Where 2013’s Shadow Warrior was a straight-up reboot of the 90s shooter, its sequel almost feels like a complete departure. That base formula of deliberately poor puns, Chinese mythology, and visceral combat is still there, but it’s now heavily influenced by dungeon crawlers. Much like Borderlands and Destiny, Shadow Warrior 2 can be branded as a ‘looter shooter’, carrying various traits and systems you might find in the roleplaying genre.
As a result, players are no longer confined to small skirmishes as they attempt to push through the story, stage by stage. In Shadow Warrior 2, levelling up Lo Wang and his massive customisable arsenal quickly become your priority as you seek to build the deadliest loadout imaginable.
It’s a complete paradigm shift and one that makes the story largely optional for those who simply want to jump in and shoot or hack things into pieces. The game’s non-linear design pushes many of the characters out of view, effectively turning them into chatty quest givers that crop up intermittently with new assignments for Wang.
Wang himself is a bit of a throwback, channeling the dumb action game hero stereotype of the 90s. His constant barrage of puns has a Duke Nukem-esque ring to them, though the writing is clearly self-aware. You can feel the game almost forcing you to roll you eyes while grinning at the occasional jokes that manage to land.
In Shadow Warrior 2, combat is both visceral and frantic. For the more part you’ll be fighting up close, peppering enemies from the hip and dicing them up with a variety of melee weapons. There’s an awesome range of weapons on show here that covers all the traditional FPS archetypes and then some. What really stands out, however, is the degree of customisation available.
As you cut and blast your way through each mission, you’ll be showered with a glittering hail of gems. These can be attached to any of your weapons, conferring a wide range of bonuses from improved clip size or movement speed to elemental damage. For those who love to dive into stats, mixing and matching gems will quickly become an obsession, and their effects can be pretty noticeable in battle.
With over 70 weapons, Shadow Warrior 2 proffers a sense of individuality that’s often missing in first person shooters. If you want to pimp out your katana and just use that, you can. The game also throws in a handful of magic-like powers that consume Wang’s chi. These, along with a growing list of passive skills, can be ranked up using karma (experience points) gained from enemy kills and completing missions.
Having already released on PC last year, this frantic brand of gameplay suits the mouse and keyboard better than your conventional gamepad. It demands a degree of precision that console players simply won’t have without tweaking some settings first. Luckily, only a few weapons suffer from this transition.
Being a looter shooter means there are fewer tight corridors and far more open areas. Again, when describing level design, there’s a definite Borderlands vibe at play. While objective markers will help guide you through these environments, there’s nothing stopping players from taking diversions to fight enemy mobs, gather loot, and uncover the game’s secrets.
Coming away from shooters like Battlefield and Call of Duty, that freedom can be empowering. However, several hours into Shadow Warrior 2, this can give way to a sense of grinding repetition, especially when hunting bounties or running fetch quests.
It’s no coincidence that Shadow Warrior 2 offers online cooperative play. By having a squad of ninjas at your side, combat is suddenly faster and more tactical as you rip through entire levels like some kind of sword-wielding hurricane. The only downside to this, however, is returning to solo play and feeling comparatively underpowered.
Flying Wild Hog has gone well beyond churning out a simple sequel to its rebooted series. Shadow Warrior 2 stands on its own as a frenzied yet fresh blending of genres that can easily enthral groups of players for hours at a time. For lone wolves, the looting and shooting will be slightly less appealing. This, and a few smaller hitches, hold the game back from greatness, though die-hard fans of the genre will certainly get their fill.
Version tested: PlayStation 4