Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: 14th October 2016 (PC), Q1 2017 (PS4, XBone)
Platform: PC, PS4, XBone (Played on PC)
Copy Acquisition: Purchased ($31.99 USD)

I’m gonna be honest, I really wasn’t a fan of the 2013 Shadow Warrior reboot. I remember being excited about the announcement, however as a bit of a purist for 90s shooters Flying Wild Hog’s new interpretation didn’t hit the mark for me. I don’t blame the game, I just believe at the time I wanted something a little more true to the style of the classics. This ended up being filled much more adequately by the Rise of the Triad reboot released in the same year, leaving Shadow Warrior feeling a bit lacklustre by comparison.

Now, Flying Wild Hog have continued the trend of heavily altering the Shadow Warrior series with Shadow Warrior 2, a game that targets a whole different subgenre of shooters in the form of the “shoot ‘n’ loot”. Popularised by Borderlands and further brought into mainstream attention with Destiny, it’s easy to see the appeal of the mix. Combining fun action gameplay with a satisfying and addicting reward loop is an easy way to suck players into hours upon hours of gunning down everything in sight. And all I can say about Shadow Warrior 2 by comparison is this

Finally, someone made one of these for me.

I don’t want to be too hard on the other games in the subgenre, but with Destiny layering these reward loops on top of Halo’s action, Borderlands doing so to… poor man’s Halo’s action, and The Division doing so to a cover based third person shooter just doesn’t work for me. As a longtime PC shooter player I just find those games dull, and dull action just turns the reward loop into a more system intensive Cookie Clicker.

Shadow Warrior 2 though. This is what I’m talking about. 5 hours worth of impressions and as far as I’m concerned it blows the competition out of the water. Where Destiny serves a reward loop to the Halo audience, this gives that to the people who were rocking out to DOOM 4 earlier this year. Fast, fluid action punches through every moment of the game, where main character Lo Wang flies across the procedurally generated maps at breakneck speed, and packs an arsenal to match the hordes of enemies littering those same levels.

Speaking of arsenal, Shadow Warrior 2’s approach to weapons has to be one of the biggest steps up from the structure of a standard shoot ‘n’ loot game. Borderlands and Destiny make use of a bunch of modular attributes, assembling them like a lego set in order to provide near-infinite variety in weapons. Shadow Warrior 2 mixes this up by simply giving you all the lego blocks and telling you to assemble it yourself.

Instead of the infinite weapons on offer there’s a set cap of 70 in Shadow Warrior 2. The trick here is that every weapon has 3 upgrade slots that allow you to slot a variety of attributes into each weapon. These range from simple damage increases to elemental attacks and whole new fire modes. Take a grenade launcher, attach an upgrade to make the grenades sticky, one to provide toxic damage, and one to increase damage on smaller enemies and you’ve got a great crowd control gun. Take a double barrelled shotgun, add a double shot upgrade to make it fire both barrels at once and stack a bunch of heavy damage increases for a brilliant one-shot cannon. It’s a wonderfully flexible system that allows you to play how you want, when you want. It’s not perfect, certainly could use a cleaner interface, and can often feel a bit messy to dive through dozens of weapon upgrade options. However these are minor drawbacks in an otherwise brilliant system.

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Speaking of those elemental upgrades, you’re going to want a variety of them. Many enemies in the game have resistances and vulnerabilities to particular elemental attacks, forcing you to switch up your arsenal every fight. This may sound negative as more UI diving distracts from the action. However there are more than enough weapon slots to pre-prepare at least one weapon of each element, and in practice the system serves to keep the action dynamic, and making sure you’re making the most of the many upgrades and weapons you’ll acquire. This tackles making good use of a large arsenal in a nice way, albeit a very different one to the also well handled DOOM 4.

And let’s not forget the strong melee combat carried over from the 2013 game. With a combination of parries, a variety of speciality charge attacks, and a crunchy and satisfying gore system Shadow Warrior 2 has to be among the top first person melee games on the market. The sequel adds to the formula by adding more melee weapons on top of the basic katana. From small and speedy dual wielded knives to big heavy chainsaws, just like the guns it raises the variety tenfold on its predecessor and does so without a touch of sacrificed quality.

Unfortunately the game does inherit one major issue that plagues other similar games. In order to accommodate co-op the checkpoint system has been adjusted. Now when you die you simply teleport back to the last checkpoint. All the enemies you killed stay dead, but ones that you couldn’t take down are given a partial health refresh. It means many parts of the game that would otherwise be challenging sections can be simply won by attrition. Sure you lose some money with each death but it means there’s no getting stuck, and no natural learning process to get better as a result. To some this may sound like a positive but as far as I’m concerned it takes a lot of the tension out of the game’s more difficult moments.

Still, it’s a bloody good game so far. Unless it suddenly drops in quality from the 5 hour mark it’s damn well worth the $40 price tag.