Review – Shadow Warrior 3
The Wang is back and harder than ever with a new sack of weapons and loads of hot new jokes. Depending on when you got into the series you may have had mixed feeling about Shadow Warrior 2‘s direction. For myself, I liked the more linear focus of the first game over the seconds procedural generated level designs and less focused story. However, the second game added so many weapons, stats, RPG elements, and mission freedom that if that is what you enjoyed more than Shadow Warrior 3 may feel like a big step back. My point being, Shadow Warrior 3 goes back to the first games linear story focus, but it also improves it a lot.
We join Lo Wang amidst a completely destroyed Wang Cave, having a meltdown talking to action figures in his tighty-whities. This is where Lo Wang catches us up with the ending of two and a bit of an exposition dump about what’s happened since they released the massive dragon. We do get to play a few flashbacks through these segments where we are trying to take down the dragon, but ultimately Wang couldn’t finish and lost his mojo. Teaming up with his once rival Orochi Zilla, Wang sets off on a mission to get his mojo back and stop another demon invasion lead by the world-ending dragon.
The story takes us through some really great looking Feudal Japan locations while we hack ‘n’ shoot through waves of nasty demons. I really enjoyed all the designs of the levels even though a lot of it feels like small, interconnected platforming parts to get to the next battle arena. Not that this is necessarily bad, but it seems like they needed to continue to pepper in the new grapple hook and it can become repetitive in spots. When you’re just constantly slinging to bright green rings, then wall running, then grabbing the green rings, it becomes lackluster since there isn’t any challenge.
Luckily the grapple hook shines in the combat and that can be said for the whole game in general. Shadow Warrior 3 continues the series classic mix of Katana’s and ridiculous guns, but with improved movement, gore, and level interactivity. The gunplay improvements bring it much closer to the likes of DOOM‘s excellent frantic but tight gameplay. However, Shadow Warrior 3 adds in its own tweaks in areas. As I mentioned above the grapple hook is better utilized in combat since it increases mobility. Whipping around the arenas to get vantage points, or to get out of trouble, and chaining them together with wall run spots creates some great moments.
Another aspect that took some inspiration from DOOM are the gore kills. During combat you’ll pick up chaos orbs that will build a four sectioned meter and depending on the size of the enemy you’ll need to use more than one section. What adds to the gore kills is that there are benefits to it besides them being awesome looking. Each enemy will provide something and depending on the situation you may want to choose which enemies you prioritize gore killing first. One enemy will provide you with over-health, others offer various different attacks ranging from elemental bombs, massive swords, and two shoulder mounted chain guns. All of the gore kills are very well animated and very satisfying; however, I would have liked to see more than just one kill animation per enemy.
It’s a good thing that the gore kills add another dimension to the gameplay because there aren’t that many weapons Lo Wang has. He his trusty Katana, revolver, shotgun, grenade launcher, dual machine-guns, a beam rifle, and a shuriken crossbow. After what Flying Wild Hog did with the weapon variety in Shadow Warrior 2, this is a tiny list of weapons. Luckily there is an upgrade system that does alters each weapon like adding electricity to the machine guns, headshots with the revolver blows them up causing splash damage and turning your shotgun fully automatic and no reloading.
There are also character ability upgrades that range from increasing base health, increase damage from using environmental traps and items, and even give Lo Wang the ability to auto-heal. Each weapon and ability have three upgrades, each upgrade costing more orbs while offering better rewards. These orbs are obtained in three ways: story progression, exploration, and challenges. While the first two are pretty self-explanatory, the challenges offer additional incentive to use everything available to you to earn that upgrade orb.
A huge portion of what made Shadow Warrior 3 addicting was the level design and more specifically the combat areas. I mentioned before about how the grapple hook adds a lot to the flow of the combat section, but it’s because the arenas are well thought out and designed. Thanks in large part to the interactable aspects and traps, these arenas always feel dynamic and offer an extra layer to the gameplay. Besides all of that it is a visual feast for the eyes seeing massive blades, or pendulums swinging through chunking up enemies while you’re grappling around.
Speaking of visual feasts, I really love the art design and color pallet used here. The level designs all look really nice and stand out from each other with a blend of feudal Japan and mystical Yokai designs that always offers something cool to look at. The same goes for the enemy designs, of which there is always a nice variety. I already talked about how each enemy has a unique gore move, but the general gore deformation has been upgraded. Shadow Warrior has always had a good amount of gore, but now flesh rips off and chunks depending on damage to that area. Add that with all the de-limbing that comes with the Katana strikes and you have a great symphony of blood.
While I really love the art design and direction, unfortunately there are many moments where it doesn’t shine. I played it on PC with an i7-9700k, RTX 2070, and 16gb of RAM at 1440p with everything on High and I was averaging 70-80fps. There are some weird hiccups here and there that would cause the framerate to crash hard for a little, and there seems to be an issue with texture loading. The draw distance is fairly low, and there isn’t much of an attempt to hide the loading. This is very apparent during all the grapple hook and platforming sections when you’re moving quickly through large spaces. Also, the cutscenes are washed out and don’t look sharp at all. There is a weird blur to the cutscenes to the point where going back to the gameplay looks better.
If you’re a fan of the series the first thing you may notice is that voice acting has had a recast. Jason Liebrecht has been the voice of Lo Wang since the start of the reboot series, and he was even voicing Wang in this games first promotional teasers. However, Flying Wild Hog decided they wanted to have an actual Japanese voice actor doing the voice over for Lo Wang, and that isn’t a bad thing. It’s also not a bad thing because the new voice actor Mike Moh does a great job capturing Wang’s sarcasm and cadence. It’s definitely noticeable, but I quickly got used to it and forgot about the change since the writing is still classic Shadow Warrior.
Besides the voice acting, which isn’t amazing across the board, but it’s still well delivered, the sound design is punchy. All the guns have great sound effects and are all satisfying in their own way. Between the punchy guns, there is the crunchy and squishy sounds of the gore. Activating an arena trap and hearing the ring of blades swirling and chopping up a horde of enemies into chunks is always enjoyable. The soundtrack has a couple standout songs that always got me pumped whenever they came on. However, it was a bit hit or miss because I really only noticed a couple of songs. The others are fine, but definitely aren’t as memorable.
I absolutely enjoyed every minute of Shadow Warrior 3 and for myself I really liked they decided to go back to that linear story focused design from the first game. However, I would have liked to see more of a blend of one and two shine through here because when it comes to weapons and abilities it does feel like a step back from two. Luckily, the new additions to the combat with the gore weapons and interactive arenas always kept me engaged and entertained. It was nice to have Wang back in my hands.
Art design and character models are great and there are some eye-catching moments. However, there is a lot of pop-in detail with its low draw distance.
Gunplay is tight and the new gore kill system feels similar to DOOM, but elevates it by adding in weapons for the player. While the grappling hook is great in combat, the use in platforming becomes repetitive.
Sound design all around from the guns and gore to the arena traps is punchy and well done. Soundtrack and voice acting has some misses but overall enjoyable.
This is Shadow Warrior at its best with great gunplay, action segments, and more wang puns and references the series is known for.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Shadow Warrior 3 is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
Reviewed on PC with an i7-9700k, RTX 2070, and 16gb of RAM.
A copy of Shadow Warrior 3 was provided by the publisher.