A Shadow Of Its Former Self

HIGH Gore Kills are a nice idea.

LOW All the good features from previous games are gone!

WTF Whose idea was it to ship with just seven weapons?

I was introduced to Shadow Warrior franchise with its 2013 reboot. It was a fast-paced FPS with a katana — how awesome was that? The second installment was even better, adding semi-open world elements and 27 types of guns! After loving both of those, I was all-in on the third, but now I wish I’d never played it…

Shadow Warrior 3 picks up where players were left off in at the end of Shadow Warrior 2 — an ancient dragon is freed and protagonist Lo Wang is trying to kill it. That’s basically the whole story, and unlike the earlier instalments, SW3 has no plot twists or back-stabbing allies to spice it up. Lo Wang’s jokes and comic relief were the only thing that made the narrative more bearable. The campaign is also as brief as the plot, taking me only around five hours to complete on the highest difficulty setting.

So, beyond a dull story, where else does it go wrong? Too many of the features that made past games so good are now inexplicably gone.

In contrast to SW2, the campaign is completely linear, and the side missions offering entertaining things like enchantments, mods, or weapon dealers are now gone.

The looting mechanism that gave Shadow Warrior 2 a Borderlands-like feel is gone. Killing enemies no longer rewards the player with new weapons and equipment, and weapon elemental damage is both available solely through upgrading and tied to specific weapons, so there’s no longer any ability to change things up.

The combo system for the katana is also gone. Previously, there were combos for specific situations, such as a 360-degree slash that hit enemies grouped around Lo Wang. Without them, the katana is now just a button-mashing melee weapon that can use some elemental attributes when heavy attacks are activated.

Also cut are the weapon types and abilities. Shadow Warrior 3 has only seven weapons and 12 passive skills with a single combat ability — a huge downgrade as SW2 boasted 27 different weapon types and more than 40 skills, four of which were active combat abilities. Worse, the seven weapons we do get aren’t a great fit for the combat here. Most encounters have the player facing off against numerous enemies in relatively closed environments, yet the only weapon that can be used for crowd control is a grenade launcher that needs a reload after every shot! For a franchise that’s ostensibly about shooting and slicing through enemies, Shadow Warrior 3 falls short on its arsenal.

This leads me to another big issue — a lack of motivation to keep fighting. Besides the limited weaponry, the game forces players to kill every single demon in an area before letting them access the next part of the level. Since killing enemies no longer provides loot or XP there’s little incentive, so this task starts to feel repetitive and forced.

While there’s no doubt that Shadow Warrior 3 has lost a lot, it’s not all subtraction since Lo Wang does have some new abilities. Gameplay is now more focused on platforming with a new wall-running ability and a grappling hook. The hook can be used on enemies as well, bringing them closer for melee kills. A nice idea, but I rarely felt the need to use the option.

Shadow Warrior 3 also puts more focus on environmental damage. There are explosive barrels all around the world and many combat arenas have trap mechanisms that Lo Wang can activate to take out groups of enemies such as trapdoors. Beyond that, Lo Wang can use “Gore Kills” — these are executions that temporarily arm him with the weapons of the enemy. For example, Gore Killing an ice-shooting demon gives Lo Wang the demon’s eyeballs, functioning like a freeze grenade. Some Gore Kill weapons are one-time use, while others can be used for a few seconds. They add a bit of variety to combat, but since their use is so brief and limited, the joy is short-lived.

While the new formula of Shadow Warrior 3 offers a few minor positives, they’re far overshadowed by the numerous absences — fewer weapons, simplified combat, a more linear world, a too-brief campaign, and more. It’s a strange and unexpected step backwards for a series that I had previously enjoyed so much. The dialogue might still be filled with Lo Wang’s jokes, but compared to its predecessors, the joke is definitely on Shadow Warrior 3 this time.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Flying Wild Hog and published by Devolver Digital. It is currently available on PC, XBO, and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and was reviewed on PC. Approximately 5.5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: The ESRB rating is M for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Mild Sexual Themes and Strong Language. Definitely not for kids here, it’s filled with violent combat and gore, including things like enemy limbs being severed and heads exploding. The protagonist also makes sexual jokes and uses foul language as well.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game has subtitles. They can be altered. No audio cues are necessary for playing, so this game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game’s controls are remappable.

Ali Arkani
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