Review:  Shadow Warrior 3 Is a Competent Shooter that Struggles With Its Series’ Past Identity

 

Screenshot: Shadow Warrior 3

There was a retro style shooter revival in in the ‘10s, and it started before Doom 2016 with games like Shadow Warrior 2013. I was never a huge fan of the Build Engine-based 90’s release of the original Shadow Warrior, a game so full of Duke Nukem style juvenile humor, even the main character’s name is a dick joke: Lo Wang. But the 2013 remake of Shadow Warrior was a surprise to me, and not only featured great gameplay, but a surprisingly poignant story. It paved the way for games like Doom’s 2016 revival. Imagine my surprise, then, that Shadow Warrior 2 did away with a focused single player campaign to instead be a Borderlands-style co-op shooter. It was a major disappointment, for sure—and one I was hoping Shadow Warrior 3 would fix. And as much fun as I had with it, it’s been a mixed bag.

Shadow Warrior 3 is a single player first person shooter, and the latest game in the prequel/revival of Shadow Warrior. In it, you play as Lo Wang, former assassin and guy who kills lots of demons while making stupid (and sometimes funny) quips. Lo Wang has an arsenal of weapons at his disposal, and his trusty demon-killing sword.

Screenshot: Shadow Warrior 3

Since Shadow Warrior 3 is a shooter, it’s imperative that it has a fun selection that feel good to shoot. Good news: Guns feel good to shoot. But the bad news is that there are so few of them. I’d love more variety, and even with the ability to put skill points into guns to increase their abilities, I never felt like any specific weapon was my go-to. A reason for that is probably because weapons just don’t carry that much ammo—even if there are ammo pick-ups aplenty, I was just constantly running out. Even when I upgraded my weapons to be able to hold more ammo, I constantly had to switch between them to keep the demon killing rolling. I can see the argument that that’s good from a game design perspective because you’re encouraged to use your entire array of weapons.  But I just didn’t really like the selection: there’s a railgun, the iconic dual SMGs, a revolver, a grenade launcher, shuriken launcher, and a shotgun—yawn.

Even if the weapons aren’t always exciting, at least the enemies in Shadow Warrior 3 are notable. Most of the demons that occupy the world of Shadow Warrior 3 are brightly colored, and surprisingly interesting for what’s essentially cannon fodder. Shadow Warrior 3 has one of the most interesting sets of baddies I’ve ever encountered in a shooter. Each enemy type sports an impressive array of visual detail and even their own type of personality. There is little fat here as each type of demon has its own role in the cacophony of demons you’ll encounter during combat.  These demons range from the traditional, ugly type to almost whimsical and colorful enemies.

Screenshot: Shadow Warrior 3

Shadow Warrior 3  features a sort of glory  kill system, akin to Doom and Doom Eternal. The main difference here is that  these kills aren’t possible after doing damage to an enemy — instead, you have to fill what’s essentially a glory kill gauge. There are three tiers to the gauge, each representing the three different sized enemies you’ll encounter. Once the gauge is completely full, you can glory kill any enemy—no matter how large. Often, doing so will yield more than gory close-ups: you usually get a weapon out of it. Sometimes you’ll just be given different throwable, grenade-like weapons—other times, you can extract full-blown firearms and melee weapons from these baddies.

Combat always takes place in arena-like areas. While these arenas are fun, and usually full of traps that you can use against your foes, I’m almost getting sick of playing first person shooters that just put you into arena after arena. It looks like the days of first person shooters scattering enemies around levels are mostly gone, and replaced with arena style combat.

Screenshot: Shadow Warrior 3

The glory kills aren’t he only new thing in Shadow Warrior 3: Lo Wang has joined the cool kids club and got himself a grappling hook. This grappling hook plays a major role in gameplay, with entire sections of Shadow Warrior 3 dedicated to grappling and wall running. In fact, Shadow Warrior 3 becomes a be formulaic in that way: you’ll enter into combat, do a wall running/grappling hook thing, and then right back into more arena combat.

I really loved Shadow Warrior 2013. Its story and its emotional beats were somehow my some of the most surprising (and my favorite) moments from that decade of gaming—but  there isn’t much of that here. In fact, I would have almost preferred less cinematic story, but Shadow Warrior 3 insists on having a full cinematic presentation, with lots of dialogue between Lo Wang, Zilla, and Hoji. And none of it is very good. From the acting to the animations, I wanted it all to just stop. The story is a flimsy papier mâché excuse to slaughter demons in droves, its attempts at humor are clumsy and ineffective. That’s a shame for a franchise that emphasized humor, especially in its main character.

Screenshot: Shadow Warrior 3

After Shadow Warrior 2, I didn’t expect any brilliantly poignant story moments, so I can’t really say I was disappointed when they didn’t manifest. There are a few good character moments shared between Lo Wang and Hoji, but I just wasn’t really feeling the buddy movie dynamic they were trying so hard for. It didn’t help that Hoji’s voice really started to grate on me. And since I’m talking about voice actors, it should be mentioned that Lo Wang’s actor shifted, with Mike Moh replacing latest Lo Wang voice actor Jason Liebrecht. Moh does a good enough job as Lo Wang, but he only has so much to work with here, with a change in humor that tries to be more mature, but is really just tip-toeing around the casual racism that was the basis of the humor for the rest of the series. But racism aside, for a series that usually revelled in the lowbrow, its transition to less dick jokes just feels awkward.

Is Shadow Warrior 3 enough to pull you away from Elden Ring or Lost Ark? That really depends. Its incompetent story and inept humor  can be forgiven, but even its very fun gunplay can wear thin. Even with great enemy design, it can begin to feel tedious fighting those same enemies for hours on end with little to break up the loop. Shadow Warrior 3, while competent, just doesn’t deliver on the game I’ve been longing for since Shadow Warrior 2013.

 

Shadow Warrior 3 is available now for PC via Steam and on Xbox and PlayStation 4.

 

 

 

A Steam key was provided to us for this review.

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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, video game historian, and small streamer.
He is also the editor of the Games and Tech section but does not get paid for his work at 3CR.
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