shadow-warrior-3-review

Slay dragons, make mischief.

The Shadow Warrior franchise has experienced its fair share of transformations since its 3D Realms debut in 1997.  Lo Wang, the series’ protagonist, is a wisecracking ninja whose appearance and mannerisms have changed dramatically between the ’97 original and the 2013 reboot.  The transition from his older iteration to the more youthful version many players are now familiar with works well with the fast-paced gun and swordplay the series is known for.  Many fans were excited to see a third outing with the modern Shadow Warrior after the strong reception to the reboot and the 2016 sequel.  But this latest title was poised to be the most boisterous, action-packed experience yet with nods to recent arena shooters with its return to the essentials. We played to see if the developers, Flying Wild Hog, lived up to expectations in our review of Shadow Warrior 3.

What Kind of Game Is Shadow Warrior 3?

Shadow Warrior 3, like its predecessors, is a first-person shooter with a healthy dose of swordplay.  This game in particular cuts down on the complicating factors that were in Shadow Warrior 2 in favor of a frenetic arena shooter, clearly inspired by the successes of Doom and Doom Eternal.  What SW3 adds to the emergent “Doomlike” formula includes ninja-style movement like wall-runningsword combat, and a pretty neat twist on finishing moves.  Additionally, Lo Wang’s character now sports a full head of hair, rattles off jokes, pop culture references, and even memes, channeling a Duke Nukem-style repertoire of one-liners, minus the problematic humor.

The story is kept simple, you’re reuniting with former enemies to take down a dragon that threatens to consume the world, and have to use every weapon and trick in your arsenal to do so.  The result is a game that, when (or in some instances, if) it works properly, is a wild, concise ride, if at times not challenging, without the trappings of larger-budget titles but also missing some key essentials.  This review will look into Shadow Warrior 3 in terms of its story, gameplay, audio and visual design, among other factors, to see how it stacks up.

Lo Wang Saves the World

The story picks up after the escapades of previous Shadow Warrior titles, with Lo Wang narrating to the player about his latest misfortunes fending off the Dragon threatening to destroy the world after being released at the end of Shadow Warrior 2.  The former ninja assassin enlists the help of former nemesis and disgraced billionaire Orochi Zilla in a quest to harness the power of his deceased friend Hoji, the God of Mischief.  Your quest brings you across multiple regions in the game’s Neo-Feudal Japan setting and introduces new characters in the form of the sorceress Motoko, and the Tanuki, her adorable spirit animal.  The plot is simplistic and, even though the characters are often fun, it takes a backseat to the gameplay.

A ‘Doomlike’ With Some Killer Twists

The gameplay of Shadow Warrior 3 signals a streamlining of features compared to those from previous SW titles.  Most enemy health bars, missions,  mini maps, and procedurally generated maps are gone; instead, there are new additions like a simple weapon and character upgrade system where you can spend points found either in levels or by completing challenges.  There are three difficulties you can play the game, Easy, Medium, and Hard, and there are only autosaves as of now, no manual saves or chapter select, which we’ll touch on later.  There are 7 weapons that, in their basic forms, are fairly similar to any given arena shooter’s array of weapons until you upgrade them.  The enemies you fight are largely Yokai, or Japanese demons in this context, who stand in your way in the many arenas you’ll have to fight through to complete your quest.

On the surface, this appears much like a Doom clone, but beneath that is an array of clever changes to the formula.  One is how seamlessly you can integrate your sword, the “Dragontail”, in between shots taken with the weapons you acquire along the way for any situation.  Elemental attacks are not unusual in these games, but the electric and ice attacks particularly stand out for how they can stun-lock bigger opponents and chain damage in SW3.  The game is highly self-aware in how it implements plenty of these mechanics, with Lo Wang and Hoji referring to recent trends in video games to use the grappling hook, for instance.  Wall-running and traversal, including simple jumping and dashing in the air, is satisfying and works rather well.  But what stands out the most is the Finisher.

Finishers in this game have more beneficial functions than the glory kills in Doom and Doom Eternal.  Despite not having a wide variety of kill animations, but still a unique one for each enemy, this game bestows you with a different weapon or buff for all but one variety of non-boss Yokai you encounter.  To activate these finishers you’ll simply have to spend “Finisher Points” if the input prompt shows to instantly kill an enemy, even if they’ve not been damaged.  You can gain Finisher Points either by killing enemies or finding the yellow spawn points marked similarly to health and ammo spawn points, and you’ll eventually have access to a reserve of 3 points.  1 is spent for smaller enemies, 2 are spent for larger ones, and 3 is used only for the Gassy Obariyon, the biggest enemy.  Upon executing this move, you’ll be given Gore Weapons.

Gore Weapons are a fun feature in this game, featuring different abilities based on the enemies they’re acquired from.  Even the animations before getting them are highly entertaining, from stealing a Hattori’s sword and cleaving them in half, to cooking a Chef Oboru Guruma’s head in its own body’s ‘oven’, complete with a timer going off to signify it’s done.  You’ll gain deadly swords, hammers, bombs that freeze groups of enemies, grenades that stun-lock and devastate entire arenas, and more.  The only enemy who has a Finisher that doesn’t bestow a “Gore Weapon” per se is the Shogai, the lowest-tier enemy, but instead, you get a massive health buff, doubling your Max HP.  Using these Gore Weapons, especially on Medium and Hard difficulty, will prove essential to surviving arenas, but more than that, getting them and using them is macabre yet darkly funny.

The Visuals

Shadow Warrior 3 features an attractive showcase of particle effects, colorful enemies and gore when you take them down, and lighting that pops in the parts where the sun is rising or setting.  The game has some shortcomings in the CG cutscenes, where the graphics look quite dated, as it feels rather clear that the love and attention were wisely put into the gameplay.  The cutscenes are short and serve to showcase Lo Wang’s swashbuckling adventures, supported by a small cast of characters each with varying levels of exasperation for Wang’s antics.  The game runs at a crisp framerate while in action, but the cutscenes are at an intentional, lower, more cinematic speed.  But there are particular highlights to how the visuals are rendered.

Touching again on the Finishers, these are rendered excellently, with a great deal of variety.  Finishing off these enemies is a mini cutscene you can’t skip, and you’ll often not want to because of how well-rendered they are, despite their brutality.  Weapons you wield in the game are well-detailed and distinctive, and enemies sport some crazy designs that are aesthetically very different from Doom allowing it to stand out, with wild color schemes.  Among the best of them is one of the only 2 traditional bosses in the game, the Ancient Cock, whose fight is probably among the best parts of the game.

Stages are well-designed, although several are somewhat similar to one another.  Highlights include multiple instances of you running across the back of the Dragon, the icy heart of a massive forest, and the ruined structures surrounding a dam.  You’ll even find yourself inside a massive beast, going through its body and crossing red blood cells to reach your destination.  Traps in arenas are also decently varied and feature creative and bloody ways to destroy your enemies en masse if you can kite them into the affected areas.

Overall there’s plenty to enjoy about the game on a visual scale, be it from enemy designs, gore, and stage design. It lacks what other Shadow Warrior games had in other friendly NPCs, the only one of any note in this game being Motoko’s Tanuki, her spirit animal you must chase and later have accompanied you on your quest.  Despite trailers and other footage seemingly suggesting more interaction with these characters, such as direct support from Motoko against enemies, instead, you’ll mostly interact with them via dialogue.

The Sound

This game has a pretty killer soundtrack, which feels like a standard set reasonably high by Doom and its ilk.  The music appears to be a fusion of Asian influences with pounding beats and it helps keep the energy up when fighting off hordes of Yokai in the arenas.  Gunfire and sword slashes are all reasonably satisfying to hear and not overdone, and the best sound design in most cases is in executing finishers, particularly Chef Oboru Guruma and Hattori enemies.  There’s something special about having a demon defeated in such a gross, visceral manner, with the accompanying sound being so oddly pleasing to the ear.

The Issues

Shadow Warrior 3 was a significant departure from the other games in the series in several ways, and as such, this is a radical change in direction and unusual territory for the developers.  There are several technical issues I encountered, as well as some oddly absent features from the game.  Before a patch was issued after I had finished my initial playthrough, there was even at least one game-breaking bug, which could have even just been fixed or remedied if the game had a couple of other key features.

One issue is that, while often being implemented well, the grappling could easily have issues if you approach the indicated green rings from the wrong angle, often dropping you before you could reach the ledge.  This particular issue presented itself in two bugs I encountered in the game.  One was in Chapter 6, whereupon respawning after dying to this issue, the game also decided to pile on by spawning the raft you’re supposed to get on in an unreachable, lethal spot.  This problem felt like the one which could be remedied by restarting the chapter, but the game doesn’t even enable that.  The result I encountered was that I was unable to proceed and locked in at the checkpoint with this bug baked into my playthrough, and I was forced, after spending 4 hours getting to that point, to restart my entire playthrough.  Mercifully, a Restart Level function was added just before release, but still no chapter select.

This bug appears to be patched out, but the missing chapter select feature does not.  This doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request, given any recent arena shooter, really any shooter has this feature, and the game marks each chapter with achievements.  This causes another frustration which will surely be echoed by other players in that, to 100% complete the game, you’ll need to find all the weapon and character upgrade points.  This stat-building system is a fun way to empower yourself in arenas, but with a combination of no indicators for how many of any given points are present or remaining in levels, you are forced to play through the game multiple times to get them all unless you perfectly see everything.  This feels like a poor implementation of replay value, and I spent multiple runs finding everything but felt ultimately blasé at the prospect of doing any more.

Whether it be the inconsistent grappling mechanic resulting in having to close and reopen the game for a grapple point to spawn properly such as in Chapter 9, or the aforementioned issue found in Chapter 6, it feels clear the testing process didn’t check for as much.  The game, when it runs, is a lot of fun, but it feels as though it is covering up for a lack of replay value with how it is structured, and this can be effectively ruined as soon as you run into any bugs.

One Noticeable Change

The voice recasting of Mike Moh was met with controversy from the fans of this series, but he portrayed the character well and is best-enjoyed when he banters with his supporting cast.  He is rather awkward when talking to himself, especially when he sings, but makes amusing pop culture and meme references, and I often found myself agreeing with what he was saying.  He made several succinct points about commonly mistaken differences between dragons and wyverns, the Fast and the Furious movies, and superhero tropes.  He was even oddly wholesome at times and serves as a solid adjustment to the otherwise problematic and poorly aged archetypes set by his classic self and Duke Nukem.  The result is an unhinged character who channels modern Deadpool energy, and it’s pretty fun.

The Verdict

Shadow Warrior 3 is like a gory theme park ride, in that it is fast-paced, thrilling, but short.  You can complete the game in anywhere between 8-10 hours on higher difficulties but can speed through it in a far shorter time on Easy, achieving 100% completion at around 20 hours spent.  You’ll be delighted by the varied enemy designs, visually appealing backdrops, and creatively brutal ways to take down your foes.  But a more apt thing to add is that it’s not a headliner ride, in that you’ll enjoy it once, carry fond memories, but feel as though enjoying it again to see what you didn’t notice will be tedious.

This concludes our review on Shadow Warrior 3!  The game has some genuinely great ideas, but it is hampered by a handful of pronounced technical issues and a general lack of replayability.  I would thoroughly enjoy more Shadow Warrior games in this formula if Flying Wild Hog fixes the pressing issues I encountered, though, as it shows promise.