If a game tells me I’m going to carve up demons with a chainsaw called the “Warrrsaw,” it puts my expectations in check. This game is going to be violent. It’s going to be ridiculous. It’s (hopefully?) going to be fun. Shadow Warrior 2 is all of those things.
I’ve played about seven hours of Flying Wild Hog’s follow-up to their 2013 Shadow Warrior, which was itself a remake of 3D Realms’ 1997 original. The 2013 game snuck up on me and exceeded my expectations—it was a meaty, satisfying and actually pretty funny game that mixed hordes of Serious Sam bullet-fodder enemies with some surprisingly workable first-person swordplay.
Shadow Warrior 2 is out today on PC, and will hit Xbox One and PS4 sometime next year. In a perfect world I’d run a full review, but the embargo’s up and I’ve had time to play seven hours. I criminally under-covered the 2013 game and don’t want to make the same mistake with this one, so for now, here are my impressions.
It’s very pretty. Most discussion of Shadow Warrior 2 will be about its structure and gameplay, but I’d like to briefly acknowledge how good it looks. It’s full of beautiful sunlit meadows, moon-drenched mountaintops, and neon cities. The wind whips through the trees and light dances across the rooftops. This is a very nice-looking game. It runs well, too, which is pretty important given how fast it moves.
It’s really, really fast. I played a lot of Shadow Warrior but was still unprepared for just how fast the sequel would be. Many of protagonist Lo Wang’s combat moves have been streamlined and juiced up, and he’s been given an even more effective dash move along with a double jump. To put the result in Overwatch terms, he now controls like a mix of Genji and Tracer, with unlimited Tracer speed-bursts. To put it in non-Overwatch terms, he is now hilariously fast.
Once I got a few tricks under my fingers, I could basically fly. My favorite move involves jumping, dashing forward in midair, then double-jumping, which slingshots you forward. I can cover the length of a football field in about one second. Like its predecessor, Shadow Warrior 2 plays best with a mouse and keyboard, as the power-move combos and directional sword attacks work well with WASD and the speed of up-close combat all but demands a snappy mouse-look.
Combat is great. Which is good, because combat is the point. Every level is full of bizarre and blood-filled creatures, and your job is to kill those creatures as quickly and as violently as possible. The game’s arsenal is huge and varied, with rocket launchers and nail guns and rail guns and all manner of swords and other melee weapons. You can equip up to eight at a given time, and on higher difficulties you’ll need to swap frequently to keep from running out of ammo. I rock a sword as often as I can, though whenever that gets old I whip out some totally different type of weapon and see what I can do.
Lo Wang’s speed makes combat even faster and more hectic than the last game. You can leap into melee range, get off some quick attacks, then leap out in a matter of seconds. My notes read: “This is a game for people who thought the new Doom’s combat was slow and boring.” That about sums it up.
The Diablo template works, for the most part. Instead of following a linear story like its predecessor, Shadow Warrior 2 has you sidequesting through procedurally generated areas while gathering randomized loot. There’s still a story—more on that in a sec—but there are also a bunch of side missions. The whole game can be played solo or with up to three friends in co-op.
This approach makes the sequel feel pretty different from its predecessor, but I’d say that on the whole, that’s not a bad thing. Even the 2013 Shadow Warrior had large, explorable levels, and it’s cool to be given more room to explore. Levels do often suffer from procedural-itis, in that it can feel like they’re crammed too full of inconsequential chests and repeating combat encounters. But fighting is fundamentally fun enough that I don’t mind. I came here to jump around and kill stuff, and that’s exactly what I get to do.
Gear management can be a pain. You’ll pick up a ton of loot in Shadow Warrior 2, and most of it takes the form of weapon and gear upgrades. A lot of these upgrades have trade-offs: One upgrade might increase your defense but lower your movement speed, another might give you extra fire damage but cause you to do less damage against large bosses. It’s a lot to keep track of, and you’ll constantly be finding (and eventually, crafting) new upgrades to swap in and out. It’s all very finicky, and on balance I’ve probably spent too much of my time in the menus and not out slicing up demons. The upgrade system also discourages me from breaking out new weapons, because I know I’ll have to stop and take the time to properly apply upgrades if I want a new weapon to be as effective as possible. My kingdom for some one-button optimization options!
The story’s thin. 2013’s Shadow Warrior surprised me with its lengthy, fleshed-out story. The sequel seems to take a step back from that approach, and the new story exists more transparently as a way to send you from fight to fight. Once again Lo Wang has a buddy-movie sidekick inside his head, and once again he’s on a quest to get them out. It feels like I’ve done all this before, though on the whole... well, who really cares? Story sequences are skippable and often feature some pretty silly banter.
The jokes are hit-or-miss. I actually think Lo Wang is a pretty funny dude on the balance, and Shadow Warrior’s lowbrow quips make me chuckle as often as not. Less for the dick jokes, and more for Lo Wang’s profane enthusiasm: “Well I’ll be, if it isn’t my old friend fuckface!” he gleefully cries upon meeting an old nemesis. At one point after a killing spree, he goes into a full-throated reimagining of “My Favorite Things.”
We live in a post-Deadpool world, however, and what made the movie version of Deadpool work was the vulnerability we could see lurking just beneath all his standoffish toilet humor. With a more considered script, Lo Wang could have managed a similar feat. From what I’ve played, he’s mostly just a boor. Good for chuckles, but that’s about it.
Co-op works pretty well. I haven’t played all that much co-op, but I like what I’ve played. You can team up with up to three friends and adjust the difficulty accordingly, and even with two people the game felt markedly different. We could divvy up our approach so that one of us went in close with a sword while the other shelled enemies from a distance, and it felt like we cut through the enemy hordes much faster than we had been. I’m not sure yet how repeatable and open-ended the game will be after I complete it for the first time, but hopefully Shadow Warrior 2’s endgame will support a lot of cooperative replaying.
It is a fun video game. Shadow Warrior 2 is fun. It’s fun to zoom around levels like a human blender, slicing beasts into bloody ribbons. It’s fun whipping out a ridiculous rocket launcher and going to town on a towering demon. It’s fun swan-diving from a cliff straight into a hero landing, turning yourself invisible, then unleashing a spinning sword attack in the middle of a crowd of monsters.
I’m not sure of its lasting appeal, or if the story is actually going somewhere, or whether it’ll entertain co-op groups for more than a few hours. But I am sure that Shadow Warrior 2 is a fun video game, and that’ll suffice.