Set five years after the 2013 Flying Wild Hog game, players will once again assume the role of Lo Wang in Shadow Warrior 2 as he fights endless hordes of demons. The catch? His soul has been synergised with the daughter of a Yakuza mob boss which means he is also fighting a war on two fronts. Let’s just say his new guest is ever so slightly rebellious and a bit disheartened by the treatment she’s been getting from her family.
As a means of fighting these visitors from another dimension, Wang will use swords, chainsaws, shotguns and plasma rays, all while pushing back this would-be Zilla regime. There are over 70 weapons to find and you’ll need to upgrade and tweak them, customising your loadout as you go.
With FWH using their own in-house engine, Shadow Warrior 2 not only looks and sounds more glorious than ever before, the gameplay has been rejuvinated and renovated from the ground up to feel more like a Diablo/Borderlands cross-over than the Serious Sam/Rise of the Triad you know and love from before.
As such, you can also play co-operatively with people from all over the world. Up to 4 of you can tackle big missions and bosses, whether you choose to free-roam old missions, check out optional extras, or progress the main story.
Levels now have more of an open-world feel and you can move between missions in a non-linear way using a teleportation system. However, you can also climb up walls and ladders, and double-jump between rooftops. There’s even a Dishonored Blink-like motion with infinite uses, meaning you can always get around the map extremely quickly.
Using a Hub-like are – which doubles as Lo Wang’s bar, no less – you can spend money you’ve earned in battle, sell unneeded items, upgrade abilities, and even purchase new items such as weapons and gems.
All levels are randomised and filled with extras like chests, secrets, ammo and other pick-ups. You earn XP by completing missions and beating foes, which is then spent to upgrade character stats, like health points, the amount of ammo you can hold, resistance to elemental damage, new moves, and much more.
Wang can do area attacks with his sword, draw spikes from out of the ground to slow their progress and even heal himself using Chi. This focus-like bar will gradually drain as you use these abilities though, so it’s important to watch that as well as the enemies trying to claw your face off!
Similar to Diablo, there is a socket system and you can augment up to three gems in each weapon, increasing the DPS while also tailoring it specifically to your needs. You could have it so a crossbow does more damage to smaller enemies, or adapt your sawed-off so that enemies drop more medkits when downed.
You’ll receive similar weapons as you progress through the game and can actually switch out your loadout at any time based on the most effective weapons you have to hand. You’ll need to consider various types of strategies as some enemies are resistant to Ice Damage, while others are weak against Fire. Some even need penetrating bullets to beat them.
Shadow Wariror 2 doesn’t just reward mindless violence, you’ll actually need to consider how you fight enemies. But that makes the procedural damage system even more interesting as you can blast limbs and body parts off enemies. You can even carve your initials in their rotting flesh should you so desire.
There is more story and substance to Shadow Warrior 2 with players able to stack missions and choose the order in which they play the game. There’s also reintroduction to favourable characters while you’re introduced to new ones, and there’s even continuity between the two games, so you’ll pick up references from before.
But it’s definitely a jumping-on point for new players as Shadow Warrior 2 seperates itself from anything that’s come before, and in a year where Battleborn failed to capture anyone’s imagination, a game like SW 2 has snuck in like a stealthy ninja and claimed all the glory for itself.
It has charm and characterisation with quippy one-liners and over-the-top violence. There’s a surprising amount of substance in the game, with a large array of things to do and items to collect – from Fortune Cookies to filling out your Wanglopedia on enemies and the wider world, and the game does a good job of keeping things fresh with the new weapons, enemy types, swerves in the story, objectives, and the environments.
And let’s talk fully about these environments because Shadow Warrior 2 may have firmly planted itself at the top of the mountain of best looking games of 2016. The visual aesthetic is dazzling and impressive – from swaying trees to mass explosions and streaming waterfalls – the moment you jump into the action you will be in awe.
While Shadow Warrior 2 does the murky caverns and futuristic neon-lighted utopias very well, it’s the tranquil outdoor plains with blinding sunlight, weeping cherry blossoms and finely crafted temples that really give the game a unique, refreshing flavour.
And the same goes for the hard-hitting soundtrack which really gets you in the mood for battle using thrash guitars, drums, and chinese musical instruments, all mashed up together to create a distinct, memorable sound.
The mission structure does become a bit repetitive later on – especially if you’re tackling it on Single Player – and so it is better played with others. It is a big shame this isn’t splitscreen, as similarly good-looking games like Gears 4 have been able to achieve this feat. Also, there also doesn’t seem to be any competitive online modes such as Deathmatch, but that’s because the campaign component has been prioritised.
All that said, this is an entertaining, gorgeous looking skirmish for PC owners that is mechanically solid and is definitely going to be one console owners eagerly anticipate in the new year!
Repetitive mission-structure and limited mode variety aside, Shadow Warrior 2 is not only one of the biggest surprises of the year in terms of quality, it’s also one of the best looking, sounding, and playing titles in a year stacked with ferocious competition.