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Have to give it up to Flying Wild Hog. While one hero from the holy trinity of Build Engine games was left behind in the annals of time, and the other squeezed under the greasy palms of the world’s greatest CEO, these guys brought Lo Wang back. The same Wang who was once described as acting like “a masturbating chimp” by a ‘veteran video game journalist’ (ah the wonderful world of video game journalism). Sure, under the changing political climate, the developers had to settle for a more ‘safe’ version of Wang and substantially shake up the gameplay formula of the original in favour of skill trees and combos. Shadow Warrior 2013 was a repetitive but welcome revival of the IP with an interesting story, while Shadow Warrior 2 was a messy sequel where you spent the most time looking at the upgrade menu rather than slicing and dicing ugly demons.

Under the guidance of the mighty Devolver Digital, Flying Wild Hog is once again back with another Shadow Warrior sequel. Shadow Warrior 3 brings back Lo Wang with a terrible new hairdo, new weapons, enemies and for the third time, a major shake-up in gameplay. So what does an avid fan of the original think of this reboot threequel?

Following the events of Shadow Warrior 2, the world as we know it is coming to an end thanks to the dragon that was released at the end of the last game. Lo Wang teams up with occasional bad guy and millionaire Orochi Zilla and his witch mistress to kill the dragon and save the day. That’s basically the plot of the game and while there are some reveals and twists along the way, the story ultimately ends up being your typical save-the-day boogaloo. However, that Shadow Warrior 3 doesn’t commit the grave crime of taking itself seriously. This is the most self-aware the reboot series has ever gotten and it works well in the game’s favour. The rest of the story is hugely forgettable but its self-awareness, the nigh-lame humour, and fourth-wall-breaking make the cutscenes worth watching.

Forget the story, what matters here is the gameplay. As I mentioned earlier, the series has changed up the moment-to-moment gameplay for the third time. While the last game felt like a combination of all the bad looter shooter elements, Shadow Warrior 3 is a more linear and focused product. Shadow Warrior 3 ditches terrible ideas of its predecessor such as procedural generation and the loot system in favour of two things- arena-based combat and rapid platforming. Since comparing apples and oranges is game journalism 101 these days, I can comfortably say that Shadow Warrior 3 owes a lot to Doom Eternal and Serious Sam 2 — the former for its gameplay and the latter for the enemy design and overall wackiness.

Coming from its sequel, almost everything has been streamlined in the third entry. From the weapon selection to the upgrade system to level design, almost everything has been overhauled. Some changes are a welcome addition while others leave much to be desired.  Thankfully, the most important aspect of a first person shooter, I.E, the gunplay is great. Even though their number has been cut down, each new weapon look badass, feels great to use, kicks like a mule and is viable throughout the game. From your trusty katana to the signature dual SMGs to the newly added shuriken launcher, Shadow Warrior 3 gives you a small but overpowered arsenal with generous hitboxes to play around with. Each of these weapons can be further upgraded, increasing their stats and even change the way they function. Slicing and dicing even the biggest baddie in the game just using your fully upgraded katana is pure orgasm.

In addition to the standard arsenal, Lo Wang can now use something called gore weapons. By collecting yellow orbs and filling your finisher meter, Lo Wang can now perform glory kills (for the lack of a better term) on all non-boss enemies and get to use devastating gore weapons for a short while. These range from using the frozen brain of a demon as a freeze grenade, using the target-seeking bigass katana of the Hattori against himself, literally tearing out the arm-mounted turrets off of Gassy Obariyon (an even ugly version of the Mancubus), using the goofy Slinky Jakku as a fireworks cannon etc. Big kiss to the team who came up with this idea.

SW3 takes even more inspiration from Doom Eternal when it comes to combat design. Pretty much 90% of the combat in the game consists of fighting waves of enemies in closed-off arenas. The newly added enemies are designed well, both in terms of look and in function. Each enemy type serves its unique role in combat and forces the player to prioritize them based on their threat level. There are enough enemy types in the game to stave off repetition even though the combat loop can become predictable after some time. While closed off, the combat arenas are spacious enough to perform high-mobility maneuvers and are packed with opportunities for the player such as environmental traps, elemental barrels, platforming areas etc.

Moreover, the player now has access to a grappling hook that can be used to zip towards enemies, throw barrels and swing around in pre-defined hook points. These add a new layer of strategy to the fast and hectic combat. Learning to micromanage your abilities weapons and using the environment to your advantage efficiently makes the combat pure chaotic dance. Sadly, even at the hardest difficulty (of which there are just three), the game never elevates to the point where it becomes challenging enough that it requires the player to master these systems. The difficulty curve remains steady from the halfway point onwards even in the hardest difficulty setting, which is quite weird for a series known for being a dick towards the player. The addition of higher difficulties settings post launch will be appreciated.

While I dig the streamlining of the upgrade system and the arsenal, I totally do not dig the approach to level design outside of combat. While super pretty to look at (art design>pure graphical fidelity always), the levels are highly linear and follow the same structure throughout. When Lo Wang is not jumping or wallrunning, he is grapple hook-ing his way to cover large gaps. This routine of jumping, dashing and grapple hook-ing is repeated throughout each level and can get boring fast. The levels are just too linear to allow for any form of exploration, so much so that finding upgrade points require no real effort from the player. These areas feel like they were designed to fill in the gaps between combat arenas and no amount of humorous dialogues can make them interesting. The cut-down exploration, along with a lack of difficulty settings severely affect the replay value of the game. In addition, there is no new game+ mode and the campaign is pretty short clocking around 6-7 hours (on the hardest difficulty).

When it comes to the visuals and sound, SW3 is a decent offering. While not the most graphically intensive game, the gorgeous and vibrant art design makes the game very pleasing to look at (though it can hurt your eyes when too much shit is happening). Sound design is decent enough but the soundtrack and voice acting are not very memorable. The game ran at 144 fps maxed out on a Ryzen 5 6500x and RTX 3070 at 1080p without AI upscaling during exploration and light combat. However, when too much is happening on screen (which happens a lot), the framerate would tank as low as the 60s. The game crashed once and I only ran into a few visual glitches.

Real Talk

Shadow Warrior 3 is a well-paced, well-polished first person shooter. The gunplay is fast, brutal and beefy with lots of blood, guts and gore. It may not break any new ground but the formula established here is a solid framework for future entries. That being said, the short campaign, limited exploration, and lack of replayablity factor make Shadow Warrior 3 a one-and-done kind of experience. The inclusion of story DLCs, an endless mode, NG+ as well as more difficulty settings will make make it a better game for sure.



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