Insert Wang Joke Here: Shadow Warrior 2 Review
The 2014 reboot of Shadow Warrior was a complete surprise to me, an energetic FPS that deftly mixed old-school and modern design sensibilities while mixing in some legitimately funny dialogue. As such, I’ve been eagerly anticipating Shadow Warrior 2 for some time now, and since I do not have a competent gaming PC, the ever-receding release window for consoles proved agonizing. Thankfully, Shadow Warrior 2 is finally here, and if you haven’t yet experienced Lo Wang’s new adventure, I’m happy to say that it was worth the wait.
Shadow Warrior 2’s plot actually relies pretty heavily on callbacks to the first game. Lo Wang still works as a mercenary, but he now inhabits an apocalyptic future where humans and demons share an oftentimes violent coexistence. Wang is hired to recover a scientist from his arch enemy, Orochi Zilla, and things predictably go awry, leaving the soul of the young woman, Kamiko, trapped in Wang’s mind as they embark on a quest to recover her body. It’s a decent setup to a decent story, and I was happy to discover that despite the similarities between Lo Wang’s new partner and his sidekick in the first game, the duo quickly establish a different kind of dynamic, with Kamiko playing the straight woman to Wang’s unending buffoonery. Shadow Warrior 2 is just as heavy on the dick jokes as the last game, but there are plenty of genuinely witty asides thrown in as well; even the most groan-inducing jokes are salvaged by the fact that somebody usually calls out how awful they are. The plot in Shadow Warrior 2 is just OK (and the sequel-bait ending is baffling), but the dialogue is truly great.
Of course, none of this would matter if the game wasn’t fun to play, and Shadow Warrior 2 is the most fun I’ve had with a game this year. If the first game was similar to Doom in design, this outing has more in common with Borderlands. There is a strong emphasis on loot in Shadow Warrior 2, with an impressive variety of guns, swords, explosives, chainsaws, and other, more unique weapons, most of which can be upgraded with hundreds of different stat-based and elemental upgrades. The sheer amount of options can be overwhelming at times, but fortunately, fine-tuning weapons is more of an optional feature than a required mechanic, leaving little downtime between fights. Combat in Shadow Warrior 2 is just as fast and satisfying as its predecessor, but this time, the action takes place in larger arenas, leading to more experimentation and a greater emphasis on player choice in most combat encounters. All Shadow Warrior 2 ever asks the player to do is kill, but that’s just fine when the combat feels this good.
Shadow Warrior 2’s biggest new feature is the addition of co-op for up to four players, and it works just fine. There’s some fun to be had in teaming up with others to fight tougher enemies, but co-op is unfortunately heavily reliant on the host. Only the host can pick up mission items such as keys, only the host can trigger cutscenes, and only the host can progress through the game, with other players retaining their loot and XP, but not mission progress. The multiplayer in Shadow Warrior 2 can be fun with friends who are all planning on playing through the game together anyway, but teaming up with random players doesn’t feel worthwhile given all the drawbacks.
Despite all the praise I’ve heaped on this game, there are some rough edges. While the dialogue is funny, the semi-open world nature of the game means that some quests can be completed out of order, leading to moments where characters reference events they should not know about yet or act surprised by things they should have already known. The graphics are mostly good, boasting strong art direction, but low-resolution textures do pop up from time to time. The framerate, already reduced to 30fps for consoles, can take a small hit in large battles. Other oddities include enemies moving around in a floating “X” shape on a couple of occasions, unable to move, and Wang falling through the floor once (I respawned at a nearby checkpoint with no penalties). The game did crash once during my roughly 16-hour playthrough, but because of the generous checkpoints, I only lost about five minutes of progress. All things considered, there are enough technical problems with Shadow Warrior 2 to stand out as worth mentioning, but none of them seriously harmed the experience.
Shadow Warrior 2 is the video game equivalent of a blockbuster movie: the action is big, the quips come fast, and the sheer breadth of the thing betrays some of its technical shortcomings. Nevertheless, Shadow Warrior 2 comes highly recommended, with phenomenal combat, a solid hit/miss ratio to the jokes, and a deep weapon customization system. Lo Wang frequently posits the same question to his enemies: “Who wants some Wang?” If you’re in the market for the most fun FPS released this year, the answer should be you.