One of the most difficult duties as a reviewer, and the main difference between “critics” and “person shouting in the comments section” (no offense to anyone below), is forgetting about what you want a game to be like and instead talk about what the game actually is. It’s the separation of hype and reality, basically. No Man’s Sky is a perfect recent example: it was an okay game but the build-up and people’s expectations made it so much more disappointing. Which brings us to Shadow Warrior 2, where my first paragraph Fortune Cookie is this: “forget what you know, and also especially what you want”. Because if like me you enjoyed Flying Wild Hog’s Shadow Warrior 2013 reboot you should throw everything you thought you wanted from a sequel out the window.
Apparently it’s been five years since the last game, and while Ninja-Wannabe Asshole-Definitely Lo Wang no longer has a demon in his head the darkness has spread over the world and humans and demons are forced to live side by side. After sort-of recovering an important woman from the research labs of Zilla Corp Lo Wang has a new annoying voice in his head and a new scheme of Zilla’s to dismantle.
I say “apparently” because Shadow Warrior 2 makes no effort to get the player up to speed on any of this, and despite the characters all seemingly knowing each other I had absolutely no idea what was going on. This is probably because the story in the first game was literally just a means to an end, but I’d still have liked some explanation about what’s going on as it feels I’ve jumped into the halfway point of a TV season. Or, even better, a blank slate with brand new characters and situations that actually get introduced to me. Keep Lo Wang though, he’s a gem. To be fair, the dialogue and characters are actually quite fun and keep the game amusing, it’s just unfortunate that they’re only animate in cutscenes – and not very well. Otherwise characters just stand around like mannequins.
The core combat of Shadow Warrior has been tweaked and improved but basically remains unchanged, and for that we’re grateful since that means the sequel is still generally fun. The first-person mix of swordplay and gunplay in the last game was incredibly compelling and it’s the same here, except there’s a lot more guns and melee weapons to discover (you can equip up to 8 at a time, but can carry them all in your bottomless inventory). These are divided into pistols, shotguns, machine-guns, explosives, projectiles, swords, and melee, so there’s a fair amount of choice here.
You’ll personally gravitate to a certain few and the guns are generally fun, but if you’re like me you’ll use the main sword most of all. The slightly fiddly sword moves of the first game have been smoothed to just RMB and either forward, side or back, with the various spells such as Healing now fortunately assigned to individual keys. It is a lot of fun chopping up people, monsters, robots and creatures and it’s hugely satisfying to watch them get sliced up accurately. You’ll be spoiled for choice for weapons after a few hours too, with the basics giving way to more outlandish gear as you move along.
However, while the combat is just generally improved from the first game the actual gameplay style is completely different. Instead of a linear FPS where the goal (and the fun) is getting to the end, finding secrets and killing everything in your path, Shadow Warrior 2 is about exploring large open levels and finding loot while defeating monsters and getting to an objective marker. It’s closer to Borderlands than the first Shadow Warrior, especially with the focus on co-op. Start the game and you’ll be presented with a lobby, and… beyond the combat it is amazingly dull.
Missions are literally fetch quests, along the lines of “go here and collect this” even if you’re collecting people. All the levels are randomly generated, which on paper is good for replay value but actually lacks all the spark, imagination and flow of properly designed levels – even Borderlands didn’t attempt this. Furthermore these levels are really confusing, lack anything of interest to discover, full of dead ends, have little interactivity, repeat often (I played the exact same boss area twice in two separate levels), and are hard to navigate. If they weren’t randomly generated, I would say they were badly designed.
While we do have to accept that Shadow Warrior 2 is a co-op loot drop game rather than a straight entertaining FPS, it’s not saved by that because the loot is, well, awful. With Borderlands and Diablo the loot is exciting, like new awesome weapons and good looking armour. Shadow Warrior 2 is primarily just cash and tiny uninteresting upgrades for your weapons and armour. It fundamentally misunderstands the addiction behind loot-drop games, and with nothing of real interest to do beyond killing I didn’t bother to explore the levels and just tried to get to my objective as quickly as possible – something I never do in games.
So the single-player is boring, but hopefully co-op will save it. To a certain extent it does, but it’s still more awkward than it needs to be. The already intensely fun combat is heightened when there are a lot more enemies and several targets for them to attack, and it becomes an insane blast. Plenty of times we’d ignore the objectives and the loot and just sought out powerful targets because the combat is so enjoyable. This is where the randomized levels make more sense, like one mission I’d previously played in single-player became so different as to be unrecognisable.
That said there are plenty of problems with the co-op, or areas where it doesn’t gel with the single-player mission structure. Communication between players for starters is non-existent unless you’re playing with friends and talking outside the game. There’s no chat, whether voice, text, window or otherwise, and not even any amusing emotes which I thought this game would be ideal for. There’s a lot of transitioning between levels which most players won’t bother waiting around for (I’ll mention the load times in Performance), and the cutscenes are all single-player focused.
Furthermore this isn’t like Borderlands where people might actually wait while you craft new items, Shadow Warrior is meant to be fast and action-packed. If you’re not in a level fighting things it’s boring to be in co-op. Difficulty levels are not automatically adjusting, they’re set in the lobby and can’t be changed – so if you set 2 Player Difficulty and get 4 players it’ll be a breeze, and if you get no one it might be too difficult and you might as well have played offline. Co-op can be great fun, but despite Flying Wild Hog hobbling the single-player to make a replayable co-op experience it’s shocking how underdeveloped the co-op actually feels. I mean seriously, no emotes or text chat?
Performance & Graphics
- OS: Windows 7/8/8.1/10 x64
- Processor: Intel Core i3-6300 or AMD A10-5800K APU
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 560 Ti (1024MB) or AMD Radeon 6850 HD
- Network: Broadband Internet Connection
- Storage: 14 GB
- Processor: Intel Core i5-5675C or AMD A10-7850K APU
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 (4 GB)
My personal setup is a AMD-FX 6300 Six-Core Processor, 16 Gb RAM, Nvidia GTX 960 4Gb, and Windows 10 64-Bit and for the most part Shadow Warrior 2 ran well and looked pretty good. It rarely looks great even on the highest settings, there was never anything that truly blew me away unless it was a giant monster, but it does generally look lovely and on full settings I only suffered a little slowdown at busy moments. There were plenty of times during online co-op where the game became unplayably laggy, but that could be down to the host’s internet connection. There’s often a lot going on on-screen for sure.
Other than that I did encounter a few glitches. Most notably load times are ridiculously long, with a load bar that can’t decide whether it’s full or not. This is the same whether you’re visiting the hub area (to spend money or get new missions) or loading one of the randomly generated levels and was often over a minute long. Speaking of which level generation did create numerous problems for me, such as getting stuck in scenery (especially while mantling ledges) and items being lodged in objects.
By no means take just my word on Shadow Warrior 2. I’m not oblivious to the fact that it’s currently sitting on an “Overwhelmingly Positive” rating on Steam and an 82% Metacritic score. This isn’t Shadow Warrior being the wrong game for me: I personally loved the first game, adore co-op multiplayer, and the FPS is one of my favourite genres. And yet, I just couldn’t get on with Shadow Warrior 2. I found it mostly boring. It’s like Flying Wild Hog scraped out nearly everything I loved from Shadow Warrior and put half-baked ideas in their place.
The one big exception is the combat. It’s a glorious bloodbath of swords and bullets, and with half of the enemies you face being resistant or vulnerable to certain Elements (Toxic, Electricity, Fire, Ice) there’s even some strategy required too. While the sword is generally the most powerful sometimes an electric shotgun might come in more handy, and once the Rage meter is introduced and you’ve got more than 8 weapons the options come flowing fast. And in co-op combat is even better, with a host of huge powerful enemies being hacked at from all sides. It’s a barrel of laughs and the entire reason Shadow Warrior 2 just scraped the score it did.
Nevertheless it can’t be overstated that both single-player and co-op feel compromised, with neither being as good as they could’ve been. If I wasn’t murdering monsters I was yawning or looking for a way to get to the exit as quickly as possible.
SHADOW WARRIOR 2 VERDICT
It says a lot when Shadow Warrior 2 is only the second best 3D Realms game out this week, and the other is yet another remaster of Duke Nukem 3D. Despite loving the first game I could not get along with this sequel, with both single-player and co-op feeling lacking in different ways. The uneven randomized levels and dull fetch quest missions make the single-player boring, the absence of any communication options, the lack of difficulty scaling and the between-mission downtime make co-op less fun, and the uninteresting loot and long load times affect them both. The fantastic combat fortunately makes up for a lot of the game’s failings, which is even more fun in co-op, and the entertaining cutscenes and dialogue are cute rewards for finishing an awful objective (even if they don’t work in co-op).
Nevertheless whenever I wasn’t killing things I was bored out of my mind, as Shadow Warrior 2 offers no reason to explore or do anything but follow the objective marker through all-over-the-place levels. It’s just fun enough to hit a 7, but could and should’ve been so much more and any fans of the first game planning on playing it single player will be hugely disappointed.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Watching a difficult enemy explode into tiny bloody chunks. Or any of the Fortune Cookies.
The combat is fast, bloody, and hilarious, and dare I say even a little strategic too.
And it’s even better in co-op, with the monsters ramped up to a ridiculous degree.
The dialogue and cutscenes are always entertaining, and there’re a lot of them.
The missions are dull fetch quests and the loot is uninteresting
The randomized levels create a lot of confusion, with objectives hard to find, plus there’s no real reason to explore them.
A lot of glitches, terrifyingly long load times, and no way to communicate in co-op (even by emote)