Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
At its heart, Shadow Warrior 3 keeps most of what fans of the series enjoy. It’s a gory, first-person shooter with a highly sarcastic lead character and plenty of enjoyable action to go around. That being said, Shadow Warrior 3 does take some departures from the prior game in the series, eschewing its more roleplay like elements for streamlined action.
One of the first things that stood out to me when first firing up Shadow Warrior 3 is the effort to actually tell a bit more of a cinematic story. Not that anyone is going to confuse Shadow Warrior 3 with a narrative masterpiece, but the opening scene with returning protagonist Lo Wang in his undies basically playacting the foundation of this story is delightfully unhinged, and throughout the game I found myself appreciating these cutscenes quite a bit.
If you are new to the series – the premise is pretty straightforward. Lo Wang is a one-time assassin who is now living out his days as the world is about to be devoured by an ancient dragon that he failed to kill previously. He is at a low point in his life where he feels he has no friends left when one-time enemy Zilla returns to suggest a plan of action to get rid of the dragon and to encourage Wang to get off of his ass and do something about it. The action is presented in first-person perspective, providing both melee and ranged combat as you tear through hordes of creative-looking if somewhat low variety demons.
If you are returning to the series, well – you generally know what to expect. Wang is as ridiculous as ever, cussing up a storm and making sarcastic remarks at every turn. This is no Like, the silent protagonist. In fact, I have no doubt Wang drives some gamers a bit nuts because he almost never seems to shut up. The character throws as much verbal content at the wall as possible, but by and large most of it sticks for me. Is every joke funny to me? Nah, of course not – but I certainly chuckled and even outright laughed an awful lot. I’m sure that says plenty about me, but I’m not apologetic about it.
However, if you played Shadow Warrior 2, you will see quite a few changes here. There was a strong action-RPG vibe to Shadow Warrior 2 that has largely been trimmed of that fat to make a more streamlined Doom-like action shooter. There’s still some character progression to be had as you find orbs and have a dozen or so objectives to complete (like collect 5,000 health or get 25 headshots with a specific weapon) that also yield these orbs that you can use then to give Wang some upgrades. As someone who enjoyed the loot-dropping, item customizing aspects of Shadow Warrior 2 however, the lack of these elements was a bit of a bummer.
The actual traversal is different as well. There is almost no focus on exploration and secrets, unlike Shadow Warrior 2, as the stages here are more tightly structured. The good news is, traveling is less confusing and I didn’t need to keep checking a map to figure out what was next. Level designs are usually quite good, and where to go next is generally pretty obvious. Instead of exploring, it is more like working your way through some platforming elements and then stopping to hit an arena-like section where waves of enemies come at you.
Kill all of the enemies, and then start platforming again. There is a grappling hook, double-jump and mid-air dash that put an emphasis on the platforming elements of stages, to somewhat mixed results. I definitely found one of the stages, where you are on a platform that is moving through a river in an on-rails segment to be very annoying. Platforming is not my strongest suit in gaming and it took me well over a dozen tries to get through it. There are difficulty modifiers here, but they seem to just pertain to damage taken / damage dealt and do nothing for these platforming sections.
If the platforming was super clean, it might not be as annoying, but it’s an area with some rough edges in the game. For example, in one underground cavern, there was a section where I was supposed to jump from a platform to a section to a wall run, but for whatever reason if you did not land exactly where they wanted you to – you just fell over dead like you had fallen into a pit. In another instance I was trying to grapple onto that floating disc in the aforementioned river stage and multiple times the grappling hook pulled me up short and dunked me in the water for an instant death.
There were a few other checkpoint-inducing bugs such as in the first stage an enemy spawned into a solid wall and I couldn’t hit him, and I couldn’t kill him to advance without reloading. I had one battle where I won with 1 hp left and suddenly died for no reason. I respawned with the enemies defeated but the ability to move into the next stage not having triggered, again forcing checkpoint restore. None of these were deal breakers and I was able to move past them relatively quickly, but added up they did irk me at times – especially during that stupid river section.
However, with those quibbles aside – there is a ton to like about the action in Shadow Warrior 3. Combat is satisfying, whether you are hacking someone with your katana or blasting them with a variety of different firearms. Enemy AI isn’t terribly smart, but they can do a lot of damage quickly if you aren’t careful. Again, level design during these arena-like stages is often pretty inspired. With the grappling hook, there is a verticality to the fighting that sees you hoisting yours out of (or sometimes into) trouble, looking for a vantage point, a health item or even just a moment’s peace before you have to take on the enemies again.
Some of the stages also have some clever environmental traps, such as exploding barrels, switches that open up trapdoors, buzzsaw boobytraps and more. There are also some ridiculously over the top finishers that can grant you bonus life or powerful ‘gore’ weapons that range from massive swords or bone clubs to vortexes that suck enemies into them and so much more.
For better or for worse, the playtime here is about a dozen hours – so it certainly felt shorter than Shadow Warrior 2 did, but that is probably a product of being a more on-rails type of game versus one with a semi-open world to explore. Shadow Warrior 3 sets a brisk pace as it follows Wang through his adventures.
Shadow Warrior 3 presents more streamlined action than its predecessor, and revels in his glorious gory shooting and potty-mouthed protagonist. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss some of the RPG elements from Shadow Warrior 2, and there are some rough edges to be found in this latest iteration of the series – but it’s a bloody good time all the same.Score: 7.5 / 10