Review – Shadow Warrior 3

Overview

Developer Flying Wild Hog
Publisher Devolver
Genre First Person Shooter
Platforms PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Release Date March 1, 2022

 

In the introduction of my review for Shadow Warrior 2, I wrote

I have to confess that Shadow Warrior (2013) caught me by surprise. As I detailed in the Backloggery Beatdown column, underneath the veneer of a hyper-violent, nostalgic, and tawdry shooter is likely my favorite story in the past gaming generation. With the caliber of writing that would bring Shakespeare to tears, I looked forward to seeing how its sequel would amaze me. Unfortunately, what I experienced with Shadow Warrior 2 is not an evolution, but a regression.

For better and for worse, the 2013 Shadow Warrior reboot successfully recaptures the essence of the1997 original in terms of gameplay and content, while mustering the most underrated story I have experienced in modern gaming. In contrast, Shadow Warrior 2 disappoints. Emulating the popular Borderlands or Destiny franchises, developer Flying Wild Hog transforms a traditional FPS into a looter shooter; I spent more time managing my inventory than shooting things. Compounding this heresy, Flying Wild Hog unleashes a nonsensical, convoluted story, a spectacular downgrade from their 2013 entry. So, when news broke that Shadow Warrior 3 would return (again) to its roots as a traditional FPS with a limited arsenal and more focused character progression, I sighed in relief.  I was willing to give this franchise another chance. Regretfully, the gameplay encroaches upon forgery, and the writing further regresses.

Content Guide

Is that paint?

Violence: As with Shadow Warrior 2, expect DOOM levels of violence. Lo Wang routinely blasts holes into more powerful enemies, while dismembering fodder-tier foes on multiple zones of their bodies with a sword. New to this game, directly inspired by a certain “demon slayer,” are glory kills finishers, which extract special weapons from enemies in extravagantly gruesome ways. For example, during the finisher animation for the most basic enemy, Lo Wang rips its head off, spinal column still attached, and presses his thumbs into its eyes and squeezes until it crushes like a watermelon (and grants Lo Wang a 100 HP health bonus). The curious can watch a spoilery compilation here.

Language: As with previous games, Lo Wang so often wields four-letter obscenities as though he earns a commission for each. 

A clean dad joke that I can publish here, lol.

Crude Humor: I made a mistake in my Shadow Warrior 2 review that I would like to correct here. I conflated the “language” section with that for “crude humor.” It featured gems such as:

“The Way of the Wang is long. And hard. And ribbed, for her pleasure.”

or:

“You know, you’re a real prick sometimes!”

“I always thought of myself as more of a Wang.”

Penis jokes are a staple for the Shadow Warrior series, so it might seem fruitless to describe them as immature. But I am going to call the humor in Shadow Warrior 3 juvenile anyway, as it has atrophied from the first season of King of the Hill to Beavis and Butthead. While Mike Judge evolved in his craft, the only joke I can remember during the entirety of Shadow Warrior 3 is a “that’s what she said” joke.

Alcohol/Drug Use: none

Spirituality: Another correction from my Shadow Warrior 2 review: enemies are yokai, not oni.

Lo Wang wears a Yin and Yang charm, and chi attacks return. A cutscene features a priestess casting a spell. 

Am I the only person who wonders what Lo Wang’s 23andMe profile looks like?

Racism and Bigotry: To Devolver’s credit, they have employed voice actors who are representative of the East Asian culture in which Shadow Warrior is inspired. However, Lo Wang remains a problematic caricature of nondescript Asian-ness.  While Lo Wang’s modern visual design is excellent, at a conceptual level, he will need a revision to survive modern times. Give Lo Wang a better background than both parents dead. Identify his ethnicity. And drop the “w” sound lisp for starters.

Before memes, there were shameless plugs and references. Here, Lo Wang imitates the infamous Geralt of Rivia’s bathtub shot. But with a large censor block for…comic effect.

Sexuality: A character mentions that another has been “influenced” by a woman, and can smell her “love potion” on his pants, a reference to an exchange of bodily fluids. 

Review

This ain’t Puff the Magic Dragon.

Shadow Warrior 2 ends on an unwarranted cliffhanger. To conclude the convoluted nonsense passing as a story, Kamiko, the product of a non-consensual arranged marriage, mystically ascends to close the gate between Earth the Shadow Realm. Upon reaching the Apex of the gate, Kamiko transforms into a dragon that immediately dive-bombs into Lo Wang. Players were to assume that their protagonist was consumed.

Orochi Zilla tried to pull off a FFX Auron cosplay with limited resources.

Shadow Warrior 3 opens with Lo Wang in a pitiful state, stripped down to his dingy tighty whities.  He recalls the aftermath of the dragon’s appearance that serves as the game’s tutorial. Either by way of retroactive continuity or shameless abandonment of canon, this world-ending dragon is not Kamiko, but an “Ancient Dragon.” Somehow, Lo Wang manages to survive the apocalypse, now sporting an impeccable swath of hipster hair to replace his cool shaded baldness. In his failure to defeat the dragon, he has lost his mojo and descends into delirium. Longtime frenemy, Orchid Zilla, patiently eavesdrops on Lo Wang’s pity party before revealing a plan to save what is left of the world. This involves Lo Wang bringing Hoji’s mask to a sorceress. Now equipped with hope, Wang goes forth, battling yokai along the way, until he discovers the plan’s true objective.

Lo Wang is serious…sometimes.

The story in Shadow Warrior 3 remains a downgrade from the Shadow Warrior reboot, but an upgrade from Shadow Warrior 2. The former can be summarized in a mere few paragraphs; Flying Wild Hog forsakes the pursuit of a memorable story, and deploys the kind of banal plot that one would expect from an FPS franchise from 1997. In other words, Lo Wang is not the only person who has lost his mojo. The writing has atrophied considerably over the course of the trilogy, not only in terms of plot, but also in dialogue. Lo Wang is a wiseguy whose gums flap without ceasing, yet neither wit nor wisdom escapes his lips. The “prick” joke that I included in the crude humor section of the Content Guide is actually from Shadow Warrior 2 because I cannot recall a single memorable one-liner in Shadow Warrior 3. In the sole situation where one corner of my mouth may have bent ever so slightly upwards, Lo Wang sings the classic Spider-Man theme song while he swings by his grappling hook during a platforming sequence. 

Fodder enemies begging me to waste my finisher meter on them.

Flying Wild Hog borrows purloins many ideas from the modern Doom games, the worst of them being the misplaced platforming sequences in Doom Eternal. Because Lo Wang is a ninja, dexterity should be expected; this comes in the form of dashes and double-jumps. Nevertheless, I have yet to play an FPS featuring platforming that does not feel out of place. For example, the aforementioned grappling hook is an unpolished core mechanic in Shadow Warror 3. No matter where one begins the swing, the rope will reset Lo Wang’s mid-air positioning as if had begun swinging from the furthest vector distance possible. Sometimes the smaller details are grating, such as the specially-colored tiles designated for wall running. Someone in the studio must have taken a liking to Ghostrunner.

Players should expect to spend too mucn time in poor Spider-Man simulator segments.

If there is one area where Shadow Warrior 3 shines in its pilferage of features, it would be Flying Wild Hog abandoning their Road Hog Engine for the Unreal Engine 4. While I have a soft spot for in-house graphics engines, Unreal Engine 4 offers some undeniably potent effects. For example, Lo Wang’s hacking and slashing with his sword or pinpoint targeting with ranged weapons generates profuse gore and gibs. Even so, these assets maintain a plastic sheen to them in ways that remind me of the criticisms toward the Batman Arkham games. The real highlight in Shadow Warrior 3 is the neo-Japan environment. Because the game comprises only eight levels, I wish I could have seen more scenes. 

Unreal Engine 4 got that lighting on point!

Shadow Warrior 3 reduces content in other areas; its absurd 200+ weapon catalog from Shadow Warrior 2 shrinks down to a manageable seven options. I welcome this focused selection of weapons only because most were ARPG drops with trash affixes, anyway. Yet, I lament that modern developers lack the creativity to imagine and balance enough options to fill the 1-0 keys like the classic 90’s FPS games from which these modern creations were inspired.

This UI is totally mailed-in. No special effects. Just still images.

A highlight of the Shadow Warrior franchise is the Dragontail, Lo Wang’s sword; it remains a stable melee weapon for dicing up enemies while conserving ammunition. This latter point is key: ammunition in Shadow Warrior 3 tends to be limited—yet another characteristic copied from Doom Eternal that forces players to swap weapons and utilize their entire arsenal. It is unfortunate, however, that the power of the Outlaw, the revolver, does not match its aesthetics. In fact, all of Lo Wang’s weapons are crafted with beauty.

The Dragontail is always accessible with a right-click. For projectile weapons, left-click.

The Riot Gun occupies the shotgun slot, but players should expect limited use due to the ammunition caps. It shines best after its upgrade from pump-action to automatic. The Crimson Bull is an unwieldy grenade launcher that feels as useful against airborne enemies as ground-based. The Basilisk is my second-favorite weapon; effectively a railgun, upgrades allows players to slow down time for accurate shots, but again, ammunition is limited such that it can only be used for one or two enemies per encounter. The Shuriken Spitter is the last weapon Lo Wang acquires, but it underwhelms for a final weapon. Effectively a crossbow that fires shurikens instead of bolts, it theoretically inflicts damage multiplicatively. However, it comes with more ammunition than the Basilisk, giving the impression that it is not as powerful a weapon as its predecessor. Overall, Shadow Warrior 3’s weapons lack an “awesome” factor in a game fashioned through a tradition of power fantasies.

Perhaps Shadow Warrior 3‘s arsenal feels underwhelming because its bestiary is but a catalog of banality. The basic Shoigai is melee fodder that sprints up to Lo Wang, begging to be cut down with the Dragontail. The Kugutsu, when not floating aimlessly by balloon, typically stands around and fires projectiles listlessly into Lo Wang’s general direction. Both of these enemies are so inconsequential that if players ignore them and kill the higher-level threats, they will die automatically. They also regenerate infinitely until the important targets die.

An onslaught of Seeking Shokera.

A melee brute, the Oni Hanma exists as an annoying bullet sponge who will relentlessly chase Lo Wang even after players blow a telephone pole-sized hole into his chest. The Laser Shogun is a floating samurai guise that can pose a moderate threat from midrange. Existing as if to give players incentive to find health drops, the Mogura Twins are mole-like ground-drilling enemies who make running around stages difficult. They are invulnerable while underground, so needing to wait until they surface to shoot is almost as annoying as Doom Eternal’s Marauder, who are only vulnerable when they cannot bring up their shields. Seeking Shokera are the most interesting, arguably most dangerous, foe in Shadow Warrior 3, but they also appear ripped straight from Majora’s Masks’ Koume and Kotake. Slinky is more silly than serious, a distended Jack-in-the-Box who seems to exist to provide the Shuriken Spitter practical usage. Kensai enemies, the Hattori, are amusing to duel for the first few encounters, but eventually become repetitive and just as unrelenting as the Oni Hanma. Lastly, the Gassy Obariyon is little more than a reskinned mancubus. 

Shadow Warrior 3 could have 99 problems, but its art direction ain’t one.

Through the addition of glory kills finishers in Shadow Warrior 3, the Doom imprint remains indisputable: the finisher meter allows players to mimic the OHKO properties of Doom 2016’s chainsaw or Doom Eternal’s unmaker, but with glory kill-style animations. The game encourages players to experiment with dispatching different types of enemies in this fashion to discover the unique buffs that they provided, called gore weapons.

On the other hand, if one gets too close to the textures, they will reveal their flaws.

The Shoigai grants a +100 health buff. The head of a Kugutsu bursts like a piñata for an AOE freezing grenade. The Oni Hamma involuntarily lends an appendage for Lo Wang to wield as a temporary melee weapon with crushing properties. The Laser Shogun’s internal gears produce a laser grenade like the laser room in the Resident Evil cult-classic movie that everyone loves to hate. The Mogura Twins’ spines can be removed, drill attached, to create a melee weapon that is only a slight improvement from the Oni Hamma’s bone.

The eye of the Seeking Shokera is swift. And bladed.

The Seeking Shōkera is by far the coolest: Lo Wang removes an eye that automatically attacks any enemy within range of the player’s targeting reticule. The Slinky Jakku contains a temporary grenade launcher that fails to distinguish itself from the player’s very own Crimson Bull. At any rate, I like to save my finisher points for the Hattori’s sword, which allows Lo Wang to teleport slash any enemy within an encounter room, anime samurai style. The Gassy Obariyon gives up a minigun—boring, but practical for large encounters. 

Obvious enemy encounter area is obvious.

Shadow Warrior 3 exists as if Flying Wild Hog took personal offense that many disliked the looter shooter style of Shadow Warrior 2 and wanted a produce a punctuation mark on the franchise for the gipper. As it stands, Shadow Warrior 3 is successful for reprising the tradition of the “doom clone,” an uninspired, by-the-numbers game seeking to capture some of the limelight of the more popular titles. Shadow Warrior was once a franchise full of original ideas, and has been remembered fondly by those who wax nostalgic about the Build engine. This time, however, the game does not take itself seriously to its own detriment. Its cliched story, imitation gameplay cycle, and seven-hour brevity allowed me to rush through the game unapologetically, as there is next to nothing memorable about it. Compounded with a stereotypical Asian protagonist, Shadow Warrior 3 is a game that lacks spirit. 

Review copy generously provided by Tinsley PR. 

 

The Bottom Line

 

Shadow Warrior 3 reprises the ancient tradition of FPS Doom clones in the most unflattering way possible.

 

5.0

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Maurice Pogue

Since picking up an NES controller in 1985 at the age of 2, Maurice and video games have been inseparable. While most children aspired to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers (at the behest of their parents), he aspired to write for publications such as EGM, PC Gamer, PC Accelerator, and Edge. After achieving ABD status in English at MSU, Maurice left academia and dedicated his writing to his lifelong passion. He is currently the Video Game Editor at Geeks Under Grace.

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