Shadow Warrior 2

Who wants some Wang?

Shadow Warrior graced our screens thanks to 3D Realms and GT Interactive for the first time in 1997. Much like the revered Duke Nukem, Lo Wang spouted hilarious one liners as he went on a bloody rampage to save the word and defeat the insidious Zilla.

Flying Wild Hog and Devolver Digital brought us the reboot also titled Shadow Warrior in 2013. With gorgeous graphics, brutal combat, fantastic level design, engaging story and plenty of crude humour the game was a success receiving mostly positive reviews from both media and players of the game.

Now, thanks again to Flying Wild Hog and Devolver Digital we have Shadow Warrior 2. A direct sequel to the 2013 game.

The Story

The story of Shadow Warrior 2 picks up five years after the end of the previous installment. After the final battle things kind of went to shit and the fantastical demon world bumped into our own reality in an event called ‘The Collision’. The two realities spilled into each other and now demons roam the material world and humans poke around the demon world, most of whom are criminals looking for things they shouldn’t be.

It’s clear a lot has happened in those five years but rather than lay it all out in a 30 minute cut scene the game reveals snippets of this history through conversation and lost diary entries which litter the game. It’s a bit confusing at first, and you may think you missed a cut-scene or an expansion pack to the last game, but as the puzzle pieces fit into place there is a satisfaction to be had.

Without giving anything away, you are tasked with protecting a young lady from your arch-nemesis Zilla. Naturally it all goes horribly wrong and you spend the remainder of the game trying to fix it all up.

The best advice I can give you here is to read the journal entries as you find them as they will help fill in the blanks.

Ultimately though you will no doubt feel lost at various points; ‘Who the heck is this person?’, ‘What are they talking about?’.  While many players will ignore the story anyway and only care for the action, I’m personally a big fan of story so something a little more cohesive would have been nice.

Exploring all the side missions I could find it took me about 25 hours to complete the game on the easiest difficulty.

Visuals

Shadow Warrior 2 uses the same Road Hog Engine that the original 2013 title used as well as the Hard Reset games also developed by Flying Wild Hog since 2011. It’s clearly had some tweaks over the years as the environments in Shadow Warrior 2 are at worst rich and at best breathtaking. Trees rustle, rain falls, leaves blow past, lights flicker and reflect of pools of rippling water. Feast your eyes on the screenshots included in this review or take a look at the game trailer to see for yourself what I mean.

The 2013 Shadow Warrior wasn’t exactly an ugly game either, so with a strong foundation to build upon Road Hog Engine have simply expanded and improved upon. The game sports an enormous variety in its creatures and weapons – of which there are a great many.

The game environments (while gorgeous) aren’t quite as varied though, with areas consisting of either a futuristic Blade Runner theme, a more traditional rural Asian aesthetic or a fantastical dream like world based on ancient Asian mythology. A little more variety would have been appreciated, as despite being delicious to look at they quickly become repetitive.

One benefit of being a well honed engine however is the ability to scale the game up or down based on your hardware and even on the lower settings the game still looks great and is silky smooth. I played with a consistent 60-70fps with my setup on High, although I did turn off Motion Blur as it makes me a bit giddy.

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Sound

Voice acting is fantastic with actors convincingly expressing anger, disgust and amusement. The accents are suitably cliche and you’ll laugh yourself silly at many of Lo Wangs one-liners. I only wish there were more of them, you’ll have heard the more common ones several times over the course of play, but you’ll smile again every time you hear a fresh new line.

The music consists of a fairly broad spectrum, from orchestral with vocals to dubstep, with a bit of death metal thrown in for good measure. All of which used appropriately and at the right time. In short: excellent.

Explosions, screams, gunfire and general battle noises are all suitable and chunky. I’m not sure if it was a design choice to have it quieter during non-combat moments, but when not chopping your opponents to pieces it is noticeable silent with little to no environmental sounds. In fact the only sound to keep you company between the regular moments of intense combat is the music.

Weapons

While this isn’t exactly a category relevant to every game we review, weapons play a big part in Shadow Warrior 2.  The game boasts over 70 unique weapons and unlike Borderlands which creates a bajillion different weapons from several bits that all kind of do similar things, these weapons are genuinely unique, a nice touch. Not only is there an expansive arsenal of swords, pistols, sub machine guns, heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, chainsaws, plasma rifles, bows and the like, all of them can be modified and made unique by placing upgrades in their sockets. Each weapon includes three sockets which you can fill with an enormous variety of upgrades.

Like the weapons themselves, upgrades also come with a rarity, much like the Diablo games;  Common, Uncommon, Rare and the like. Using the forge you can even do a spot of crafting and merge similar upgrades into more powerful versions.

The potential to spend an obscene amount of time grinding mobs on the highest difficulties for the perfect weapon is going to be a thing for those who want it.

Upgrades can also be placed in your armour (which you never change) and also used to improve your skills and abilities.

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Level Design

The levels in Shadow Warrior 2 are going to be a deal breaker for some people. Gone are the mostly linear and hand crafted maps of Shadow Warrior 2013.  Instead we have large (partially) procedurally generated maps that (apart from the odd locked door) allow players to approach objectives anyway they please. In fact in many instances the maps feel akin to oversized deathmatch arenas with a lot of vertical space to them and light shafts to ascend to higher levels.

I think, sadly, from a single player perspective the levels aren’t as fun as the 2013 game nor its 1997 predecessor. Hand crafted levels can help tell a story, create pace and engage a player in a way that procedurally generated maps cannot. No doubt it would have been a lot more time consuming but I would have loved for the team to have hand crafted the single player experience and saved the proceduarlly generated maps for co-op play.

From a multiplayer perspective though it’s ideal. Maps can maintain some degree of originality and keep fresh on many repetitious playthroughs. You can spread out and clear a map quickly or you can team up, acquiring a bonus to damage due to multiplayer upgrade stones, like those put into weapons.

If you take the time to explore the maps though, either in single player or multiplayer you’ll find plenty of secrets, with little glowing statues worth a bunch of money and loot strewn everywhere. Check behind every waterfall, inside every breakable box and along every half-hidden windy path, because if it looks like it’s a secret, it probably is.

Co-Operative

Co-Operative play is built into the game which is always great to see. It’s a bit of a mixed bag though in my opinion.  While you can absolutely move around the map as a team and chop up everything in site, there is no interaction between team mates beyond that. Apart from a single upgrade stone nothing you do ‘effects’ other players, well apart from blowing up a barrel next to them. You can’t heal them, trade loot, perform combo moves, hit them with a buff aura or even voice chat without a third party application.

It seems a little odd to be honest because the enormous procedurally generated maps are clearly designed for multiplayer and yet the multiplayer aspect of the game feels a little unfinished or artificially bolted on.

Aside from the ability to complete the storyline together the remainder of co-op is simply moving across large maps killing randomly spawning mobs for loots. It’s fun for a little bit but without any further reason or point to it quickly degenerates into a senseless grind.

Flying Wild Hog isn’t the biggest development team and balancing and making multiplayer can be a daunting task (Look how long it took Blizzard to fix Diablo III), but hopefully they implement some further features into co-operative play soon. The inclusion of randomly generated and endless ‘side jobs’ would go a long way to creating a purpose for extended co-operative play.

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Bugs

As games have become more and more complicated over the decades, so too have they included more and more bugs. Thankfully these are fairly minimal with Shadow Warrior 2, most likely as it’s using a well established engine. I personally had some crashing problems, very similar to the ‘Rendering Device Lost’ problem many Overwatch players (and myself) faced. Finally motivated though I clocked my factory overclocked 770GTX down to Nvidia default clock speeds. This immediately fixed the problem I had with Shadow Warrior 2 and a number of other games. For those who suffer this problem MSI Afterburner is your friend. A scour of the Steam Forums shows some folks with frame rate drops, dual core problems, corrupted save games and some ‘Direct X 11 Compatible Video Card Not Found’ error. To be fair though, these seem like an extreme minority and thankfully not only has Flying Wild Hog responded to most of these threads, but plans to release a patch to fix some of these issues is due soon. Good to see a pro-active developer immediately following a game launch.

Tips

From playing there game and reading the forums, here are a few tips that might help your playthrough.

  • The game doesn’t feature a save option in the traditional sense, however you can teleport back to town anytime by holding down T. Doing so will also save the game.
  • ‘Karma’ is actually the games experience points system. You can see it’s progress in the bottom right corner.  The dragon that winds around your weapons will slowly fill.
  • Take the time to explore levels for hidden items, special named bosses and of course loot. Visit the vendors back in town regularly.
  • Try to keep at least one fire weapon, one ice weapon, one electricity weapon and one poison weapon. As the game progresses you’ll steadily encounter more and more enemies with resistances and even immunities.
  • Shift is your friend and key to staying mobile. Dashing has no cost so use it always to move across the map quickly and to stay mobile during combat.
  • Crafting, grinding XP, farming for loot and everything ‘Diablo/Borderlands’ isn’t required to play or complete the game. If you are looking for a single player only experience feel free to ignore these things, they wont impact your playthrough.

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Overall

Shadow Warrior 2 is one of the best first person shooter titles I’ve played this year. It’s a heck of a lot of fun with a lot on offer. While it’s not without it’s faults the lower price tag of $40USD helps excuse some of them. Hopefully Flying Wild Hog continues to work on the game, more co-operative gameplay features are definitely needed. You’ll definitely get your monies worth though and have fun doing so.

SCORE: 81%

Shadow Warrior 2 is out now and available on both Steam and GOG for PC and is due to arrive on Xbox One and Playstation 4 early next year.

Reviewed On: PC
System Specs: Intel i7-6700k, 32GB DRR4, Nvidia 770GTX
Playtime: 26 Hours

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