It’s hard to believe Flying Wild Hog’s Shadow Warrior games started off as a retro revival of the 3D Realms’ 1997 Build Engine title. While the 2013 game made references to the original, it was very much its own thing. Then I skipped the second title because it would make me feel lonely to play it by myself, and now we’re at Shadow Warrior 3, and it’s unrecognizable.
That’s where we were last year, I guess. This is Shadow Warrior 3: Definitive Edition.
The Definitive Edition comes with survival mode and a new game plus, but otherwise, it’s the same Wang. I haven’t gotten intimate with this Wang yet, so thankfully, my experience will never not be definitive.
Shadow Warrior 3: Definitive Edition (PS4, Xbox Series X|S, (PC [reviewed])
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Released: February 16, 2023
Sometime after whatever happened in Shadow Warrior 2, the world is in ruins because a dragon has been running amok. It’s kind of hard to believe that there ever was a world since all the wreckage you see seems to have existed in a weird mash-up of ancient China and feudal Japan. It’s colorful, at least.
Series protagonist, Lo Wang, has tried and failed to take the dragon down and, as a result, has lost his significant self-confidence. Orochi Zilla shows up one day with a plan to take the dragon down. It relies on the mask of Wang’s dead spirit friend, Hoji. And then we just kind of stagger down that train of thought, trying to take down the dragon and hoping that something eventually works.
Shadow Warrior 3 is obviously not too committed to the whole story thing. At least, I hope that’s not what it had in mind. Otherwise, I just tried to soften the blow and punched through the back of its head. Because the story is pretty horrible. It’s a bunch of half-developed characters bickering with Wang, and since everything is destroyed, they are the only characters there are. It’s a hard world to feel like saving when every character is a self-described dick, and no one else was important enough to stick around.
The gameplay is where it’s really at. Shadow Warrior 3 apes Doom Eternal pretty hard, with a focus on short arenas that you sprint between. If you’re observant, you can see when you’re about to drop into one because the level suddenly opens up to be wider than a spaghetti noodle, and there are usually pick-ups lying around.
Between these arenas are free-running sections. Largely, you just look for obvious indications of where to go next, then dash toward them. There’s wall running, grappling, and sliding, with some variation in between.
The arenas themselves have you facing off against a growing gallery of baddies. Once again, it takes cues from Doom Eternal. Enemies drop different flavors of murder fuel depending on how you hit them. If you shoot them, they drop health, but if you’re low on ammo, you can give them a thwack with your katana to get them to bleed bullets. It puts the focus on fast movement and constant aggression, which is a really fun approach to gunplay.
Both slices of gameplay pie taste good. However, they start to wear thin by the end of the game, and Shadow Warrior 3 is about 5 hours long. Enemies are drip-fed in, and the big ones are mostly just annoying bullet sponges to kill. That’s fine at first, but when you’re just pushing to get to something new, it becomes a slog. I don’t know how a 5-hour game becomes a slog, but the Wang found a way.
It doesn’t help that Lo Wang spews a constant power stream of verbs. The guy never shuts the hell up, and while I understand that he was first introduced in the ‘90s, Duke Nukem and, well, classic Lo Wang both knew how to shut their traps for a while. Modern Lo Wang never lets up for a moment, and out of every one chuckle-eliciting phrase, there are about two dozen that fall flat. And then they just get repeated constantly. It was like having someone rake their fingernails down my back, and not in the sexy way.
It gets worse when Hoji joins the mix. I found Hoji to be reasonably enjoyable in the first game, but with him and Wang bouncing off each other, it’s practically nauseating. Humor is always going to be extremely subjective, but I can’t imagine enjoying the sheer frequency of his one-liners.
One of the new features of Shadow Warrior 3: Definitive Edition is its survival mode, and while Wang still can’t keep his mouth sealed in it, he’s at least way less talkative. I really don’t know why this wasn’t just his normal frequency or why it wasn’t an adjustable option. If I listed out my biggest issues with Shadow Warrior 3 from most intrusive to least, Lo Wang’s verbal incontinence would be at the top.
At least Mike Moh sounds like he’s having a lot of fun with the role, but the problem is that Lo Wang sounds like he’s constantly having more fun than I am.
Too much Wang
This is also the first game in a while that I had to adjust the field of view. I know what the setting does, but I feel developers usually have one in mind when creating the visual feel of their games. However, in Shadow Warrior 3, I initially felt uncomfortable playing it. Something felt extremely off with the gameplay, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I can’t remember what led me to increase the FOV, but the difference was so impactful it felt like I could suddenly breathe again. Like the narrow field of view was suffocating my brain.
Yet, even after that, I liked Shadow Warrior 3 but didn’t love it. I feel like the series is either desperately trying to find its own identity or is happy with aping other FPS designs. If it’s the latter, I’m not sure being the bargain brand version of better games is the right approach. Shadow Warrior 3 tries so hard to follow in the footsteps of Doom Eternal but gets lost beneath its treads.
As it stands, Shadow Warrior 3 is a fine game, and the Definitive Edition will be a welcome upgrade to owners of the original console versions, but it only manages to meet expectations while also running it under a track of abrasive banter. It’s like playing skeeball while the fire alarms keep going off. It’s not a bad way to spend your time, but you might be happier if you went and found out what’s burning.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]