Shadow Warrior 2 Review

By Kevin Tavore,
Shadow Warrior made a small splash when it released in 2014. The successor to the classic FPS series of the same name, it modernized the aging formula in some of the best ways possible. While similar titles like Wolfenstein: The New Order and DOOM took the glory for this modernized formula, Shadow Warrior carved out its own dedicated fanbase who realized that it was every bit as good as those monoliths, and in some ways even better. With an excellent game under their belts, Flying Wild Hog went back to the drawing board and worked to create a sequel that would set itself apart from those other games. The result is Shadow Warrior 2 and it's a one-of-a-kind combination of classic FPS gameplay, loot-based dungeon crawling like Diablo, and a whole lot of violence.

1

Shadow Warrior 2 is the story of Lo Wang. Since the events of the first game, the world has been invaded by demons and Lo Wang is now a mercenary. The story of this second game isn't going to win any awards, but it's a decent tale without many twists and turns. The real highlight is Lo Wang himself, who can be absolutely hilarious. He's got a sense of humor like none other and it means each conversation has potential for comedy — every response from Lo Wang brought a smile to my face. Not every joke will make you bust out laughing, of course, but I doubt anyone could play through and not get at least a little bit of joy out of the truly crass things Lo Wang says. His character is nothing but absurd, especially given the scenario, and it works very well with the tone of the game.

Shadow Warrior 2 is all about its gameplay and, like the first game, it absolutely shines. You'll have access to a vast array of weapons almost immediately and each one feels awesome to use. You'll have a sword, of course, but will also get access to twin swords, axes, claws and even a chainsaw katana that you'll use to hack enemies apart, and I do mean quite literally hack apart. It doesn't stop with the melee weapons, though, as you'll also have SMGs, assault rifles, gauss cannons, crossbows and rocket launchers, just to name a few. Each of these weapons simply feels great. They look imposing, they sound powerful, and when you shoot someone with a shotgun and it blows a hole in their chest, you'll know that you are a badass.

Combat itself has a wonderful flow to it. You can double jump on cue and you've got a dash with no stamina bar to be seen. This makes combat incredibly quick as you zip across the battlefield. You'll need to be fast as the enemies come in swarms and they're almost as fast as you. The result is a battle where you and your friends are always moving, slashing and shooting all while dodging enemy lunges, rockets, and everything in between. Once you get it down, the whole affair can almost feel like a dance as you weave in between the enemies leaving havoc in your wake. The first time you jump into a pack of enemies, proceed to dismember them with your blades and leave without a scratch thanks to perfectly-timed dodges, you're going to feel like a hero. That's what Shadow Warrior 2 is all about — leaving you feeling like you're the best there ever was — and it's why it's such a success.

Shadow Warrior 3 screen 5

Intimately tied to the gameplay and the weapons are the RPG mechanics of the game. Shadow Warrior 2 has been cross-bred with a dungeon crawler and the developer has taken it seriously. As you play, you'll unlock skill points you can use to customize your characters. The skills come with a vast array of choices once you find the skill card out in the world. You've got the basics like higher elemental damage or more health, but you've also got things like the ability to save yourself when you die or shooting waves of energy when you swing your sword. You'll need to be a very high level before you run out of skills you care about, which means there's always a choice to be made and another level to achieve to get you that last skill point you need to become even more awesome.

Enemies will constantly drop gems that you can socket or remove from your weapons at any time. Each of these allows you to regularly customize your weapons with things like elemental damage or faster fire rate. You'll also get rarer gems that can allow you to dual wield your SMGs or make your rockets fragment into little pieces for more damage. The effect of these gems range from minimal to significant but you can see it all in real time, which makes hot-swapping pieces to get the perfect build quite enjoyable.

There are only two significant downsides to the loot mechanics. First, you won't get many weapons from drops — they mainly come from quests. This means gems are your primary motivator to keep going and each perfect gem will come with a metric ton of trash, which may dampen some players' enjoyment of the game. Second, there's no good way to compare weapons. If you want to know if your new sword is better than an old one, you'll need to remove every gem in the old one to see the true base stats. Then you'll need to find the gems you were using among your sea of trash gems and re-socket them. Since new weapons are rare this doesn't come up often, but in a loot-based game it's a significant oversight.

Shadow Warrior 3 screen 2

Any good dungeon crawler demands you keep grinding for better and better loot, which means the world needs to be built with replayability in mind. Shadow Warrior 2 solves this problem by taking the Diablo approach. Each quest sends you to a specific place that has a skeleton of how the level will be designed. Within that skeleton, each piece of the world is randomly placed. In one mission you might traverse through a series of villages, but the next time you enter that area it might be more of a forest with winding paths. The end goal is always the same, but how you get there and the enemies you'll face will change, which ensures that returning to a zone doesn't get stale too quickly.

Likewise, enemy variety is good with a bunch of different types of enemies and enemies will have random attributes to which you'll need to react and adapt your strategy. While one enemy might be weak to lightning, another might resist it entirely, so selecting the right weapon will make a difference. Since most of the time you'll have different types of weapons, it's likely your ice weapon will be completely different than your fire weapon, which ensures each encounter changes.

The game been designed from the ground up as a co-op experience. You can jump into four player co-op at any time. In single-player, the best strategy is always to abuse your vanish ability and backstab enemies with your swords. In multiplayer, this isn't nearly as effective and means you'll have a blast moving from fight to fight with your friends. Loot is personalized, which means there's no fighting among friends, and the scaling in the game works well to make the difficulty fairly static. The co-op is undoubtedly some of the best I've ever played, but it isn't without its faults.

Shadow Warrior 2 E3 Screen 5

In co-op, everyone gets quest rewards but quest progress can only be achieved by the host. When you're out in the world on a quest, an irritation is the host has to pick up the keycard. Then, when the quest is done that progression is only saved by the host. If you quit and load up your own game, you'll have the rewards and XP you earned but you'll need to do the quest again to make progress. This sounds more frustrating than it actually is since you'll be vastly overleveled and can easily sprint through almost every mission, but it's also something that shouldn't have been an issue at all.

On the technical side, Shadow Warrior 2 does make some stumbles. In a game like this, framerate drops are a given but in four player we experienced drops that undoubtedly hit the single-digits, making the game unplayable. Once you kill a few enemies it will go back to normal and it's not common, but the power of the console clearly wasn't made to handle what's actually occurring on screen.

That can be forgiven to some degree, since the hordes of enemies and co-op are what make the game fun, but the game also has some severe issues with clipping. On two occasions during a 15 hour playthrough, the character started to clip through the ground meaning he couldn't sprint or move quickly at all unless he jumped and dodged. All players would also occasionally get stuck in the objects, completely unable to move. Both issues forced a game restart to fix them, kicking all co-op partners to the main menu. It's all made worse by load screens that feel like they take an eternity. These issues are unacceptable, especially when the game initially launched on PC last fall.

Shadow Warrior 2 E3 Screen 4

The achievements will see you doing everything the game has to offer, but they won't take too long to wrap up. You'll need to beat the game on the hardest difficulty, a task that isn't nearly as hard as in the first game. You'll need to complete six arena challenges that also aren't too difficult. Then there's a host of achievements relating to using different elemental weapons and killing enemies, as well as finding 50 secrets, which are made more difficult when the layout of levels changes, making it hard to find a guide. The final achievement will no doubt require a bit of grinding, but ultimately it won't be a list that's too taxing in time or skill.

Summary

Shadow Warrior 2 is a game unlike any other. It's got the classic FPS gameplay that's been modernized lately, but it changes things up by mixing in RPG dungeon crawling mechanics. The end result works very well and it gives the game a great amount of replayability, even on subsequent playthroughs. The game's combat feels really good thanks to its fast pace and interesting enemies. The weapons in the game make you feel like a badass just like those in classic games; the variety will have you experimenting and changing the way you play. The RPG mechanics work very well and you will want to continue the search for gear even after you beat the game, especially with friends in four player co-op. The downsides are technical issues and quality of life issues that put a damper on what might have otherwise been a top-tier game. Still, if you're looking for a game like Borderlands to play with friends on a modern console, you'll find that Shadow Warrior 2 is an excellent game that is more than worthy of your time.
4 / 5
Shadow Warrior 2
Positives
  • Weapons pack a punch and feel absolutely awesome
  • Fast-paced and fun combat, with enemy variety that encourages changing tactics
  • Enjoyable four player co-op
  • Loot system keeps you coming back for more
  • Level design ensures you won't grow tired of doing the same thing
Negatives
  • Framerate drops and mobility issues
  • Long loading times
  • Absence of any way to compare loot
  • Lack of shared quest progress in co-op
  • Weapons drop too infrequently
Ethics
The reviewer spent 15 hours battling in four player co-op through hordes of ninjas, robots, demons and tree things, finding a ton of awesome loot and finishing the story on the hardest difficulty along the way. 22 of 39 achievements were won for 480 Gamerscore. An Xbox One code was provided through the ID@Xbox program for the purpose of this review.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.