Wot I Think: Shadow Warrior 2

Shadow Warrior 2 [official site] could have gone horribly wrong. The 2013 reboot succeeded because it took the principles of a nineties FPS and dragged them kicking and bleeding into the twenty-first century, adding superb melee combat controls, a well thought-out upgrade system, but sticking with linear levels packed with easter eggs and secrets. It was the best of the old and the best of the new.

For their sequel, Flying Wild Hog have kept the fundamentals but built an entirely different game atop them. Part Borderlands, part interactive chainsaw massacre, it throws everything at the wall and hopes there’s enough blood to make most of it stick.

And stick it does. Shadow Warrior 2 isn’t an unqualified success but its big gamble pays off handsomely.

That gamble is to trust that the movement and combat of the first game were strong enough to support a loot-laden first-person ARPG setup. The structure creaks occasionally, particularly when there’s so much loot in your trousers that it all becomes a little meaningless, but it’s such an impressively strange thing to have built that I half-expected the whole thing to topple over and smash to bits.

You’re still moving through a series of missions, visiting environments that range from demon- and drug-ravaged suburbs to cyberpunk citadels and rabbit-infested forests. The main difference, initially, is that you have a hub to visit between missions, with a couple of shops to trade in (one for guns, one for melee weapons) and questgivers to natter with. Some missions are optional and while there is a linear story to follow, you can sometimes choose to visit one area before another.

Oh, and the maps are procedural, to an extent. You might not even know if you hadn’t been told. There’s enough of a core to each area that they all feel crafted, it’s the things around that core that are reconfigured every time you visit. A street and its buildings might be slightly longer or have a different junction at the end, or a bridge or cave entrance might be in a different position, or not there at all. This stitching together of parts does tend to lead to large, open spaces, with few tunnels and corridors. That’s in service to the new tricks Wang (and whatever other characters you create for co-op play) has to play with though.

You can’t fly in Shadow Warrior 2 but you can come pretty damn close. Double jumping is in from the start and the dash/dodge on the shift key can be used in mid-air to propel you in any direction. There’s even a button for accelerated falling (there’s no fall damage) so you can pull off the kind of hero landing that movie Deadpool made a mockery of. And speaking of Deadpool, the baddies sure do enjoy dressing like him.

As soon as you start slicing and shooting, you’ll see the other big change from the previous game. Loot. Almost every chest you open and enemy that you kill drops loads of the stuff, from medikits to cash and bullets. Most importantly, they drop upgrades in various forms. Some are attached to weapons to change their statistics and others buff your armour or abilities. They’re like Diablo’s gems, plugging into items to change or improve their qualities. You can fit three to a weapon and they’re recyclable so you can experiment with them without being punished.

Customisable weapons then. I thought they might make the game too busy, introducing a preparation phase before the slaughter can begin. There’s an element of that, given that bosses and minibosses alike have specific immunities, resistances and vulnerabilities. I’ve been forced to retreat in order to reshuffle my upgrade combinations and make a truly killer weapon, and other times I’ve died and respawned multiple times (there’s a punishment for doing so, but it’s not particularly harsh) before throwing my hands in the air and admitting I’m going to have to retool my favourite chainsaw.

Picking a favourite weapon is almost impossible. I mean, it should be the chainsaw, right? That thing has the most hideously, brutally, brilliant control scheme I’ve ever seen on a bladed weapon in a game. You can wave it around vaguely using the left mouse button but hold down the right button and you get fine control so you can cut enemies every which way. They slide apart exactly where a blade or bullets hits them, and carry on fighting with all kinds of holes in them and pieces missing. If you like gore, Shadow Warrior 2 delivers in spades. And buckets.

I’ve been distracted by dismemberment, sorry. Weapons. The problem with the weapons is that there are too many of them. You can fill your mousewheel and number keys with a full arsenal fairly quickly, but you’ll find more and more as you progress. The sheer variety plus the configurable nature of each one left me overfaced, like a dog that eats so much kibble it starts to feel queasy, then vomits and then eats that vomit. I didn’t stop playing or fiddling with my new guns and blades, you see, but I didn’t really know what to do with them all.

Eventually, I settled on five weapons at a time, occasionally switching one of my selection out for a new one. Two blades, three guns. That worked for me, in terms of being able to easily select what I needed when it was needed, and left me not quite as overwhelmed as I’d been previously.

There are loads of skills to collect as well and diary entries and letters and folktales and fortune cookies. I’ve even been replaying parts of the game to listen to conversations I missed the first time around – those conversations take place between Wang and the new occupant of his brain, a hostage he rescues at the beginning of the game. Her soul is transplanted into Wang for safekeeping and they bicker and squabble.

The humour doesn’t always land for me but I like that Lo Wang’s jokes fall flat in the game as much as they do in my living room. It’s a good setup, surrounding him with straight men and women, and dropping the most serious and stuck-up of the lot in his head is a better play than pairing him up with a trickster demon as in the previous game. It allows Wang to be an obnoxious little shit with a sweet protective side that occasionally comes out, and gives his companion space to groan at his bad jokes, slap down his worst tendencies, and put him in his place from time to time. She’s not held up as the bright side of the twosome though, coming across as arrogant and a little too in love with the power trips of the villainous corporation at the heart of the whole mess.

I’m done with the story but I really want to jump back in and replay with some friends in co-op. Heck, I’d quite happily keep replaying areas and trying to get some ridiculously overpowered weaponry. There’s a wealth of things to do, even when that first playthrough is complete. It feels like a starter before the main course.

Even after playing at E3, and enjoying what I’d played, I wasn’t convinced the looting and weapon-crafting and -switching would hold up over five, ten, fifteen or twenty hours. I do think it all becomes a little too noisy at times and when there’s so much stuff happening in my inventory and on the battlefield, I have a tendency to stop caring about any of it. This is a full frontal assault on the senses and sometimes I wished it would slow down or take a break from the constant loot drops. That feeling never lasted more than the span between one mob of enemies and the next though. Flying Wild Hog have made an exceptional game and all of quibbles fade away when I’m in the thick of the action, slicing and dicing.

I don’t know how much credit Devolver deserve, though I suspect at least of a nod of appreciation should be aimed in their direction. The role of a publisher varies from one project to the next, and indeed from one publisher to the next. Shadow Warrior 2 feels like a game that could only be released by a publisher willing to trust in a developer’s wild ideas rather than asking for more of the same. If Shadow Warrior 2 had been more of the same, it might not have had quite as many rough edges, but it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as exciting.

In the year of a brilliantly revived DOOM, Shadow Warrior 2 is the great alternative FPS. It’s approach to combat is similarly kinetic but instead of DOOM’s constant forward momentum, here you’re jumping, dodging and dashing in every direction. The placement of those health, ki and ammo restoration points around the maps makes entire areas feel like an arena that you can pinball around, leading enemies on a merry chase from one set of explosives and elemental traps to the next.

It’s DOOM without the claustrophobia. A Serious Sam + Borderlands cocktail with weighty, thumping, exciting, speedy combat. Diablo in first-person, with wide open spaces, packs of enemies, giant bosses and more weapons than you can shake a wang at. Shadow Warrior 2 is anarchic, excessive, ridiculous, occasionally spectacular and almost entirely wonderful.

Shadow Warrior 2 is out later today, for Windows (with Mac and Linux ports to come), through Steam, gog and direct from Devolver.

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  1. anHorse says:

    Oh thank god

    I really thought they’d ruined it when the borderlands style stuff was revealed

  2. Plastic Legs says:

    Really looking forward to this now. Should I use mouse and keyboard or stick with the gamepad though?

    • jusplathemus says:

      That’s a good question. I prefer the mouse for aiming, but the first Shadow Warrior was surprisingly great with a gamepad though. I’ll definitely give both of them a chance.

    • PiiSmith says:

      I hope this some kind of joke, which I did not get.
      This is a PC site and this is an FPS so there is only one solution and it is not a gamepad.

      • Vermintide says:

        Come now, old chap. Being PC gaming veterans, we have earned the comfort of playing from the sofa in front of our 50-inch TVs, don’t you think? And this is just the sort of game to enjoy that sort of indulgence. Mice, keyboards and desks are for the more serious affairs of strategy, patience, and dominion; times where one has a free hand for a nice cup of tea and a few bourbon creams whilst plotting your next move.

        Online play is another matter of course. One would, naturally, be foolhardy to give up the precision input of a well-honed laser mouse in a game of Counter-Strike. We all know that!

      • Regicider 12.4% says:

        I like to have options like Doom Clone navigation on a full Rock Band band’s setup, drums for shooting and everything.

        The Personal Home Computer Entertainment System has come far in peripheral optionals since the days of (recommendedly required) digital 8-directional one-button joysticks or games that wouldn’t even start without a device connected to a sound card’s game port.

        Also even further back when home computers were those flat connecting-to-the-TV boxes with built-in keyboards it was fairly common to play computer games (no matter what genre) with joysticks in the vicinity of a TV, perhaps even on the floor near a sofa!

        The PC Master Race Gestapo that won’t acknowledge the Optional Options of a Personal Computer doesn’t have resources to watch anything outside the Cyberspaces anyway so body/machine interface however ergonomic you like.

      • shde2e says:

        PC is all about customisation and choice. So as PC users we should be the last people complaining that someone chooses differently than us.

        Besides, we’re all adults here (or like to pretend we are :p ), so why would we get annoyed just because someone does something differently then us because thats how they prefer it? I’d say we have better things to do than complain about how people enjoy themselves “wrongly”.

  3. Pravin Lal's Nuclear Arsenal says:

    Oh. Well then, add my sigh of relief to the crowd.
    I still would have preferred a bigger, better Shadow Warrior 1, but this is more than acceptable. Like a dog vomiting on the floor: it’s fine, as long as you get the fuck off the couch first. The couch to respect, in this metaphor, is me having fun.

    …Look, I’ll definitely play it, that’s what I’m saying, all right?

    • Vorrin says:

      Wait, but if the dog is vomiting on the floor, what’s the importance of having left the couch before that? So you’re instantly ready to clean it? I can totally picture people just tossing their head back and snuggling deeper into the couch, refusing to aknowledge the dog-puke-on-floor problem, for a few more hours

      • Pravin Lal's Nuclear Arsenal says:

        Friends! Gentlemen! Esteemed colleagues,
        it was a rather poor choice of words on my part. Allow me to rephrase what I wrote: “you” is the dog. As in, it’s fine if the dog pukes, as long as it does so on the floor rather than on the couch. As in, it’s fine if Shadow Warrior 2 has loot and hubs, as long as they don’t get in the way of the core gameplay loop of hurting demons (which would make the couch, as in the core gameplay, filthy, which is awful, whereas cleaning the floor is quick and easy).

        And that, dear colleagues, was all I was trying to communicate. I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience and misunderstandings I might have caused, Adam is much better at handling dog puke than I may ever dream to be.

        Sincerely, etc. etc.

    • ooshp says:

      If you’re the couch in the metaphor, is that the couch with a dog still sitting on top of it, or the couch sitting next to a dog eating its sick? And is the dog a metaphor or is it a real dog?

      Also what breed, and what did it eat for breakfast and how recently did it chew its genitals?

  4. Kefren says:

    Sounds good enough that I might even overcome my aversion to double jumping (and only use it if necessary to progress). Also, since this is on GOG, I can get it DRM-free, unlike Doom with its mysterious Denuvo (which wasn’t even mentioned on the Steam page when I last checked).

    • Mokinokaro says:

      Denuvo bills itself as an anti-tamper system more than DRM. Valve therefore doesn’t classify it as DRM, though I argue they should.

      Denuvo itself is pretty harmless, though I understand not liking DRM in principle.

      • Kefren says:

        Reminds me of the Sim City stuff, and the publisher’s claims that their use of online servers was nothing to do with DRM … :-)

        To my mind, anything that prevents you backing up and being able to install and play a game any time I want – regardless of servers or online connections or what PC I am on – is DRM. And I suspect that’s what Denuvo does (requires connections to servers before the game will run, and maybe later too), though I’m not sure, since there isn’t a lot of clear info on the topic.

  5. Janichsan says:

    The 2013 reboot succeeded because it [added] … a well thought-out upgrade system…

    You think so? As much as I enjoyed the SW reboot, I thought the upgrade system to be one its weakest aspects. The two separate upgrade methods with often overlapping unlockable effects seemed unnecessarily convoluted.

    • elevown says:

      The upgrade system was great imo – and there were three resource types counting money for all your weapons. Each type had multiple pages of skills or buffs and you had freedom to upgrade whatever ways fit your play style and there were tiers to the upgrades too!

    • Monggerel says:

      I like upgrades because I can just use Cheat Engine to hack myself infinite resource points and buy every upgrade from the start.

      G effin G, game designers.

      • shde2e says:

        If you enjoy yourself with their game, I don’t think the game designers would consider themselves the losers :)

        They might get slightly peeved that you undid so much work by breaking all the balancing and progression with a sledgehammer, but if that’s how you enjoy it, by all means have fun!

  6. derbefrier says:

    So happy the game seems to be well received so far. I loved the 2013 reboot and have been hyped for this game ev we since it was announced. pre ordered this a couple days ago after watching some streams. Now I just gotta suffer through the work day untill I can get home and play it.

  7. Halk says:

    From the videos the melee looks so weightless though. It just looks like a dude waving weapons at holograms, with some exceptions where the blade stops against the enemy’s body and you see it cutting through. That thrust attack is the most egregious example, looking like an air push. I guess making impactful melee attacks without wrestling the camera controls away from the player may be too difficult.

    • TheRealHankHill says:

      It is completely weightless, the 2013 reboot was weightless too. The game is fun, but the combat has no oompf. I don’t get why people act like this is some breakthrough in melee combat, it’s just a playground that lets you slice limbs off and watch blood pour out.

  8. eljueta says:

    It sounds like a perfect weekend game. Will probably buy it when I have a free one :D

  9. DanMan says:

    HDR output officially supported, yay! I guess I must buy this now.

  10. Blowfeld81 says:

    All game publishers:

    It’s October, time to release every good game at once!

  11. Veeskers says:

    Is it still possible to turn off those dreadful little damage number popups every time you hit something?
    I’d hope the melee controls feel better than they did in the first one, too.

    • haldolium says:

      yeah you can turn off the damage numbers.

      Meelee seems basically the same (3 options there for the control scheme as well), but I think it might have become a bit more faster and therefore more responsive.

      But it also feels a little less weightful tbh. But that goes hand in hand with a not-as-good-as-it-should-be sound design that leaves much room for improvement.

      However, great game. Glad they didn’t fuck it up :)

  12. Daymare says:

    “It’s a good setup, surrounding him with straight men and women, and dropping the most serious and stuck-up of the lot in his head is a better play than pairing him up with a trickster demon as in the previous game.”

    I otoh played the game almost solely for the #bantz between Hoji and Wang, and later, Hoji’s story. He’s one of my favorite characters in games. He saw through Wang but instead of getting annoyed was in on his shit. Ultimately SW was mostly about him, I’d say.

    • Monggerel says:

      I actually liked Hoji too!
      He wasn’t too over the top jokesy, and kinda reminded me of Pritchard, one of the best parts of Do Sex: Human Resources.

      • Daymare says:

        That’s probably my favorite gobblification of this title now. Also I don’t know the name for the thing you did with Deus Ex.

    • Shinard says:

      I wouldn’t go that far, but I liked Hoji too. The dynamic between him and Wang made me think of a pair of roommates – they disagree at times, and they take the mick out of the other constantly, but there’s a friendship underneath that. Or, at least, both want to be friends because they know they’re stuck together. It was just a fun dynamic that got some really funny conversations.

      Plus, I thought the cynicism of Hoji was great at bringing out the… naivety, almost, of Wang. Like when he goes home to tool up, and Hoji is making fun of him for having a “Wang-cave”, his reaction shows how much Wang really does want to be a hero.

      • Daymare says:

        Yes, his (at times humorous) cynicism was a great part of the dynamic! That relationship just grew on me so unexpectedly. Plus, I totally dug his croaky voice.

        And I think he exposes a lot of Wang’s naivety just in one of their first conversations where Hoji talks about how no mortal except the Chosen One could pronounce his name. Ha!

  13. Premium User Badge

    AutonomyLost says:

    I have this purchased and can’t wait to play it! Thanks for the WIT, Adam.

  14. Premium User Badge

    AutonomyLost says:

    Also, for anyone who hasn’t searched for specific features prior to reading this comment section:

    -No Denuvo or any form of DRM

    -Uncapped FPS, Variable refresh rates available

    -21:9 Ultrawide support (!)

    -Controller support

    -Uses DX11

    -Temporal AA support

    -SSAA support

    -SLI support (!)

    -Customizable crosshair

    -Resolution scale slider

    -Full key mapping

    -FOV slider

    -Playing at 1080p ( at ultra settings ) FPS rates are = In a 660 – 40 fps / On a 970 – 60 fps
    Texture quality = 2 gb – High textures / 4 gb – Ultra textures
    You can turn off almost the entire HUD and Ui if you want, eg. Damage numbers and the enemy health bars.

    -You can disable and edit chromatic aberration / lens dirt / motion blur / DOF / lens flare

    -Steam Cloud support

    … So, there’s all that. Very perfect.

    • Dev says:

      This is awesome. Thanks. Perhaps all reviews should compile a similar list of haves and have nots for the PC versions. So sick of shoddy ports and developers rushing to “patch” them post-release.

      • Premium User Badge

        AutonomyLost says:

        I agree.

        • Pravin Lal's Nuclear Arsenal says:

          Great job with the list *thumbs up*, I actually was looking for framerate cap info. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Flying Wild Hog, but it’s still a heartwarming sight.
          Plus, I’m a sucker for customizable crosshairs.

          @Dev: check out TotalBiscuit’s channel. He starts every single one of his first impressions videos with a very detailed look at the options menu and does frequent “port reports” which are, well, exactly what it says on the tin. He never lets shoddy console ports off the hook.

  15. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    How comparible is the melee combat to Dark Messiah?

    • phelix says:

      As a fellow (presumably) Dark Messiah melee nut, let me offer my two cents.
      The melee is much, much faster than Messiah, even faster than the 2013 reboot it seems. The movement system allows you to semi-fly around the levels like an ADHD ninja on crack, which coincidentally (or is it!?) gives the gameplay a somewhat 90’s feel. Likewise, blocking requires good timing but is also very effective.
      The “power strikes” of the first game are gone (leaving you with standard quick slashes and Qi powers), but you can still direct the angle of your katana strikes by moving and looking around. The game also offers different “aim assist” options for this, though I haven’t played long enough to really get a feel for how the options make it different.
      Slicing up enemies is satisfying even though the dismemberment is often hidden behind giant splashes of blood. With the power strikes gone, the melee feels a tad weightless at times, but I still found myself using the katana more often than not for the sheer fun factor.
      There is a semi-procedural dismemberment system that slices the bodies at the exact place you hit them, which is also what makes the chainsaw satisfying to use. This is different from the 2013 reboot (and Messiah) where the sliceable body parts were premodeled, as you probably know.

      TL;DR: The melee combat is faster and slightly simplified, but overall still very satisfying (and for me the primary draw of the game).

      • DefaultVillain says:

        The power strikes are still there. Just click RMB and double-tap the directional key of your choice. They’re called Sting (w + RMB) and Vortex (a or d + RMB) now in the skills tree, and you get the force slash technique (s + RMB) as you progress.

  16. Premium User Badge

    AutonomyLost says:

    I’ve played a couple hours of this now, and I’d like to remark that: it’s god damned splendid.

    I love that it’s a PC development, soon-to-be-ported for the console market. It absolutely shows.

    It’s fun, stupid, puerile, violent, visceral, fast, frenetic, and satisfying. The performance is as-good-as or more than can be expected from any given modern card, i.e. a 980/1070/1080. It is (new)DOOM, but separate, and with a different vibe and rhythm. Check it out if you’re on the fence.

    • derbefrier says:

      agreed. played for a few hours last night and it was awesome. the game runs great ( getting around 100 fps on ultra with my 1060) the combat IMO is better than the first ( theres a parry key now!) it seems faster and more fluid. changing weapons in the middle of a fight also seems more fluid than i remember in the first. havent had a chance to co-op yet to try that out but first impressions are great.

    • phelix says:

      Seconded. I was shocked to discover that the game runs pretty great (40-60FPS on average) on medium settings on my Phenom II which is technically below minimum spec.

    • shde2e says:

      Thirded. My own laptop is getting on in years now (and was never really top-tier), meaning it has quite some problems running many of the latest and greatest.

      This game however ran impressively well even on relatively high settings. It’s actually outperforming many older titles with even better graphics somehow.

  17. elvirais says:

    Is it just me or does this look pretty generic visually? (I liked the original, getting old I guess)

  18. ZedClampet says:

    Well, at least Adam wasn’t offended by the dick jokes like the PC Gamer guy was.

  19. Cleave says:

    I’ve played for a few hours and I’m really not sure. I haven’t seen anyone mention the fact that they just throw multiple elite mobs at you all the time which just have huge health bars, it’s just so tanky in the worst way. I’ve now collected a few upgrades which give me health on kills and life drain and the most effective tactic is circling round an enemy while spamming the basic attack (the sting attack takes too long to charge so the damage output is much lower than the basic attack) and the life drain keeps my health topped up all the time. I think I’ve kind of broken the game for myself, it’s basically like playing Diablo as Barbarian without using any of the abilities, just left clicking.

    I’m playing with a friend on hard and 2 player difficulty, I’m considering dropping the difficulty to see if there are fewer boring tanky elite mobs. This is what I was afraid of when I heard it had a Diablo/Borderlands structure.

  20. RSW2002 says:

    Patch massively altered gameplay. Not the same game it was at release anymore.

  21. engion3 says:

    I am loving this game, much better than the first one, the new elements really shine. Only using 5 weapons?! Just rebind 7,8 to other keys. I honestly use all 8 of my weapons in fights.

    I picked the game up a little later (believe there’s been 3 patches) and the upgrades are not overwhelming and enemies don’t seem to be bullet sponges. Playing on second hardest difficulty.

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