The Battlefield, Call of Duty, and Halo titles have a vice grip on their audiences in the FPS arena and that’s not likely to change for quite a long time. This year, though, Bethesda and Id Software reinvigorated the genre with DOOM and discovered players were 100% willing to be dropped into the middle of hell with not a cover system in sight. In 2013, Flying Wild Hog realized the old-school formula was alive and well with their remake of Shadow Warrior. Now, Shadow Warrior 2 takes Lo Wang to new heights.
Shadow Warrior 2’s goal is to give you the control of an incredibly badass (and hilarious) assassin. How well do they accomplish this? The original Shadow Warrior tossed you an arsenal of weapons and put you to work with satisfying results. The sequel adds a deeper and more involved experience, adding a ton of mods for weapons that span from damage and crit multipliers to elemental effects and a wealth of chi skills.
There are over 70 weapons and, with all the mods available, it can even get to be overwhelming at times. Definitely don’t bother trying to find placement for each new mod you find because, about 5 steps and 20 dead bodies later, you’ll find something even better. Thankfully there’s a badass hub to match your overwhelming badassery where you can trade with vendors and sort things out in peace. It’s also there that you’ll chat with NPCs to advance the main plot and find side quests. More about level structure later, what about the combat?
Even with so many weapons, each feels very different from the other and you’ll find your favorite style quickly. When you engage your enemies, each shot or melee has satisfying impact and limbs fly part from assailants as if trying to escape your intense aura. There’s a lot of thought that can go into your conflicts as well. Enemy weaknesses and strengths flash across the screen as you target, so you’re inspired to keep your equipped weapons (limited to 8 at a time) mixed with mods for different types of enemies.
There are superior/elite and small/large enemies and each difference determines how they’re affected by weapons and abilities. For example, the chi ability Grip of Darkness allows you to summon spikes from the shadow realm to root your enemies in position. In its basic form, it can only affect non-large/elite/superior enemies but it starts to target large enemies as you invest more skill points into it. An ability called Arcane Mastery also enhances that, allowing you to pin-up the superior adversaries when you reach higher levels.
The hub (Dragon Mountain) and more open levels are elements that really separate the second game from the original, which was faithfully linear. In the first couple of missions you’ll be jumping into your car to initiate travel from one area to the next but, you’re not the same ninja from before. Flying Hog Games rectifies that insult to your talent. Fairly quickly, you’ll have the ability to teleport (as every video game ninja should) to the side quests and main story quests. When heading out of the hub to an area for the first time, there’s a bit of a load time though it’s not painfully long. Once you get going, you can teleport back and forth seamlessly between that level and the hub with nary a load time to be seen.
The levels themselves are quite open, usually producing multiple paths to your quest goal. The mini-map provides a useful tracker that gets you where you need to go, but the level design encourages you to flex your presence into wayward paths and snatch up even more loot. Side quest areas are procedurally generated too, though you’ll be hard pressed to even notice, and the game is visually impressive enough to warrant the use of the game’s photo mode.
The story is a well-paced accent to the engaging combat and the humor fluctuates from being purposefully shallow like the lead character’s name to knee-slapping laughter inducing events like Wang singing his rendition of “My Favorite Things” after a boss fight. Lo Wang’s banter with the soul of a young lady who ends up being stored in his body for safekeeping is also wonderfully witty. Wang’s aloof badassery is a direct contrast to hers (and just about anyone else’s for that matter — NPCs are very aware of Wang’s hit or miss humor and make it apparent) and keeps players tuned into what can seem like a plot-less action title on the surface.
So does Shadow Warrior 2 reach its goal? Does it effectively immerse players into the turbulent and exciting lifestyle of Lo Wang? Definitely. Game-play is smooth and engaging despite the hundreds of things that can be happening on screen at any time, with the only weird moment coming when an enemy knocked Wang back further than they probably should have. The entire package is well executed, goes beyond the expected improvement a sequel is supposed to present, does it at a bargain price, and every bit of it can be experienced with buttery smooth 4-player co-op to boot.
This review was based on a digital review copy of Shadow Warrior 2 for the PC provided by Devolver Digital. Shadow Warrior 2 is available on Steam for $39.99.