By Marisa Alexander / March 9th, 2022
|Title||Shadow Warrior 3|
|Developer||Flying Wild Hog|
|Release Date||March 1st, 2022|
|Genre||First Person Shooter|
|Platform||PS4, PC, Xbox One|
|Age Rating||Rated M for Mature|
Here we are, after many long years since the cliffhanger that was Shadow Warrior 2. Lo Wang is back with a new adventure in tow; however, the formula once again changed from looter shooter to a more linear, arena-based encounter set up. More specifically, the level design and combat echoes Doom Eternal, the biggest hit in modern FPS history. This actually befuddled me, as I played parts of classic Shadow Warrior and the first two reboot games. While not perfect, those games have a certain direction and flow that was distinctive. Even when Shadow Warrior 2 went for these open areas with Diablo-esque elements to its progression, the flow of combat was very much in line to the other games. After my playthrough, I can say with confidence that the new title feels much less like a Shadow Warrior game. As a disclaimer, unless specified, when I mention Shadow Warrior, I’m specifically referring to the reboot, not the classic game.
To summarize the story, Lo Wang accidentally unleashed a dragon of extraordinary power and proportions. The first thing it did was eliminate all of the ancients, leaving essentially Wang himself the only one at the time to take it down. However, his quest fails unceremoniously as he stabs the eyelid of the dragon and is then flung right off. Months later, he is lamenting that he lost his mojo. As he recounts his failure to the mask of Hoji, Orochi Zilla arrives to begrudgingly team up with Wang. Thereafter, the two go off to find Motoko, who has the power to allow the team to defeat the evil-doing dragon.
Once there, as Motoko is unleashing her power upon Hoji’s mask, the ancient being himself actually comes back in a fragmented existence. Sensing that the ritual would kill his long lost “friend,” Wang decides to steal back the mask and runs off, hoping to find a new solution. Thus, the story of Shadow Warrior 3 kicks off proper. I’m going to be blunt here, the narrative and writing in this game feels exceptionally hollow. Zilla and Motoko essentially disappear from the plot entirely once Wang decides to do his own thing until the end of the game. Hoji is practically shoehorned in presumably because he was well-liked. He supposedly died in the first game, why is he here? Even Wang himself is a shell of his former self, even when considering his doubts in himself. The dragon doesn’t even do much towards the protagonists. It destroys a gate, takes a chi laser to the face like a champ, then proceeds to freeze over a forest; however, it is not like it is a sapient antagonist. The dragon sort of just flies around and looks intimidating half of the time.
Of course, the plot is not the main focus of these games. At the same time, in previous games there was this attempt to flesh out this world of demons, humans, and ancient gods without being too ridiculous. Despite being a selfish and thickheaded protagonist, I could at least support Wang in his endeavors during his previous adventures. In this game, he has a really bad habit of insulting characters completely unprovoked. Meanwhile in Shadow Warrior, many of his direct insults are far more reactionary. Everyone is a jerk, therefore he shall be too. Shadow Warrior 2 was like this, too. Sure he had his snide remarks with characters such as Gozu, but at the very least much of it is because they had an encounter with each other already. By the end of the game, everyone was supposed to undergo character development. Despite this, the character development has to be one of the most shallow examples I’ve ever seen.
Unfortunately, this carries over to the humor of the game. It should be noted that this is regardless of what kind of humor one enjoys. The delivery for comedy is what truly is important. This is where the game fumbles, as most cases are along the lines of “hey, look, we did a funny! Laugh!” Snappy humor can be done well, but when it boils down to swearing, pop-culture reference after pop-culture reference, and practical toilet humor, it gets jarring and emotionless after awhile. There is nothing akin to “pull yourself together, man!” after you diced up an enemy, or “hello new ammo friends!” They aren’t exactly funny, either, but at least there is delivery and reason. Instead we get dialogue that go along the lines of “Dwango! *pause* Nothing? Anybody? You all need to watch more American movies…” I triggered it once but have no idea how it came about. To be honest, I am not sure how accurate I quoted the line to begin with, as I forced myself to remember it. That is the main issue, you can’t just make a reference for the sake of a reference, especially dated ones. There is even a line about Wang hating puzzles, preferring action. This would at least have merit if there was a puzzle at all.
The gameplay, meanwhile, is just okay. A lot of it feels like a more watered down, if not diet, Doom Eternal, partially because it is explicitly trying to emulate that game’s formula. There is one big difference between the two, which are the finishers. As you kill enemies, you get finisher orbs filling up a gauge. Using a certain amount of this very gauge allows you to perform a finisher on an enemy. The amount changes between fodder and sturdier foes, but each enemy allows a unique benefit upon using a finisher. This can range from a health buff, a cryo bomb, a hammer, and more. In addition, all of your health is restored in the process. I actually find finishers more interesting than glory kills, but it gets repetitive after awhile since Wang plays the same animation per enemy every time. Many of these actually take a significant amount of time to do, whereas glory kills for the most part are extremely quick. It doesn’t help that the default command to do it, on console, are both shoulder buttons on a controller. Wang’s katana is mapped to the right shoulder button. As such, it’s bizarrely easy to kill a fodder enemy you might’ve wanted to do a finisher on for its buff, especially since you have to look dead on at the enemy.
Bridging off that, the feeling of using the katana is perhaps the weakest out of every Shadow Warrior game out there. It feels almost weightless, as if you are swinging a blade made out of air, even when your sword is going through an enemy. Curiously, it is perhaps still the best weapon in the game once upgraded. At full power, you can charge up attacks with elemental attributes. The elemental application is actually extremely high, essentially instantly applying the effects of the element onto enemies. However, despite being based on the sword techniques from the previous two games, the satisfaction of using them is borderline soulless. It is not the same feeling of taking out your katana and instantly doing a 360 sword swing, killing enemies all around you. The equivalent technique is here, but there’s no satisfying swing of the camera itself and game slowing down per hit. Just a casual swing and everything around you is struck by lightning.
The gunplay suffers from the same issues as well. Taking note from Doom Eternal, you are intended to quickswap between weapons to achieve optimal DPS. Despite this, you only cycle between the Basilisk, which is the game’s equivalent to a charge up gauss cannon, and the grenade launcher much of the time. Combined with the sword to incapacitate enemies and refill ammo, you can solve most situations with just these three weapons. When upgraded, the shotgun is also kind of fun, but it doesn’t hit the same as just pointing at a grouping of enemies and massacring them with a handful of shotgun blasts. Unfortunately, the dual SMGs feel like peashooters, the crossbow shuriken launcher is particularly lacking, and the revolver is the normal Shadow Warrior revolver. Not the best, but you could do worse. It doesn’t help that the only chi power to return is chi blast. You no longer can go invisible and force enemies up into the air, so it becomes hard to vary up your gameplan.
Consequently, the arena based style causes encounters in the game to blend in together, especially since the only thing I am concerned about is basic enemy prioritization. A lot of the time I can just circle around the arena and be relatively fine. The grand irony is that when you restrict the player’s movement capabilities, fights become extremely distinctive despite a more limited roster. It’s why Doom 2 stood the test of time in the mapping scene. The same goes for Hexen, Blood, Quake and even classic Shadow Warrior. You can place towers as sniping points. Use enemies to body block. Force the player to bob and weave in pockets of a horde of monsters just to survive. All of these wonderful encounter ideas suddenly vanish when you allow both the player and enemies to essentially go anywhere in the arena. Much of this is in spite of the enemy variety in the game, as it’s actually pretty okay. You have both melee and ranged fodder that serve as small pockets of health and ammo for you to snag in the heat of the moment. Then there are many actually threatening enemies that employ different strategies that aren’t just claw at or snipe the player; however, since they are thrown at the player as a collective whole, fights lose their luster fast.
Conversely, despite the technical attention to give players pathways to navigate arenas, the level design that serves as a transition to these arenas is rather slap dash. These practical hallways are essentially just basic FPS platforming where you run on walls, grab ledges, hook onto green rings from one spot to the next. Along the way, there are upgrade orbs conveniently placed for the player to pick up and use for their weapons and abilities. Bizarrely, there are secrets that also contain upgrade orbs but they just happen to be right next to the pathway that doesn’t really lend itself towards finding secrets in the first place. There is not even a chime that tells you that a secret has been found. In terms of anything to collect, upgrade orbs are the only thing to find. Karma and money are gone, so these orbs are the only way to continue to strengthen Wang. Even Doom Eternal had lore documents, power ups, and more to find.
It’s odd since I would think at the very least the developers would make the environments and set pieces interesting to look at. However, while the game is technically graphically well done, the presentation and art direction is rather lacking. For instance, the UI is strangely bland compared to the previous two games, where the menus are just not as interesting. In the first game, you have a dedicated menu with Lo Wang kneeling down where – as you unlock and build upon your chi powers – he would get tattoos to represent those very powers. It wasn’t the best model but it added a visual sense of progression. Same with another menu where you would fill in wood-block art as you unlock perks. The second game didn’t have this but you would get a close up of weapons and gems, where the UI itself was smooth but nice to look at. Even perks in the second game used much of the visual art made to represent the world of Shadow Warrior as their own visual card. Here, while not poorly done and easy on the eyes, the UI lacks that Shadow Warrior flair.
Technically, environments are nice to look at. Yet, I feel myself gravitating towards the environments in Shadow Warrior more as it was more grounded, making the grander environments have more of an impact. This was combined with the fact that the world of the first and second games had a sense of artistic drive that made me appreciate them all the more. Despite being a product of its time, classic Shadow Warrior still took advantage of aspects of the Build engine. The engine contributed quite well to interaction with the world and environmental design. Here, most of the environments are grand in scale but don’t have the same substance. There’s nothing to balance them out. There was one level that had like a cosmic backdrop with a large chi laser cannon as the main set piece. It was actually gorgeous in its own way, so I wish there was more like that. This logic carries over to the enemy design as I find some to be cool, others to be zany for the sake of it.
Then there is the technical aspects of the game on console. There is no mincing this, the game loves to drop frames when any remotely intense scenario happens. It doesn’t matter how intense it is, the game will drop to frames that is independent of what is going on. While I haven’t died because of this problem, the game almost went to the single digits at the end of the first boss fight, which involves platforming. All there is going on is the boss firing lasers to destroy the platforms you are traversing. What is baffling is that there are instances similar to this but the game runs much better. The game loses frames even in certain cutscenes. Yet, in two levels that are all about running along on the dragon’s back with snow flying everywhere with detail practically everywhere? Runs like a marathon runner in the Olympics. This is Unreal Engine 4, what is going on? Even when Shadow Warrior was just 30 FPS on console, it was extremely consistent and that was an in-house engine. This is unacceptable as Doom Eternal, a game with better graphical fidelity, runs at a perfect 60 FPS where I do not remember a single moment of it ever dropping. All of this on a base PS4. I understand id Software has some of the best programmers in the industry, but surely it is not hard to ask for consistent FPS in this day and age from an experienced developer.
For other issues, I haven’t encountered any actual glitches but there are oddities with the platforming. All but one of my deaths was thanks to platforming and a large chunk of them was because Wang decided to not grab the ledge or hang against the wall despite literally hugging it. He would just stare at it and fall to his doom. What is particularly strange about falling down is that you instantly die during platform segments; however, in actual combat, you just lose health. Not sure why the developers couldn’t just design it where it was like Doom Eternal where you lose a small amount of health no matter what.
To wrap all of this up, the amount of content is severely lacking. There are three difficulties where there are, at base, four in every preceeding Shadow Warrior game. Despite it being a single player game that is linear but still has upgrades, there are no additional modes like a horde mode or even new game+. The only content in the game are literally the levels. How long did it take me to beat the game? Five hours. Five hours for a $49.99 game with little to no replay value. This is almost insulting. You can’t even level select with any of your previous upgrades just to play through a single level if you want, nor is there a results screen. It should be noted that the game itself, on its own, is okay. It doesn’t do anything particularly crude or ill-thought out. Most of my criticisms were more or less along the lines on how the title feels weaker compared to other games in the franchise. It’s strange since I know Flying Wild Hog can do better. Unfortunately, with how the game ended, this is more than likely going to be the last Shadow Warrior game. That is the true disappointment considering my criticisms.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Devolver DigitalDoomfirst-person shooterFlying Wild HogPCPS4SteamXbox One