Hands On: Shadow Warrior 2 Is Like First-Person Diablo

Demons, in Shadow Warrior 2 [official site], appear to be made of jelly. I’m carving one particularly big bastard open like a Christmas turkey and the segments that slide away are like the gelatinous gloop and gristle sliding from a tin of cheap dogfood. They wibble and wobble, quivering beneath the teeth of my chainsaw. They fold and flop, eventually disintegrating.

The ultraviolence is more over the top than in the game’s predecessor, but it’s nothing new. That’s just about the only place that the sequel takes the “more of the same” approach though. Almost everything has changed.

I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Flying Wild Hog’s Shadow Warrior reboot which reached into my chest and claimed my heart in 2013. I can’t remember having my expectations exceeded by a game quite so much since I started writing about the things on a daily basis. Maybe my crappy superpower is to expect the worst when it comes to remakes of nineties first-person shooters because the brilliance of DOOM shocked me as well, but Shadow Warrior is still the greatest surprise.

And now it’s as if the sequel wants to pull the rug out from beneath me all over again. Shadow Warrior, both the original and the reboot, followed fairly traditional singleplayer FPS patterns. Levels that are mostly linear, enemies with their own distinct attacks and weaknesses, weapons that escalate in power as the story plays out. A few secrets and easter eggs. Sprinkle some toilet humour and better-than-average melee combat on top and you have the original game.

Where the reboot excelled was in recognising that the melee combat could become the central system, with unlockable abilities linked to simple inputs based around sidesteps and dashes performed with the sword in hand. That, along with hordes of enemies marching toward the slaughter, made for an enjoyable experience, heavy on the hack and slash, and light on the shooting.

Shadow Warrior 2 is like first-person Diablo, with randomised levels, stitched together from hand-crafted sections, groups of enemies with minibosses leading them, and all kinds of loot to gather. There are also petrified demon cocks to retrieve from chests, complete with withered ballsacks that look like dehydrated Maltesers, but what little I saw of the story was a paper-thin backdrop to the new banquet of demon-dissection.

Structurally, the game is now based around a hub from which 1-4 players can select missions and upgrade their abilities and gear. There are more than 70 weapons to find, including swords, a chainsaw and all manner of guns and magical apparatus. You can modify them as well, fusing loot items to them in order to grant new abilities or buff existing ones. I made an uzi that fired frozen bullets and came in handy against a boss who was vulnerable to ice and accidentally created what I think was a rocket launcher that fired poisonous clouds. Whatever was happening, the demons didn’t like it and there were lots of green fumes.

The session I played was chaotic. We were a team of four and there was barely a moment when at least one of us wasn’t stumbling across a new mob of monsters to slice and dice. There’s no need to kill everything in a level, given that you have a specific target and can always revisit should you want to gather more loot, but combat is so enjoyable that I found it hard to tear myself away before I’d torn everything into bits.

Using sword-based abilities is as intuitive as in the previous game, with movement in any direction right before an attack unleashing different moves. A plunging strike was my favourite, which combined with the double jump to allow for extravagant superhero landings that end with a shower of gore. And the gore really is spectacularly gruesome, the track of your blade leaving cuts in enemy models precisely where it lands. There’s a sort of Force Push ability that can be used to break perforated enemies apart, scattering their gibs across the level.

And then there’s the chainsaw. “Our chainsaw doesn’t run out of fuel,” a member of the development team comments when I first find it. “You never have to stop.” Holding down the right mouse button allows you to control the angle and position of the blade so that you can play like a kid with a sparkler, drawing patterns, or tracing your initials into an enemy’s hide. I didn’t quite manage to sign an autograph but I reckon I could with a bit more practice, and a big enough demon as a canvas.

There are some big ‘uns, mind, even in the portion of the game I saw. And there are some big ‘uns that split into several little ‘uns when you chop ‘em in half, and some of those tiddlers turn back into big bastards when you kill ‘em a second time. I couldn’t possibly pretend to summarise even half of what I saw because there was no time to take notes and some enemies were pulped into juice before I even got a chance to shake them by the hand, but I vividly remember something that looked like a giant inside-out gorilla and some furious giant snakes.

I can’t possibly judge whether or not the new structure works. Does Shadow Warrior need to have all of this ARPG like looting and questing, with random mobs of minibosses and their minions? Absolutely not. Another linear story-driven FPS game would have been a treat, particularly if it had expanded on the combat system from Flying Wild Hog’s first stab at the setting. But is it better to have something expansive and altogether more experimental? I think it probably is, provided there’s not too much necessary repetition to build better weapons.

The improvements to the combat system are fantastic though, even if they’re mainly to movement rather than shooting and slicing. Having the freedom to skip across rooftops using a combination of dashes and doublejumps, and to dive into a crowd of enemies spinning like a blender’s blades, is simplicity itself. Given that I spent the vast majority of my time in the first game using the sword, I’m not sure that I need seventy weapons and I can’t imagine I’ll be spending a lot of time upgrading the guns, but I guess somebody wants them. And it’ll probably be necessary – or at least convenient – to have specialised weapons for bosses with certain immunities or weaknesses.

If that forces me to sheathe my blade from time to time, I might grumble momentarily. And while I’d like to play with friends, I hope the design supports solo play just as well as cooperative. I had a brief dash through a level alone and all seemed well but the satisfaction of a team selecting varied weapons to deal maximum damage to a horde will be missed. But with that chainsaw grumbling away and an endless army of demons to slay, Shadow Warrior 2 looks like it’ll succeed when it comes to stylish and silly otherworldly slaughter even if the new structure ends up feeling a little loose.

Shadow Warrior 2 is due for release later this year.

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54 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    astromaddie says:

    Personally, I’m sold at “first-person Diablo”. I loved the original (and DOOM, and 90s shooters in general), but I like the idea of something new instead of more of the same. Shadow Warrior remake will always be there!

    • zxcasdqwecat says:

      *slap*

    • Ronrocken says:

      That game already came out. Borderlands.

      • onodera says:

        And Hellgate: London before that.

        • Sian says:

          Borderlands was almost all about shooting, melee was very much secondary and didn’t extend past single punches. No moves, no movement, nothing that’s described above. Hellgate: London wasn’t better on that front, either.

        • piercehead says:

          I loved that game so much I bought the “Lifetime Season Pass” :(

      • Razumen says:

        Borderland’s abilities were rather droll (seriously, only ONE active special ability???) and was mainly about finding small variations on the 6 or so main gun types, aside from that, melee and movement options were very limited.

        • Flopdong says:

          Borderlands and other level based shooters are awful. It pisses all over everything that makes a shooter great

          • Razumen says:

            Ah, the ol’ “Stop Enjoying games I don’t like” argument. Classic.

            An yeah, hate to break it to you, but Borderlands being a fun game doesn’t harm any other games, so kindly keep your insecurity in check.

          • bluebottle says:

            There is certainly a major hurdle that has to be overcome with level based shooters – namely HP bloat. It is the easiest means, design wise, to differentiate between a lvl1 enemy and a lvl30 enemy. Borderlands really did suffer from this, which really hinders enjoyment of pure shooting.

          • Thurgret says:

            I don’t really see anyone telling people to stop enjoying games, but warning people that a game is bad before they play it is fair enough. Personally, I tried out Borderlands 2 on a free weekend and thought it was rubbish.

      • Zandolar says:

        Yeah but while the world was cool, exploring was fun and the gun variety was cool, the actual gameplay in Borderlands wasn’t very good. So I’m all for this because the gameplay in SW reboot was fantastic.
        This sounds like it will be better in co-op though, which is what I generally find about arpg style games.

    • Flopdong says:

      Personally, “First person Diablo” made this go from one of my most anticipated games to ‘meh’. Skill-based shooter and RPG is a terrible combination. Borderlands and its ilk are awful, and completely destroy what makes a good shooter fun. A skilled player should ALWAYS be able to kill a shitty player, and a level-based system is the complete opposite of that ideal.
      The fact that the preview doesn’t say anything about a level system give me hope, but Adam literally could not have picked a worse title for this article IMO

      • piercehead says:

        “A skilled player should ALWAYS be able to kill a shitty player, and a level-based system is the complete opposite of that ideal.”

        Come again? Neither this game, Borderlands or Diablo involve players killing players.

  2. Utsunomiya says:

    Damn, that’s a shame.
    And the first game was quite a decent shooter, too!

  3. Bodaciouslamb says:

    The Diablo line is what piqued my interest as well. Haven’t played shadow warrior or the remake but this might bring me in. Even got me to create an account to comment

  4. engion3 says:

    The remake got boring but I appreciated what it was doing and how it went about it. Will try this one too.

  5. Det. Bullock says:

    Nice seeing they aren’t sitting on their laurels by delivering a mission pack sequel, though even that woulda have been cool.

  6. RegisteredUser says:

    Worth pointing out that the first Shadow Warrior mentioned in the review is currently only 3,49 EUR on Steam during the Summer Sale.
    I can also recommend the original Hard Reset for under 2 EUR. Both are great classic FPS fun!

    • Eclipse says:

      Hard Reset was quite mediocre honestly even if it was a solid start for the studio, and the Redux version actually looks worse than the original (check a comparison online) even if it adds a (pretty unuseful) katana to it.

      • Razumen says:

        I just finished the Redux version, it was a lot of fun actually. Playing it on hard you really get how they wanted the player to use all of the different modes of the guns together as each one usually complements another. The added dash ability really helped too.

        Graphics wise, they may have tuned it down a bit, but you’re not really going to notice a difference playing.

  7. JakeOfRavenclaw says:

    As someone who loves Borderlands 2: yeah, I’m down for more shooters with loot.

    I kinda hope they’ve toned down the enemy health this time–I burned out before the end of the first game in large part because fights started to feel like a slog in which you just had to hit the big enemies with your sword over and over again until they fell over. Slicing up huge mobs of the little guys was pure heaven though.

    • zxcasdqwecat says:

      *bish slap*

      • Flopdong says:

        Thank you so much for being here to slap everyone who says Borderlands is a good game! You da real MVP

  8. Banks says:

    The upgrade system was the thing I disliked the most about the remake and I’m not sure If the sequel is a step in the right direction in that sense.

    Loot, XP bars and locked abilities are so fucking boring.

    • Zandolar says:

      I disagree tbh, I found gradually adding new sword moves throughout the game kept it fresh.
      I know people bang on about unlocks in games and how “it wasn’t like this back in the day”. However, it really was.

      Old school FPS games used to gate their weapons so that it would give you a new one every few levels. Usually at first you could only use the powerful new weapon sporadically due to lack of ammo, then the game gave you more and more until it became usable constantly and a new weapon became the fun new toy.

      This has been replaced by unlocks on a character screen. It’s really not so different though.

  9. UncleLou says:

    That sounds fantastic, actually.

    • Viroso says:

      Yeah I think the only negativity in this impression write up came from expectations unmet, not from what the game actually offered.

  10. Senethro says:

    It could work. These guys are smart enough to do it.

  11. TΛPETRVE says:

    After the brilliantly focused and minimalistick DOOM, the clunky and cluttered nature of Shadow Warrior and similar stuff just keeps rubbing me the wrong way. Still wishing it all the best, but I’ll probably end up skipping.

  12. vorador says:

    The first was great fun, and this looks like it’s going to be the same or better.

    Now, if Serious Sam 4 comes out this year will be great for classic style FPS.

  13. renzollama says:

    That sounds fantastic to me, as someone who didn’t particularly love the combat in the original reboot but does love Destiny, Borderlands, and (to a slightly lesser extent) The Division. If the combat system is greatly improved and it’s now a 4-player coop loot game, count me in.

  14. Synesthesia says:

    this actually sounds good. (Procedural levels aside, i almost never like those, even less on a first person shooter. )

  15. PopeRatzo says:

    Oh no. Did they really turn Shadow Warrior into another squad-based shooter that will almost certainly need a persistent internet connection?

    What’s next, microtransactions?

    • Ancient Evil says:

      Yes, it’s always more fun to get upset about game features you imagine in your head than the ones that have actually been given any indication of existing.

  16. xjohnnyquidx says:

    Loved the first one, will definitely be getting this one. That said, I’m a bit concerned. Many gamers tend to be gluttons for punishment, and want that true challenge. That’s why they play stuff like Dark Souls. It spanks you and dares you to keep playing. All the footage I’ve seen of Shadow Warrior 2 is just the player easily shredding through demons like God Mode is on. It’s probably just set that way for the E3 playable demo, but I’m worried the game may be too easy and we’ll all end up beating the main campaign in 5 hours, finish all side quests, maybe playing it again with friends on the hardest difficulty, and then quitting it because it’s just too fucking easy.

  17. CitizenX3639 says:

    I just recently finished Hard Reset redux and Shadow Warrior was easily the best shooter of 2013, so no doubt I am totally pumped for anything from this crew.

  18. haldolium says:

    Could be nice, but a preview just doesn’t cut it since it remains to be seen how long/how much fun this will be.

    70 weapons might sound great on paper, but when I think of an ‘endless’ loot-based FPS such as Borderlands or Dying Light it could quickly become very little.

    I wouldn’t expect the game to be bad, although it remains to be seen if this will be fun for more then a few weeks.

    • zxcasdqwecat says:

      *slap*

      • haldolium says:

        no need for violence :(

        • haldolium says:

          also to be clear, FWH FPS > existing loot shooters (and especially Borderlands). But it still remains to be seen. They managed HR and SW extremely well for my taste, but you can screw up a lot more if you chose this direction.

          For example, while not being tremendously bad, Vermintide is dead to me after just one month. I don’t even care for add content, since its just lacking for keeping me excited over a longer time.

      • Tinotoin says:

        I approve of your consistent slaps of disagreement. They amuse me greatl[slapped]

  19. GallonOfAlan says:

    +1 for the ‘Enjoyed the remake up to a point but it got samey” camp.

    Not sure about this. I think I want my Shadow Warrior made of fun levels with lots of secrets and more shooting than melee.

  20. Premium User Badge

    Aitrus says:

    I can barely read a single RPS article without hearing how amazing DOOM is. 0.0

    • Adam Smith says:

      DOOM is amazing.

    • Premium User Badge

      Qazinsky says:

      Ever had that paranoid feeling that the people writing the articles are following you around specifically and repeating that thing that bugs you?

      Well, you’re not paranoid, RUN!

  21. Farnbeak says:

    I really respect the previous games of the studio, but this one seems to go the wrong direction.

    SW1 strong point is exactly that it innovated but also nurtured and kept itself inside the corridor shooter genre boundaries, focusing entirely on combat dynamism and mechanics (its pace broken only by small portions of secrets and jokes) and thats where it succeeded.

    Now while SW2 amps up the gorefest moving 1 step towards better feedback and immersion, it then moves 2+ steps back by breaking immersion and hurting the dynamics of the game by throwing all that ‘RPG’ analytical data like dmg numbers, tooltips, hp bars with important text like resistances and weaknesses under it.
    Thats just distilating all the sensory-focused visceral reflex action that SW1 did right with parts of other genres, requiring slower analytical approach (and usually distorting game balance as well, creating more bulletsponginess as a result is one example).

    I’d also point out that its an entirely different problem how those rpg elements work out in COOP compared to singleplayer. Generally they create significant and unneeded gaps of downtime, ruining the chaotic coop dynamism even more :(

    That was my main gripe with the new game, but I would also agree that procedural elements result in lower quality content. Amount of generated content doesn’t matter (‘a bazillion of borderlands guns’), only its variety matters and its still usually better in handcrafted games.
    Thus hearing about ’70’ guns as well as loot system and repeatable missions (if grind possible – balance/costs will most surely accomodate that) makes me sad.

    I have just one plea for the developers!
    Please include a separate setting/option at least for coop mode to ‘automate/standartize’ the progression system as fully as possible. I know you are proud of whatever new systems you are creating, but please do not force them like no matter what, you can create a major selling point that way, at least for me and my wife. She won’t bother reading the tooltips or picking up loot when all we want is to drink wine and squish those demon hearts!
    As if no coop in your previous titles wasnt bad enough…
    (I know developers checked the SW1 section here on RPS, hope they see this.)

    • Premium User Badge

      Qazinsky says:

      Considering they mention 70 weapons rather than “bazillion guns”, I got the impression that the weapons are handmade, rather than randomized, and that you then modify them the way you want, if you want.

      I don’t know if that makes any difference to you, but that’s the impression I got anyway.

      • Farnbeak says:

        Yes, it’s not a bazillion, so we won’t have an algorythmical generation of damage values, but I’ve yet to see a game that has >20 handcrafted guns. What I mean is that those 70 possibly are a result of 10 basic weapons (at least 3 of them melee) with 7 possible modifications. This returns us to the argument of Amount Variety.

        P.s. Come to think of it SW1 had 7 possible mod configurations for each weapon + 2 demon weapons. Technically thats 51! They even had unique models…
        I think you get my idea :)

  22. Unsheep says:

    I was skeptical at first but this game is looking more and more awesome. It’s a wonderful throwback to games like Serious Sam, Painkiller and Bulletstorm. It’s nice to see this sub-genre of FPS back in business.

  23. Renevent says:

    Sounds awesome, enjoyed the first Shadow Warrior and adding some Diablo-ish mechanics is a great compliment to the excellent FPS gameplay already established by the first game.

  24. Metr13 says:

    So… They took an awesome game and ruined it.

    Grand.

  25. Lintire says:

    Liking the changes to gameplay.

    Hating the changes to narrative and level design. If that’s some separate campaign, sure, but otherwise I sincerely doubt I’m going to enjoy this one as much as the first.

    Procedural generation and general randomization in level design, feel free to just go die.