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Review: Shadow Warrior 3

28 Feb 2022

While Devolver Digital is known for publishing everything from the quiet and emotional Gris to the gory and violent Carrion, the publishing studio itself is known for having a snarky, off-kilter sense of humor. Watching any of their E3 “press conferences” is a quick way to see what the studio is about (and a rabbit hole all on its own to go down).

So it’s not much of a surprise that Devolver publishes its fair share of snarky, off-kilter humorous games as well. And when they’re also loaded up with buckets of blood, even better.

The game we’re looking at today is that exact blend of humor and violence that makes one just immediately think, “Yup, that’s something Devolver would publish alright.” It also has quite a history, being the third entry in a series that began in 2013 as a reboot of a classic 3D Realms FPS. It carries that old-school shooter vibe on its sleeve as well, for better or worse.

Developed by Flying Wild Hog and published by Devolver Digital, Shadow Warrior 3 is set for release on PC, PS4, and Xbox One on March 1st, 2022. The PC version was played for this review.

Dragon Your Ass

Lo Wang has screwed up. He’s screwed up big time.

Before the start of the game, Lo Wang – corporate ninja now working as a mercenary – accidentally released a gigantic dragon upon the world. Whist complaining about his situation to a mask that contains the soul of an old friend, Hoji, Lo Wang is approached by his former employer, a man named Zilla. While they have a tense relationship (to put it lightly), Lo Wang and Zilla agree to work together to find a way to stop the rampaging dragon and save the world.

For being a game that feel so tied to its old-school FPS roots on its sleeve, I’m kind of surprised by the amount of story here in Shadow Warrior 3. It’s a story carrying over from previous entries as well…and, unfortunately, the game doesn’t offer much to bring newcomers up to speed. It’s not a particularly deep story, and I was able to glean character backgrounds and relationships through context clues. However, things like Lo Wang appearing to immediately hate Zilla at the beginning of the game just caused some immediate confusion for me.

I was able to catch up quick, though. As I said, they story isn’t really deep, and once I had the characters and their relationships set in my head, things became a relatively enjoyable ride. The story here is a mix of serious stakes and extremely irreverent humor. The humor, though, may be hit or miss for some players.

Much of the humor here is of the “lol so random” variety. Old school love ballads playing when Lo Wang comes close to a dead body in cutscenes, for some reason. Crude sex jokes that are ground into the dirt in a “Do you get it? Do you get it??? It’s a reference to genitalia!” kind of way. Lots of random pop culture references from Lo Wang during battles.

The writing throws as much as it possibly can at the wall to get a laugh, hoping to see what will stick. And I will admit, a few moments and one-liners got some audible chuckles out of me. Those who are looking for a more serious story aren’t likely to find much to enjoy here…although, at this point, this style of humor is what the Shadow Warrior series is known for, and most players will be aware of it going in.

Work Off That Dust

As mentioned a few times, Shadow Warrior 3 is a decidedly old-school feeling fast-paced FPS. Most fights find you in arenas surrounded by constantly spawning enemies, and you have to sprint around, dodge, and pump enough lead into each monster to clear them out. The big difference in the core gameplay here is an emphasis on melee, with Lo Wang having access to a katana that can cut down most enemies just as efficiently as any gun.

Things are built around using both guns and your katana in balance, rather than falling back on one or the other. Killing enemies with your katana drops ammunition, while getting gun kills drops health pickups, encouraging the player to balance both.

Lo Wang also gets access to a handful of weapons (ranging from a pistol to a laser rifle), as well as a grappling hook that can bring him directly to enemies, and a “Chi Blast” that can knock enemies away and leave them vulnerable. The gun selection is small but efficient, with only one weapon I found myself actively avoiding (a crossbow that shoots saw blades!). I did end up leaning rather hard on the aforementioned laser rifle, though, as it was the most reliable weapon to take down larger enemies, and ammunition was easy enough to come by despite the weapon only having a four round max clip before upgrades.

Really, running out of ammunition or health is surprisingly rare in this game. I played through on standard difficulty, and I can count on one hand the number of times I actually died during a non-boss shootout. Each arena in a stage has health and ammo drops dotted throughout it, that appear to respawn after a given amount of time. Getting gun kills drops small health pickups, as mentioned. The game also seems to give a bit of a grace period before killing the player, too – I noticed surprisingly often that my health would drop to 1HP after taking a ton of hits to the face…and then stay there for a bit, giving me time to get away and pick up some more health.

Assisting this weird survivability is Shadow Warrior 3‘s gimmick: using insta-kills to steal unique weapons from enemies. Either through item pickups or just getting enough kills, you can build up a special meter that allows Lo Wang to perform an execution on an enemy. How much meter you need depends on how powerful the enemy is. Executing an enemy not only restores your health to full, but also gives you access to a special weapon. These range from bombs that freeze enemies in place to big disco laser balls that melt everything in a given radius.

Getting these weapons can be an utter game changer in many fights, considering there’s a surprising amount of enemies that are massive bullet sponges. A few rather common larger enemies seemed to wave off a barrage of grenades and lasers without a sweat, but if I got hold of a massive sword from a different enemy, they’d shatter immediately.

Shadow Warrior 3 is also a game of quick platforming and maneuverability as much as it is one of combat. Both between and during fights, you’ll be jumping between platforms, scaling and running along walls, and grapple-hooking your way over chasms and into better firing positions. And, really, it was these platforming elements that I enjoyed more than just the straight shooting gameplay. The platforming is surprisingly tight, and the speed at which it is done is very satisfying.

Unfortunately, I ran across a few incredibly frustrating glitches during the non-combat parts of the game. One stage required me to do some platforming to exit an arena I just cleared, with a couple of quick wall-running segments. When running along one of these walls, Lo Wang would just…suddenly die. For no reason at all. During a later auto-“scrolling” stage, I had to shoot down some vines to clear a pathway. During one run, I shot down said vines, but the path clearing didn’t trigger, leading to my death once again.

Luckily, the game has a forgiving checkpoint system, so I didn’t lose any real progress running up against these glitches. Still, they got quite annoying, especially the former example which happened a good five or six times before the game decided to work correctly and let me leave the arena.

Speaking of leaving the arena, that’s the other big issue I have with the gameplay here. Typically, once an arena is cleared, some vines somewhere in the area will light up yellow, indicating they can be shot/stabbed to clear them and continue the stage. Unfortunately, these were often hard to spot. It wasn’t uncommon for me to spend a minute or two after clearing out an arena just searching for where the damn exit was.

Beauteous Blur

Visually, Shadow Warrior 3 is a pretty attractive game. Character models are nicely detailed and animate well, enemy designs are incredibly imaginative (though seeing the same ones over and over as the game progresses does begin to get stale), and the various environments you fight through are attractive to the eyes as well. Sure, you don’t get much time to stop and observe as you’re blasting through a stage at light-speed slashing down monsters, but what you do get to see ain’t bad at all.

I do need to mention that I had some stuttering issues when the game switched from gameplay to cutscene, as if it struggled to load up said cutscenes on the fly. I’m willing to chalk that issue up to my PC build beginning to show its age, but it is worth mentioning to explain my experience in full.

The voice acting, though…is an interesting beast. The performance for Lo Wang isn’t bad…but the character just never shuts up, constantly rattling off bad one-liners, which can turn the decent voicework grating quickly. The voice for Hoji was very off-putting as well, sounding like the performer was saying their lines while holding their nose.

Like Open Mic Night

Overall, Shadow Warrior 3 is a straight-forward, fast-paced FPS loaded with weird and stupid humor, and it makes no efforts to hide what it is. It’s built relatively well, moves by fast, and leaves behind mostly positive memories of the time spent with it.

The thing is, it doesn’t really do much to stand out. The fast pace, the focus on maneuverability, even its adherence to old-school FPS style, all of it has been done well (and in some cases better) elsewhere in recent memory. Does this make it a bad game? No, not by any means at all. But when the only real gimmick it has going for it is weird humor that doesn’t really stick the landing, there’s not really anything else that will make it a go-to pick for FPS fans looking for something to sink their teeth into.

Shadow Warrior 3 is an interesting title and a fun playthrough. But I can’t say it’s one to go out of your way to get your hands on. However, if you have the opportunity to play it, it’s a worthwhile ride.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review copy provided by Devolver Digital for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.