Shadow Warrior 2
Flying Wild Hog/Devolver Digital
The gaming industry as a whole is in an interesting place right now. Single player games can offer some truly immersive experiences that can make you feel as though you’ve practically been transported to another world. Then we have a veritable plethora of near limitless multiplayer games as well, which are usually of the competitive sort, although we’ve seen an upswing in MMORPGs and MOBAs in recent times.
However, some gaming friends and I were just recently talking about how there aren’t that many great co-op games out there right now. We really love co-op games because they can combine the enveloping depth of a single player game (especially when it comes to co-op campaign modes) with the fun and unpredictability of playing side-by-side with friends. There is also a shared sense of achievement that comes along with accomplishing shared goals with one or more real live teammates that just can’t be duplicated anywhere else.
Flying Wild Hog seems to have picked up on this, and their new game Shadow Warrior 2 seems to not only harken back to the 90s games of old, but also packs a masterfully well-made co-op mode as well. Shadow Warrior 2 picks up where 2013’s original game, Shadow Warrior, left off. Once again, it drops you into the tawdry boots of Lo Wang, who must take up arms in order to save Japan. Orochi Zilla, the evil megacorp overlord from the first game, somehow survived his first run-in with Wang and his demonic assistant Hoji.
It has been five years since their last encounter, and Zilla has seized control of a large portion of Japan and turned it into a hellish, monster-ridden enclave. What’s more, the malevolent mastermind has been experimenting on making demonic super-soldiers the likes of which have never been seen before. Unfortunately, one of Zilla’s lab personnel, a young woman named Kamiko, was a recipient of his twisted designs and became a powerful demonic entity. However, Lo Wang’s mysterious mentor, Master Smith, managed to capture and transfer Kamiko’s essence into Wang. This gives Wang another character to engage in witty banter with, much like Hoji in the original game.
Wang’s cavern base has also been re-tooled and re-imagined, with even more sophomoric bits of silliness than before. Various shopkeepers and hangers-on have also congregated near Wang’s new headquarters, and have formed a mini-village of sorts. Wang can not only get new weapons and equipment from his newfound friends, but also receive new quests from them as well.
Speaking of weapons, there are a wide array of guns and blades to play with this time around. Wang’s powerful Nobitura Kage katana is back, but you can also outfit him with other weapons such as scythe-like polearms, shotguns, or dual wakizashi (Japanese short swords). There’s even a chainsaw available for the more blood-thirsty gamers out there. Weapons can also be upgraded by special gems recovered during missions.
Similar to Titan Quest and its modern incarnation, Grim Dawn, these gems can be inserted into a weapon’s slots for various bonuses. These include extra damage, area of effect capabilities, leaching of experience, abilities, or health, extra ammunition, and so on. Even if you’re not a veteran of those two aforementioned games, the system is pretty easy to learn.
Unlike the original 2013 version, Shadow Warrior 2’s missions are much less linear. In fact, there is quite a bit of procedural generation in the game’s level design. This not only makes things much more dynamic but also vastly increases Shadow Warrior 2’s replayability. You can also chose which missions or side missions you’d like Wang to take on in any order that you please. But don’t think that the side missions are any easier—they are just as fleshed out and content rich as the game’s main missions, and even feature their own full-fledged cut scenes.
While Shadow Warrior 2 may be played solo, it’s the game’s incredible co-op mode that really impressed me. You can play with up to three friends, who can take the roles of equally cool characters who tag along for the ride. The more people that join in, the more the difficulty ramps up. I played with a full four-person party, and let me tell you, the number of enemies that we encountered was astonishing. As well, the bosses were really tough to take down. I really enjoyed this increased scaling of challenge as it made my friends and I rely on much more advanced teamwork in order to get through some of the more difficult areas of the game.
Graphically, I found it astounding when I learned that Shadow Warrior 2 was created by a tiny team of developers. The environments, character models, weapon effects, and just about everything else looks amazing. Not only that, but even when we encountered numerous (and I mean A LOT) of enemies on screen at one time, the game never stuttered or slowed down. Given the fact that this is an indie game with a smallish budget that is on par with most triple A titles out there right now, I can’t wait to see what Flying Wild Hog does next with its proprietary graphics engine.
Shadow Warrior 2’s learning curve is also perfectly measured, skirting the fine line between being too hand-holdy and too frustrating. In the opening missions, you’ll gradually become accustomed to the various game mechanics. Although the gunplay was solid as well as fun, Shadow Warrior 2’s melee combat system is extremely well-realized. Initially, you’ll learn basic maneuvers such as slashing, dashing, and so forth—but as you progress further you’ll discover many new cool moves that are a blast to pull off. After a while, I began to develop my own rhythm within the game’s combat mechanics that became intuitive. Likewise, my co-op friends formed their own battle tactics that suited their playstyles and became more or less second-nature.
Shadow Warrior 2 is one fast-paced hum-dinger of a game. It’s careful blend of excellent pacing, brilliant level design, addictive loot system, full-fledged co-op, and dazzling visuals make it my dark horse pick for game of the year for 2016. It also infuses the proceedings with not only lots of over-the-top action, but also a healthy amount of humor and charm. If you’re looking for a unique action adventure game that will keep you busy for some time, you may want to give Shadow Warrior 2 a try.