Set five years after the events featured in the Polish PC game Shadow Warrior, Shadow Warrior 2 is a melee-oriented, first-person shooter that lets you once again control modern-day ninja Lo Wang, defending the earthly realm from a horde of demonic abominations. The Flying Wild Hog-developed Shadow Warrior 2 makes heavy use of movement and evasion to expand the scope of the original's combat, creating a FPS that looks and feels like a stylish, spectacle/action game. Shadow Warrior 2 is in development for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, and is scheduled for release later this year. Its price hasn't been announced yet. I got an early look at the game, and I'll share my thoughts below.
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Bringing a Sword to a Gun Fight
Melee skills in first-person shooters are generally relegated to close-range knife attacks or gun-butts; they are effective, but straightforward and highly situational. Shadow Warrior 2 makes melee action a combat pillar, letting you switch between melee and projectile fire on the fly to suit the situation. In Shadow Warrior 2, each melee weapon has a combo that is your bread and butter offense. The demo I played featured dual swords and a pair of hand-claws that you can switch between on the fly. The swords are the better-rounded of the two weapon-types, offering good reach at the cost of speed. The claws have a much faster combo, but they deal less damage per strike and have less range.
The melee weapons also have special attacks that give you an advantage in combat. For example, the Iron Sight key, when combined with a directional input, performs one of three special attacks. Holding forward performs a lunging attack, holding back performs a retreating attack, and holding left or right initiates a spin attack. Each special has practical applications in battle, so they're all worth using liberally. The lunge is a great way to get into melee range while also dealing damage. The retreat attack is ideal when backing away from a target, as it deals good damage yet doesn't interrupt your back-stepping. The spin attack has a strong knockdown effect, so you can follow up with an easy combo to capitalize on an enemy's moment of weakness. I thoroughly enjoyed the special attack implementation, but I did have trouble getting the inputs to come out consistently. I suspect that the movement input for special attacks must be performed from a neutral stance, which can be tricky when you're constantly moving around enemies.
Discretion is for Chumps
The dash skill is the most radical ability in your arsenal. Lo Wang can dash in any direction to get in range for a melee barrage or evade an attacking enemy. This skill has no cooldown aside from a slight recovery animation, so you can use it liberally during battle to skip across the battlefield. This adds a tremendous amount of mobility to the already speedy movement in the game, and amps up the aggressiveness of combat considerably. For example, you can charge up a special attack and use the dash to dance around the field to get into range before unleashing the skill.
The game gives you access to a few support techniques to further spice up your attack arsenal. A healing spell lets you regenerate health during battle, making it easier to keep up your strength if you're overwhelmed. A ninja stealth spell renders Lo Wang invisible. The game screen's colors invert, and any enemy in the vicinity loses track of your position for a few seconds. Attacking while in stealth deals double damage to any enemy you strike. Lo Wang can also summon a demonic stalagmite to impale enemies in front of him. The spell deals great damage, and impaled enemies are incapacitated for a few seconds, leaving them vulnerable to gunfire or melee attacks.
Guns are a Ninja's Best Friend
When it comes to projectile weapons, Shadow Warrior 2 doesn't try to reinvent the genre, but thanks to the beefy melee system, it doesn't have to. Instead, it raises the gore-factor, making the otherwise-familiar gunplay surprisingly satisfying. Lo Wang has a wide selection of pistols, shotguns, machine guns, and heavy explosives to blow apart any demon silly enough to get in his way. Each shot fires an overpowered blast of lead that can rend limbs or gouge fist-sized holes in targets, so even your run-of-the-mill pistol can take down opponents with a satisfying bang. Harder-hitting shots, such as a well-aimed RPG, can vaporize targets entirely, transforming what was once a formidable demon into a cloud of bloody smoke.
An RPG-like customization system lets you modify your weapons' damage properties to make slaying demons even more involved. Weapon caches hidden throughout the game's levels can reward you with magical gems, which you can attach to your weapons to give them bonus attack attributes or elemental effects. You can imbue your katana with lightning to deal damage to lightning-prone enemies, for example. During the demo, I slapped an ice gem onto my bow and arrows, and noted that the frost attacks slowed enemies' movements. This let me dish out absurd amounts of damage with little fear of retaliation.
The Stereotypical Assassin
Lo Wang is a sword for hire following the events of the original game. After a series of mishaps, Wang finds himself possessed by the spirit of a woman, who serves as his narrative sounding board as well as his companion during his adventure. I enjoyed the banter and story exposition the two delivered by interacting with each other, for the most part. However, during some interactions, the spectral head of your companion pops up on screen to speak, which obscures your view of the action. Minimizing her size and relegating her to a corner of the screen could easily remedy this issue.
Many of Shadow Warrior 2's missions are procedurally generated, so the exact map layout is never quite the same even if you replay the same mission. Mission maps feature a wide variety of indoor and outdoor environments that are filled with loot, demons, and mission objectives. The mission I played took place in a lush gorge filled with every Asian theme in the book. Bright pink cherry blossoms, Japanese shrines, red torii archways, ponds filled with lotuses, and a variety Japanese-style architecture were all present. The enemies you encounter are also very Asian-themed, including giant ogres in samurai armor, spear-wielding snake-men, shadowy ninja, and the like. Shadow Warrior 2 is about as theme-park Asian as you can get, and considering the cheesy one-liners Lo Wang delivers throughout the demo, it's crystal clear the developers at Flying Wild Hog went for maximum schlock.
That said, level design is surprisingly vertical. I made the mistake of challenging an ogre early in the level, only to get slapped off a cliff and into the gorge below. I not only survive the drop, however, but I also took no fall damage. Maps are multilevel labyrinths filled with enemies and loot, so both you and the enemies you fight can drop from any height to continue the battle, or make a quick escape. You can start a mission and focus only on the objectives if you want to get things over quickly, or you can stick around and butcher every demon in your path as you scour the level for new weapons and gem boosts. The mini-map guides you to your main objective, but there's nothing stopping you from exploring the map if you're so inclined.
Beyond a Ninja's Call of Duty
Shadow Warrior 2 feels fast, frantic, and wonderfully complex thanks to the swift melee action, the weapon-swapping ease, and movement-oriented gameplay. There are no real cover mechanics in Shadow Warrior 2, so missions feel like a non-stop wave of balls-to-the-wall action against massive, hideous monsters. It exudes an old-school shooter vibe, and I for one am looking forward to how Shadow Warrior 2 turns out when it launches later this year.