Game Review: Shadow Warrior 2 (Xbox One)

Never trust bunnies.

Seriously, don’t. If there is one thing that Shadow Warrior 2 has taught me is that while it may seem all cute and cuddly, that bunny will mutate into a giant hulk of a creature known as a Bunny Lord and attempt to eat your face. This is fact, I’ve seen it happen with my own two eyes.

Shadow Warrior 2 puts you back in the world of Lo Wang, a man who’s very name is the basis for nearly every joke across the 16+ hour campaign. The game is a faster and much bigger experience than the 2013 reboot and offers a loot and skill system that allows you to customize your own Wang, offering you more freedom to dismember, burn, poison, or just flat out destroy anything or anyone that gets in your way.

The story in Shadow Warrior 2 is not the best part of the game, but it does have some pretty funny moments that manage to get a chuckle if not, a few hearty laughs. After accepting a mission to retrieve a young girl, Kamiko. Wang ends up with Kamiko’s soul trapped inside him and must find a way to reunite her soul with her body. The story takes a few twists and turns to see this through and Kamiko’s relationship with Lo Wang is mostly one of disgust, but eventually, the two start to see a little more eye to eye, at least on a few things. I will say that while you don’t have to play the 2013 original, the characters are almost entirely continued from that game with them constantly reminding you of who they are and what Wang did to them in the previous outing.

Interactions with characters happen entirely in the Hub world, and while there is a smaller, second world to explore, nearly 90% of these character interactions happen in the single Hub world you begin in. There are some shops to browse, side quests to gather, and a bounty board that will give you tasks ever so often. The side quests and bounties tend to operate a bit similar in that you are usually tasked with finding a thing or two or killing a thing; often the objectives are that clear cut.

The levels in Shadow Warrior 2 are expansive, semi-procedurally generated levels that offer quite a bit of room to explore and run around in. There are minor moments where you’ll backtrack to complete objectives, but much like 2016’s Doom, the game is almost always pushing you forward at a turbocharged pace. The game is stunning and environments themselves are some of the most colorful and well-designed levels I’ve seen in a shooter in years. While the levels are not entirely procedurally generated, they are built by randomizing certain designs around the world, so while the levels are entirely different each time, there is a minor amount of familiarity that allows the same fast pace to be kept despite any variations in the level design.

About the only issue I have with Shadow Warrior 2 is the awful looking NPC’s that populate the Hub worlds. They seem very out of place in how good this game looks. They are low polygon models that are not nearly as well detailed or textured as this game gives you with its environments. The enemies themselves, however; look really great and feature some incredible creature designs, and the game includes one of the best in-game production art galleries I’ve ever seen.

Much like Doom, the game is meant to kill anything and everyone in your path, with most confrontations ending in a splatter of blood and gore. The blood effects, including the bits and pieces that fly around when you are hacking and slashing, or some brutal kills close up with shotguns, are awe inspiring. As the body parts fly, Wang will speak up almost endlessly with one-liner after one-liner, and while not everything lands, there are several jokes that do. My personal favorite is “Mess with the Bull, You get the Wang.”

How effective your Wang is during combat is made easier by an upgrade system that consistently sees you earn more loot. You can add damage modifiers and various elements like Electricity, Poison, and Fire to every type of weapon, and considering many of your foes have various resistances, this can make killing your foes faster and more effective. Each upgrade is available in different rarities that will change how potent that effect is. You can get items to either grant more damage, increase your reload speed, or boost how much Chi your Wang will have.

The upgrade parts will come at your pretty fast and furious and while you can sell the upgrades you don’t want, you’ll eventually be able to merge them into better upgrades. The only issue I found with this was if I took three life drain upgrades, and merged them together, I wasn’t guaranteed a higher quality life drain upgrade for my efforts. Instead, I got a more effective Chi upgrade that I considered fairly useless. I found that any upgrade I didn’t want was put back into this upgrade-merge system and if I wasn’t pleased with my results, I kept merging them with others or just sold them.

Wang also has skill points to make him more effective in combat, give him more health, or grant him special melee abilities. There are tabs of skills that contain a half dozen cards that you’ll put points into. You can find more cards as you play or through the shops that will occasionally have a new card or two. Each card has a few slots to add points in, with some slots needing more than one point to upgrade. Once you upgrade an entire card, you’ll earn a bonus to whatever that card entailed.

Should you feel that one Wang isn’t enough, the game offers four-player co-op through the whole campaign. It can be extremely frantic for even one player during the game with how fast paced and chaotic the action can get, let alone having three other players right there with you. The co-op was easy enough to get into and is a very enjoyable way to breeze through the game. I, unfortunately, didn’t find many people online playing this, and that could be the fact this is a digital only game and word of mouth hasn’t quite been out there yet.

One of the best things that Shadow Warrior 2 brings to the table is their off the wall and bizarre weapon designs that made me want to collect each and every one of them. From a creature’s fanged mouth on the end of a grenade launcher to skin and bone wrapped guns and katana’s to rocket launchers that look like some sort of Transformer, there is a massive amount of creative weapon designs across all weapon types; all of them lethal. Some weapons even have some very cool blink-and-it’s-over reload animations that are some of the coolest things I’ve seen in games.

While I did find a few weapons that I would stick with almost religiously, I was never without options as you are constantly picking up new weapons from various creatures and bosses. I did find that I often preferred using the sword, and it wasn’t until a while into the game that I realized I could do some fancy attacks with it. Depending on certain pulls and pushes of the Analog stick and one of the triggers, I could pull the sword back for a quick stab, or in front of me to build up an impressive forward slash. The sword is so incredibly fun to use that I often wouldn’t even bother switching to a gun unless it was a boss that required a bit of distance. Speaking of bosses, they are massive, huge, and tons of fun.

Apart from the guns and the very satisfying sword attacks, you can also cause a bit of chaos with Chi powers. You can use them offensively or defensively depending on the situation. These powers can be used to heal, vanish from sight, blast a group of enemies down, or summon spikes from the ground to hold them in place. I don’t think I ever used vanish, but Life Heal was something I used very often. The Chi blast and Grip of Darkness are fun, but they don’t cause damage and are just there to give you a bit of a breather from the massive hordes the game throws at you.

Shadow Warrior 2 is a very feature rich game, with its fantastic art galleries to other features that console games tend to neglect. There are FOV controls for those that want to change up their field of view, add motion blur or take some fancy photo’s in the fairly robust photo-mode. I wish that Wang would show up in the photo-mode himself, but regardless, you can get some pretty gory and blood-filled screenshots. I found it rather odd that Shadow Warrior 2 has no enhanced PS4 Pro support, leaving both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 to remain locked at 30fps, no matter the boost in hardware that the PS4 Pro can do. While the game looks and runs solid, it seems odd that the developer wouldn’t attempt to get a 60fps version at least running on the Pro.

Shadow Warrior 2’s strengths lie in its humor, its action, and it’s desire to not take itself seriously, ever. When a game is making endless Wang jokes without a breath between the next one, then you know exactly what kind of game it’s going to be. I will say that the ending leaves a lot to be desired and its abrupt nature lead to me jump online to game forums to wonder what the hell just happened, and frankly, it’s a small flaw that more than likely is to set up Shadow Warrior 3, or at the very least, some DLC. Apart from that ending, and the horrible NPC’s this game has populated its Hub world with, Shadow Warrior 2 is one of the best shooters I’ve played in years and worthy of being part of your collection.

Shadow Warrior 2 was reviewed on a digital copy purchased on the Xbox One Marketplace. All Screenshots were taken via the Xbox One and uploaded to the Windows 10 App.

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