I love the Shadow Warrior games and world. The mix of ninja, Chinese folklore, cyberpunk, magic with guns, and first-person shooting just gets me. We’ve made it to the third chapter of Shadow Warrior, and the game takes a 180 in terms of direction from Shadow Warrior 2. Gone is the semi-opened world, and instead, we are put in a first-person shooter and slasher that moves at breakneck speeds through linear levels. We do return to the attitude and visuals of Shadow Warrior 3.
We return as Lo Wang. Lo Wang is a ninja, but don’t expect stealth gameplay. Ninja is used fairly loosely here. Wang, as he’s known, is a sarcastic, somewhat idiotic, arrogant mercenary who has accidentally kind of plunged the world into an apocalypse. The story picks up right after the second one ends, with Lo Wang lamenting his failures and how a dragon escaped and has nearly killed most of the world.
The story itself isn’t much. It’s streamlined. To be fair, that’s the best way to describe Shadow Warrior 3, for better or worse. Shadow Warrior 2 was a fairly complicated game with tons of side quests, bonus missions, and a pile of weapons, upgrades, and play styles. Not to mention Shadow Warrior 2 had this long, somewhat complicated story.
That’s mostly gone now, though. I was a huge fan of Shadow Warrior 2, so moving into Shadow Warrior 3 was a big change. I wasn’t sure how much I’d appreciate it. Even so, I owe it to Wang to finish the journey he and I started in 2013. (Sorry, I’m not a real OG who played the 1997 version.)
Blasting Into Shadow Warrior 3
First and foremost, the game maintains the humor of the original games, which is very important to the Shadow Warrior series. Lo Wang is a lovable idiot and kind of a scum bag, bordering on a douchebag. Yet, he has his charm and always provides an entertaining commentary on the events occurring, as well as plenty of innuendo and one-liners as combat roars on.
What makes Wang a good hero is that he does have good traits. For example, when his former enemy Orochi Zilla says they have to sacrifice the remainder of his demon friend Hoji to fight the dragon, Wang goes off script and risks it all to save Hoji. This works because Hoji has a plan of his own. The story is pretty straightforward, and most of the story is told at the beginning of the game.
We gotta slay a magical, earth-killing dragon, and that means we have a quest. The quest takes us through magical environments facing monsters, demons, zombies, and more, all inspired by Chinese folklore. Well, somewhat inspired. These enemies vary widely, and each has its own weaknesses and strengths. They all also have their unique executions. You can rip their heads off, disembowel them, disarm them, turn their weapons against them, etc.
They are all quite varied. When Wang pulls off an execution, he also gets a temporary weapon or effect. This includes double health, freezing enemies, or getting a big, giant sword to swing around. Each enemy gives you a unique effect or power.
The game and combat move at a breakneck speed. It never slows down. If you stop moving, you’ll be dead before you know it. You’ll be running through environments and bashing your way through countless demons. The world engages you in a wide variety of movements. You’ll jump (and double jump), dash, climb, wall run, and grapple hook. The grappling hook is something that seems to be in nearly every new game, and Wang points it out in a bit of meta-humor.
The game encourages speed, and even just moving between different parts of the world can be a thrill. It’s not necessarily a platformer, but those elements are there, and you’ll need precisely timed jumps and grapple hooks to make your way through the world.
Combat is continuous, and most of your big fights will be in their arenas implemented into each level. What starts as a wide open area in the beginning stages evolves into ever more complicated environments to fight in. You’ll have grappling hook points, wall running, and verticality to deal with. Eventually, all manner of traps and environmental hazards will be present that can help or hurt you.
Combat is all about moving, killing, and alternating between your guns and katana. When you use your katana to kill enemies, you’ll get ammo. When you kill enemies with guns, you’ll get health pickups. This has you constantly swapping between guns and your sword to deal death and maintain high ammo and health. You simply can’t favor one over the other, and built-in series of challenges encourage you to try everything.
The Upgrade system in Shadow Warrior 3 is also very simple and easy to use. You can apply three upgrades to each weapon and several upgrades to your character. You get upgrade points by finding them in the world and completing challenges. Their additions to your guns, katana, and Wang, are effective but repetitive. Every gun has a double ammo upgrade, for example.
With such a straightforward game, I understand simplifying it, but I felt pretty disappointed and didn’t care much about earning upgrades. In Shadow Warrior 2, I scraped through every side mission to earn upgrades and max out my Wang.
The guns are all entirely fictional. Some are rational, like the big magnum revolver you start with. It’s a sweet, modern double-action design, but it’s a top break for two reloads. You have a pair of submachine guns that you dual-wield and a four-barreled shotgun with Winchester Liberator vibes to it.
Then you have a grenade launcher, a rail gun, and a shuriken launcher. Some guns get crazy, but they are all admittedly unique. They are all useful til the very end of the game. Even the Outlaw, aka the starting gun, remains useful. I appreciate the creativity and how the different guns offer different effects on the enemies. Each offers you a distinctive style and allows you to take down different enemies rapidly.
The katana allows for both light and heavy attacks as well as elemental damage. You can also use your grappling hook to yank your Wang to enemies and rapidly close the distance to defeat them.
Hold Onto Your Wang
Shadow Warrior 3 is a ton of fun to play. I enjoyed my time. However, it does have some problems. It’s graphically just okay with a lot of flat textures. The sound has some kind of big where it just mutes itself sometimes or makes a noise annoying enough to cause me to reset the game. Shadow Warrior 3 was fun, but I’m not a fan of how the game stripped itself down.
If you get it cheap, it’s worth the thrill. Hopefully, Shadow Warrior 4 can strike a balance between fast-moving combat and story, on top of a more thorough upgrade system. Here’s hoping we get more Wang in the near future.