Gearbox’s Borderlands was a fantastic title that did some great things for the FPS as a whole, broadening the genre and offering new styles of gameplay thanks to its RPG-style loot and skill systems. Some might not appreciate the tedious moments this introduces, like dealing with piles and piles of worthless junk guns, but it’s hard to deny that an FPS with RPG elements can work. Shadow Warrior 2, the sequel to 2013’s reboot of the Shadow Warrior series, takes a shot, stab, and slice at this blend as well; while it missteps here and there, most of the game offers graceful ninja-style action.
It’s been some time since the events of the first Shadow Warrior, and the world hasn’t gone untouched by badass mercenary-ninja-assassin Lo Wang’s adventures in that game. The demon and human worlds have merged and demonic influence is felt throughout the land. This is the setting for Wang’s latest quest: he’s rescued a young scientist named Kimiko from his former employer and arch-enemy Orochi Zilla, but she’s been possessed thanks to an evil experiment and has had her soul transferred into Wang’s mind. Lo Wang needs to find out how to get Kimiko back in her own body as well as stopping Zilla’s plans. There’s going to be gallons of gore spilled while he does it.
The biggest change in this game is the transition to a more action-RPG style of gameplay, with visible damage values and health bars by default as well as a loot system. This has some unusual effects, and they aren’t all great. For instance, playing on higher difficulty levels offers better loot, but the increased health and damage ratings on enemies tends to make them feel like bullet sponges; the visceral power offered by the original Shadow Warrior’s weaponry dies off a bit when it takes three or four charged katana strikes to kill a foe rather than just one. The loot system itself is also a bit of a pain at times, with the game offering massive piles of useless junk and a few useful trinkets here and there. Borderlands does the same thing with guns and the act of picking up garbage and selling it is as mundane here as it is there.
On the other hand, greater depth comes with a massive number of different, customizable weapons can’t be denied. Each weapon has a different feel and when you find your favorite you’re able to use loot to trick it out to your liking. The chainsaw-style weapons in particular are absolutely amazing, offering an incredibly brutal shower of gore as you slice through your foes. More weapons is a good thing no matter how you slice it…or, I guess, how many times you have to slice it because you’re playing on Hard. Something must also be said for the dash move, offering Lo Wang the ability to zoom all over each level, dicing one foe apart before moving on to the next. Once you’ve gotten the hang of dashing, you’ll feel like a real ninja, and bullet-sponge enemies can’t take that away.
Meanwhile, while most loot items just boost percentages in typical 2016 RPG fashion, some are a little more significant, like allowing you to dual wield select weapons or adding charge shot capabilities to others. I also appreciated the character customization offered by the game’s card-based skill system; finding new skills to spend points on was always nice as well.
Eventually I figured out the best way to appreciate this new, modern version of Shadow Warrior: play on Normal mode. Sure, FPS badasses won’t have any trouble playing on the higher difficulty levels, but I found that tougher enemies that take more shots to kill don’t really add much to the game. While the loot is less impressive on lower difficulties, it’s never going to change your world in the first place. Playing on Normal combines the best aspects of Shadow Warrior 2, like the greater number of weapons, with the best aspects of the original game, like the sense of being a badass you get when you slash a demon in half with one powerful strike. You can’t really go wrong!
Shadow Warrior 2 also offers co-op play. Each player controls their own version of Lo Wang, while other players appear as generic ninjas; you’re able to customize how your ninja looks, which is a nice touch. Naturally, any game is better with co-op! Don’t expect to find much in the way of strategic play here, of course, but running around as a group dicing enemies to ribbons is a great time regardless. There are some slight latency issues, but it’s nothing that kills the game, and the experience of dueling with a foe when suddenly one of your allies’ swords bursts through its chest in a shower of gore is completely worth it.
Speaking of gore, that’s really what defined the 2013 game and it’s here in buckets as well. Blasting enemies with big guns leaves big, gaping holes in them; even better, some even keep fighting afterwards! Likewise, melee weapons are excellent for dismembering baddies. Again, if you play on harder difficulties, enemies will have more health and this can lead to bizarre situations where they keep on fighting despite having most of their chest excavated with a shotgun blast. It’s up to you whether or not you’re into that or not!
As for everything else, Shadow Warrior 2 remains gorgeous and runs well, particularly on high-end hardware. There’s tons of voice acting to go around, including Lo Wang’s classic one-liners; he tends to repeat himself a lot in this one, but you’re able to turn his voice off as well, so no harm, no foul. Much like his spiritual cousin, Duke Nukem, Shadow Warrior 2’s humor remains firmly on the lowbrow side of things, which is sure to bug the ever-present contingent of people who take video games seriously, but I didn’t have any problems with any of the proceedings.
All in all, Shadow Warrior 2 offers a substantially different experience from the original game, and in general the changes are for the best. Lo Wang’s expanded arsenal is nice and the additional facets of gameplay are bound to give the title some legs that the original was lacking. Bullet-sponge enemies and piles of lame loot might throw some players off, but generally speaking, FPS fans will have a great time chopping up and blasting demons.