When you’re called Lo Wang, it appears that there are only two career paths available to you. The first is a starring role in specialty adult movies, and the other is to be a paid ninja assassin for organised crime. Luckily, Lo Wang decided on the second path, as I’m not sure I’d like to play a game based around the first!
As you may have guessed, Shadow Warrior 2 is the follow up to 2013’s Shadow Warrior reboot, brought to us by Flying Wild Hog Studios. They are at the helm for this game as well, and the continuation is plain to see, with the personality of Wang being just as obnoxious and cocky as last time. With a name like Wang, there are a myriad of nob gags to be made, and I don’t think a single one was missed. Obviously, as I go through this review, I’ll be using the word “Wang” a lot, and any innuendos that are generated are accidental. Well, nearly all of them…
The game is, like the prequel, a first person shooter. Well, I say shooter, but due to the ability Wang has to use melee weapons, it’s also a first person sword swinger too. The game has a different structure this time around as well, with a central hub area and branching side missions that can be tackled in any order you fancy. In fact, you have to do these missions to have a prayer of doing some of the later missions, and if you try to tackle a mission that you are not ready for, the game will let you know and nudge you back into safer areas.
There is also a proper RPG-lite leveling up scheme that has been introduced, with skill points to spend on a variety of powers and perks. Another new addition is a mini map in the top corner of the screen, showing where you are, where the enemies are, and most importantly, where the objectives are that you need to get to. This is a massive improvement over the last game, as in that title, exploration was largely a matter of luck.
The first thing I noticed is that since his first outing, Wang seems to have been hitting the dojo big time. He has a new double jump, which allows him to reach out of the way places, and a new dash move that not only can get him out of trouble by dodging attacks, but that can also be used in mid air to help clear large chasms. Add to this the fact that you take no damage at all from falling, whether it be ten feet or 100, and you’ve got an all round badass ready to rumble.
Wang feels faster, lighter, and more nimble than before, and the speed of the game also feels like it has been cranked up. Remember how different the Doom reboot felt with the increased game speed? That’s the same vibe being picked up from Shadow Warrior 2 – things have been cranked all the way up to 11!
Luckily, the controls are up to the job, feeling nicely weighted and giving you the sense of really swinging a katana around. The only thing that still feels awkward to me is using some of the sword arts that Wang can learn, which require you to press a direction with the left stick in conjunction with the LT button. Now, having to press a direction in a game that is moving fast and that sees enemies swarming you more often than not, seems like an odd decision to me, as I usually end up moving into the path of an attack in an attempt to pull off a 360 degree twirl with a sword, for instance.
Better news this time comes in the form of Wang’s Chi powers, which have been mapped to the D-Pad. So his Chi Flame heal move, invisibility and so on are now only a direction tap away, or you can hold the direction for more duration of the power. Being able to heal while back pedalling desperately saved my bacon on more than one occasion.
Obviously, with various demons and sundry Yakuza bad guys all up in your grille, and with the main bad guy, Orochi Zilla now splicing demons and cybernetics together, Wang is going to need to have more than just harsh language at his disposal. Luckily, the game has you covered here, with many categories of weapon to choose from. In addition to bladed and bludgeoning weapons (including a baseball bat with nails in, a chainsaw, and the expected swords), Wang has the choice of light, medium and heavy firearms, and access to explosive weaponry and shotguns. Light weapons are pistols, whether they be traditional projectile firing weapons or plasma pistols, medium weapons cover assault rifles and SMGs, while heavy weapons are where the real fun is – you’ll definitely want to grab the cool looking LMG called King Skeletor and a full on, Blaine from Predator minigun. Standing facing a horde of charging demons with this baby in your hands is so much fun, just waving it around and scything down enemy after enemy is one of the most satisfying moments of the game.
With the choice of either pump action or sawn off double barrelled shotguns, and then grenade and rocket launchers, you’re never going to be short of something to make your point with.
Ammo on the other hand is a constant worry, particularly if you are going full rock and roll with the heavy weapons. Enemies can drop ammo, and there are also purple shrines that you see every now and then that will top off your reserves, but other than that the melee weapons will be your friends, as they don’t run out of ammo. One exception to that rule is a cool pair of plasma swords that you pick up early in the game, which, when they have ammo, send out a pair of plasma blasts with each swing, overpenetrating enemies and injuring a lot of things in the process. When the ammo runs out, well, they are still a pair of pointy metal sticks, that hurt when applied to a demon!
As you kill demons, some of them will drop “gems” for you. I say “gems” as they are in the shape of fish, dogs, pigs and even turkeys. These gems can be inserted into the various weapons, allowing you to imbue the weapons with various effects like life steal, Chi recovery on kill, more damage to superior enemies and so on. You can add three of these gems to each weapon, and they also add cool elemental effects like freezing or setting the targets on fire, even electrocuting them for additional damage.
These gems come in different rarities, as you might expect, and as you reach a certain point in the story the ability to craft gems from other gems becomes available. Basically, you can take three gems of the same rarity, combine them and they will give you a gem of the next rarity up, so soon you’ll be swimming in legendary and exotic gems, that can then be inserted into the weapon to give a higher percentage of health points back, and so on. With these gems, and the sheer amount of weapons available, it’s very unlikely that your Wang will be the same as your friends…
Speaking of ammo shortages, as we were earlier, it allows me to segue neatly into the RPG-lite elements that I mentioned earlier.
As you kill enemies and complete missions, you will gain karma, and when you have gained a certain amount of karma you will be gifted with a skill point. Most of the missions that you complete will also give you varying amounts of skill points when you hand them in, so you should be able to start to develop Wang’s character fairly quickly. Under the skills section of the pause menu is where you spend these points, and you can put them into various different sub categories, such as life, Chi, or collector and so on. Obviously my first points spend was in the life section, increasing both Wang’s maximum health and the rate at which health packs were dropped by enemies. After this, more subcategories are opened, that allow you to increase the find rate of ammo and ups the amount of Karma gained from each kill. There are a myriad of possible skills that can be increased, and more can be bought in shops or, very rarely, given to you at the end of missions. The amount of skill points that you can spend seems to rise exponentially as you go on.
As you get to the hub of the game, the Wang Cave, you’ll find various shops and NPCs dotted about the place to give you side missions, along with a Bounty Board that also has hunting missions on it. You can only accept one at a time and have to return to the board to turn them in, but the missions themselves are large and often very challenging. An early one has you hunting down 30 Shade Junkies and 10 Shade Fanatics in a level, in addition to all the regular enemies that spawn. It is a great amount of fun.
Dying in Shadow Warrior 2 is something that you should avoid, as there are penalties that are applied each time Wang kicks the bucket. On normal difficulty, the enemies are healed up to 50% health, so getting almost to the end and then finding that the boss that was nearly dead now has 50% health again is a bit of a kick in the Wang, if you’ll pardon the expression.
It’s at times like this that the multiplayer element start to make a lot more sense. This time around, up to three other Wangs can join in a co-op attempt at the level that you are doing. Each person sees themselves as Wang on their screen, but appear on your screen as one of three pre set character models. Obviously any Karma and skill points you earn while in multiplayer can also be spent in the single player mode, so it can be a good way to rank your character up in an attempt to do some of the harder single player missions. The netcode seems to be good, by and large, and I never experienced any lag or untoward effects while playing online.
So far then, all is good in the world of Shadow Warrior 2. The graphics are suitably gory, and the design of the enemies is inspired, with some truly disgusting enemies to put away. There’s one in particular called a Tumour, that starts off by throwing balls filled with poison at you, then it throws its arms at you, and finally is reduced to a head on legs, dashing about trying to head butt you into oblivion. Think back to the Black Knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, but more demonic!
As you slice and dice these enemies, or hit them with close up shotgun blasts, they are dismembered, splashed to four winds, and ensures the game doesn’t spare the gore. It’s not one for the kids then. The feel and heft of these weapons is bang on, if you’ll pardon the pun, and the melee weapons are suitably crunching and wince inducing. The sound is equally up to scratch, with pained screams, explosions and gun shots echoing about the place. Wang is never short of a witty quip either, so killing things is often a grin inducing task as he starts shouting random phrases. My favourite so far, without question, is “You mess with the bull, you get the Wang!” I’m not even sure what it means, but it never fails to make me smile.
Sadly all is not roses for this game. As you may expect, there are some pitfalls too. The most common one, and one that helps interrupt the smooth flow of the game, is in regards hitting checkpoints through a level.
As you pass certain statues on your way through the level, the game treats them as restart points if you die. Great, right? Well, yes and no. You see, as you pass these statues, the game stutters and freezes, only for a second, but in a game as fast paced as this you really notice it. Other things that have spoiled the experience include double jumping up to a platform, then sinking through it up to Wang’s waist and being unable to free myself, doing a side mission from the bounty board and the enemies that I need to kill refuse to show up in the level, and the mini map occasionally forgetting where the objectives are, leaving you to wander around the large levels just hoping to stumble across something to kill or collect. These issues have been easily solved by quitting to the main menu and then reloading. They are annoyances, but not in any way game breakers for me.
In conclusion then, there’s a lot to like with Shadow Warrior 2. The character of Wang and his catchphrases are highlights, as is the sheer speed and mayhem of the gameplay. Add to this the cool multiplayer that doesn’t go down the tired PvP route but instead is co-operative, and you have a recipe for fun that is pretty mouthwatering. The hitches with checkpoints do annoy, but with the addition of mission selection, even more character development and the customisation of weapons, this game is one that will not disappoint.