers as well as Chi like Chi regeneration for example. Finally there’s the Resource tree which I think is where I spent most of my skill points. These skills can improve your guns, ammo, and even karma.

The first game seemed to have a big focus on the katana but in Shadow Warrior 2 the developers decided to give players a huge and awesome arsenal of firearms and melee weapons. It’s even more satisfying now to chop enemies up into pieces but now you’re given more tools to do with things like swords and blades, claws, and even saws. There’s even a bigger variety of guns which is good because I’m more of a gun guy anyway. You’ve got pistols, submachine guns, heavy machine guns, assault rifles, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, everything that would make action fans cum their pants. Shadow Warrior 2 clearly borrows from Borderlands in terms of it’s mechanics, however, unlike the Borderlands games, all the weapons here are unique. While Borderlands has more weapons, many of them will look or feel the same, albeit with different gimmicks. In Shadow Warrior 2, every weapon is different. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses and I never felt like any weapons outlived their purpose.

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You can breathe new life into a weapon you haven’t used in a while with gems obtained from fallen enemies, shops, or as rewards. Gems are used to improve weapons and armor. Each weapon has three slots for gems and they can be swapped out at any time and the same applies to armor. Each gem dropped has unique properties and will be categorized differently by its type. For example standard gems can apply properties that improve damage or accuracy, others can change the ammo type like bullets that can pierce through enemies, and some gems even change up the fire modes like granting you the ability to dual wield the weapon or use it as a turret. Elemental gems play a big part in this game and these gems will add elemental properties to weapons including fire, ice, toxic, and electrical damage. About halfway through the game you’re given the ability to craft gems by combining gems of a similar type to create one powerful gem. I never really felt the desire to do this since I was acquiring new gems every other minute and I had more than enough to improve weapons to the point of satisfaction. Gems are definitely a big part in creating a powerful arsenal because you can turn a standard gun into a death machine just by equipping it with the right gems. Not only can you buy weapons from shops but you can also buy gems and skill cards as well. I would always buy the cool new weapons and skill cards but I never bothered to buy gems since you can obtain a mass amount after only a short while and I always had plenty of gems in my inventory already for quality improvements.

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Most of the enemies in each area are randomized as are the item drops like gems and some enemies even drop random new weapons. Enemies come in standard and unique forms and the unique enemies are tougher but also drop better goodies including more powerful gems. The better gems in particular usually include multiple powerful properties. If you’ve played Diablo or Borderlands you should be familiar with this concept so if you don’t like this style of gameplay, Shadow Warrior 2 may not be for you. It’s a loot-driven first-person shooter where you kill shit and complete missions to obtain loot, keep doing these things to obtain better loot, rinse and repeat. However, I never felt like I absolutely needed to grind so I could progress or become more powerful which is good because that can become tedious. Grinding is necessary if you want to collect everything or max out your skills. But if you’re one to just beat a game and move on to something else, you shouldn’t have too much trouble here. Higher difficulties grant better item and weapon drops but also include tougher enemies all around. But just by normal progression you can level up and acquire enough weapons, gems, and skill points to dispatch enemies without too much of a problem. Because of the drop system, this game becomes very addicting so the gameplay never feels stale. There’s always new toys to play with whether it be new gems, weapons, or skills and it’s just fun experimenting with new and different play styles. You’re definitely not locked into playing in any particular way so you can always try something new and then switch to something else if you don’t like it or just simply want a change of pace.

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Elemental properties are a huge part of the game, even when it comes to the enemies. Most of the unique enemies can resist certain elements but are usually vulnerable to another. Enemies that are naturally on fire are normally vulnerable to ice or maybe a demon can resist toxic damage but is vulnerable to electric. By looking under an enemy’s health bar you can identify its vulnerabilities and use the appropriate weapons accordingly. The elements are a great way to mix up the gameplay and force you to use and experiment with different weapons and gem combinations. You’ll want to apply different elemental gems to your active weapons so you can be ready and adapt to different situations on the fly. But this does have its downsides. Since you’re normally up against numerous enemies at once, fumbling around through all of your weapons can become a chore. You’ll always be up against hordes of enemies and chances are that several enemies within a group will have elemental properties and since you’re constantly not trying to get overwhelmed, frequently having to switch between weapons can be distracting.

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Shadow Warrior 2 is a fast and fluid game. Lo Wang cannot take any fall damage which is nice, you can sprint, and can even dash around to dodge attacks or just simply get around quicker. Everything is fast-paced and you should always be on the move during combat. Circle strafing is the ultimate strategy and knowing what weapons to use against what enemies can be crucial. Both the shooting and melee weapon combat is satisfying as all hell. Slicing off an enemy’s body parts with your blade or simply freezing them with ice damage followed by a gunshot to shatter them never gets old. What does get old is the repetition of encounters. From beginning to end, it’s always the same shit. You enter an area, progress a little bit, encounter a group of enemies, kill them, keep moving toward your objective, and encounter another group of enemies. You’ll eventually collect the item your looking for or do whatever it is you need to do, and more often than not, after reaching the end point of a mission, you’ll be required to kill a final horde of enemies before teleporting back to the hub area. Mission objectives are not really diverse at all. You’re always collecting items or finding keys to unlock doors to access specific sections of an area that contain the items your looking for. And if you’re not doing that then you probably need to kill specific enemies because they’re holding the items you need. The missions never become interesting and the waypoints on your radar show you exactly where you need to go so getting lost is never a problem.

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Throughout each area are different shrines that will replenish your health, Chi, or ammo. Ammo shrines are by far the most useful for me since I would occasionally run low on ammo, although that was more frequent in the beginning of the game. You can always purchase more ammo at the shop but ammo shrines will refill all of your ammo for free. Throughout the areas are tons of chests that contain items like money, health, and ammo and if you’re one to explore there’s plenty of secrets including statues that grant you a good chunk of money when found and even tons of easter eggs, some of which reference other games published by Devolver Digital so there’s plenty of reasons to explore. Just like the 2013 reboot, Shadow Warrior 2 still manages to harken back to classic shooters of the 90s with its fast and intense gameplay all while making you smile with famous pop culture references. You’ll hear dialogue that references classic action movies, subtle things that reference famous TV shows like Breaking Bad for example, and there’s even nods to other famous games like Minecraft and Pokemon.

Shadow Warrior 2 is a gorgeous game. Each area is extremely well detailed and colorful with some great lighting, although some areas are very bright to the point of blinding but overall this is a solid game, visually. The futuristic sheen look of the Zilla Corporation areas is a great contrast to the wooded and forest-like village locations but that’s all there is and that’s a problem. There’s not enough diversity in the environments. Since there aren’t that many areas to begin with, things can get repetitive quickly. I didn’t encounter too many technical problems but there’s definitely some pop-in going on here and there, mostly with the detail in the textures but I didn’t notice it too often. About halfway through the game, the frame rate started to stutter and dip whenever I would move the mouse which becomes extremely irritating. Turning the vsync setting to “half-rate” and then back to “on” seemed to have resolved the problem the first time but the issue would eventually return. Other than that, it runs as smooth as butter.

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I do have a few problems with this game that are not related to the gameplay. The menus is a big one. With all of the item drops and lore you obtain from killing enemies, all of that information is collected in the menus and navigating through it all makes it feel like information overload, if that makes sense. Navigating through each menu isn’t hard but selecting things in one menu may take you to another menu and I frequently found myself fumbling around in menu screens just trying to find and perform basic functions. Another big problem is the fact that you can’t sort your gems in any meaningful way. You can convert gems to junk and sell the junk at shops or simply just sell the gems directly if you really want to reduce the amount you have. However, if you like the crafting mechanic, you’ll probably just want to hoard gems. Considering money never really becomes a problem, I rarely sold gems. Within the menu, gems are separated by different types but because they all have the same or similar names, or names that don’t make too much sense, scrolling through a massive list of gems to find the one with the property you want is a big pain in the ass. A search function is desperately needed or at least some kind of overhaul to the entire gem naming system. You can sort the gem lists by level or by elemental properties I think. I don’t know, I could be wrong because the sorting options aren’t really clear either. Basically it doesn’t make sense so it’s just confusing.

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Replay value is big in games like this and Shadow Warrior 2 does deliver for the most part. After beating the story you can always replay it on higher difficulties with your existing character and unlocks which is nice. This basically allows you to collect every weapon and skill card and you can infinitely keep grinding for better gems if you’re into that kind of thing. Playing in co-op with others will also increase the difficulty and result in better item drops as well. However, the end-game content is lacking. After you beat the story there’s not much else to do except beat it again. That’s it. You can play it with some friends but it’s still the same shit. Considering it’s not really a long game, there’s no new elements or changes that really mix things up to keep you coming back unless you’re completely driven by loot and want to collect everything. Thankfully, the gameplay is extremely fun but I think something in the form of end-game content is definitely needed.

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Shadow Warrior 2 is Flying Wild Hog’s first foray into the loot-driven genre and they managed to successfully create a fun, satisfying, and addicting experience. The gameplay is what shines here and definitely overshadows most of the game’s problems. Shadow Warrior 2 feels like a loot driven game with less of an emphasis on grinding and more of an emphasis on fun. Instead of thousands of weapons, with most not really feeling or even looking different, every weapon is unique and has some form of gameplay value. While the story is utterly forgettable there is some humorous dialogue if you enjoy juvenile or even crude humor. The developers can definitely improve some things in sequels or maybe even with DLC but this is still a great shooter that can be enjoyed alone and even in co-op. While there’s nothing really groundbreaking here, what is here is extremely well done, taking the best elements of the loot genre, and placing a big focus on them for an awesome action-oriented experience. If you enjoyed the linearity of the previous game, you may disappointed with Shadow Warrior 2’s loot-driven style, but the gameplay is so much more refined and more action-packed that I would recommend this to any fan of shooters or action games in general.

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