Shadow Warrior 3: Definitive Edition review: Third time’s the charm?

1 year ago 89

The Shadow Warrior franchise has been around for quite some time, with its first entry, Shadow Warrior, releasing all the way back in 1997. Since then, the series has seen multiple publishers, expansions, and a recent 2013 reboot. Given the series’ quarter-of-a-century-long existence, you would think the Shadow Warrior formula has been set in stone, right? Well, Shadow Warrior 3 proves, for the third time since the series reboot, that this is not the case. Don’t get me wrong; the fast-paced, adrenaline pumping combat of Shadow Warrior 3 and its predecessors is an enticing mainstay, but the derivative new gameplay mechanics, cringe-inducing story, and painfully short campaign prove that the series has yet to solve its 25 year long identity crisis.

Shadow Warrior 3 follows the story of Wang, a wise-cracking ninja with a bloodlust for demons. The game opens with a story catch-up of sorts: an ancient dragon has destroyed the known world and most of its inhabitants. It’s up to Wang to gain allies, weapons, and powers to track down the dragon and defeat it, saving the world in the process. Sounds intriguing? Don’t get your hopes up.

Unfortunately, as a series veteran, I would argue that the third entry has the weakest story in the franchise. Though none of the Shadow Warrior games feature award-winning narratives, Shadow Warrior 3 feels exceptionally shallow, as if Flying Wild Hog, the developer, forgot that a story is meant to be cohesive and have overarching themes. I never cared about a single thing happening on screen, and as far as I could tell, the game didn’t really care either. The characters were lifeless and lacked any kind of relevance to the story, never doing anything important and leaving pretty much everything up to Wang. During the end cutscene, I had to double take, as there was a character I was sure had never been introduced. Upon going back and watching earlier parts of the game, I was relieved to learn that it wasn’t just me not paying attention – the character had around two minutes of screen time after being introduced, and then was only around for the very end. 

I feel obligated to discuss the voice acting in Shadow Warrior 3, because there is a lot of it. I think this is the first game I’ve played that felt over-acted; there was almost never a point where nobody was talking. Wang’s voice work was well performed, while shooting off jokes at every opportunity. Though a lot of the jokes seemed dated, they did get a few chuckles out of me. But honestly, I generally found myself rolling my eyes more often than not. Other characters are really phoned in; evidently, they did not have much of a script to work with, so their dialogue is essentially meaningless and lacks any sense of passion or care.

Now I know I was somewhat harsh on the story. Luckily, combat makes up for a lot of the shortcomings of the narrative. Shadow Warriors 3 more closely resembles a game like Doom Eternal than the past entries of the series. Now more than ever, push-forward combat is the main emphasis of the game. Wang is a machine of death, fueled by items, health, and ammo dropped by his adversaries. Finishing moves are introduced here, accessed via a charge-up meter. Completing an animated kill on an enemy grants a “Gore Weapon”, a powerful and unique gun or sword on a timer that can change the tide of an onslaught in your favor. These exist as an incentive to get rapid kills and maintain momentum, you’re always looking for the next enemy to slaughter as if you’re a current in an electrical circuit.

Killing mystical demons is dumb-fun in Shadow Warrior 3, and is accentuated by the weapon-wheel at Wang’s disposal. From shotguns, to railguns, to grenade launchers, each of the seven main weapons serve a purpose and are a crucial instrument in the symphonies of death that are Shadow Warrior’s encounters. Need to hit precise weak points on an enemy at a distance? Use the railgun. Aggressive swordsman enemy-type on your tail? Keep him busy with the shuriken launcher. Lots of low-level goons started to form a train? The dual-wield submachine guns have you covered. And of course, there is the series mainstay in Wang’s trusty Katana, always ready to slice demons at close range.

A few improvements to Wang’s moveset are introduced in Shadow Warrior 3 as well. Wall-running is in the game, though it definitely comes off a bit forced, like Flying Wild Hog was trend-chasing. Speaking of trend-chasing – Shadow Warrior 3 also features a grappling hook, bestowed upon Wang early in the game. This is an addition that does feel at home in the series, allowing you to zip around the battlefield with ease and punish enemies at close range. It also allows for slingshot maneuvers and easy access to high ground, leading to satisfying combos. The remaining traversal features, like double-jump and dash, are pretty standard fare for a first-person-shooter of this type now, and are implemented well.

A few things were detrimental to the experience I had with Shadow Warrior 3’s gameplay. Firstly, the game is painfully short – my playthrough, in which I searched for collectibles, explored side areas, and completed all combat encounters – only lasted approximately five hours. I never felt like I had the opportunity to explore the potential of each weapon, let alone fully upgrade them using various items scattered throughout the game world. Additionally, every encounter feels packed with enemies, don’t get me wrong; but their placement never feels intentional. Enemy spawns are unpredictable and awkward; some enemy types are clearly meant to work in tandem, but are almost never utilized together. The staggering majority of scenarios are a smorgasbord of heavy and light enemies, with flying baddies and tank types never flowing well, like they do in  games like Doom Eternal or Bulletstorm.

Now, this is the Definitive Edition of Shadow Warrior 3, which comes with its own perks over the standard edition of the game. To start, the Definitive Edition is native to Playstation 5/current-gen consoles, so it runs at a stable 60 frames with few drops throughout the campaign. The great performance compliments the great graphics in Shadow Warrior 3, as I often found myself stopping to stare at the beautiful, fantastic vistas the game boasts. The Definitive Edition also has new difficulty modes, a New Game Plus mode, and 4K visual enhancements. Not to mention, all of these upgrades are free to players who already own the game. Points for that.

Shadow Warrior 3 does little to reinvigorate the Shadow Warrior series. A scant campaign, downright bad narrative, obnoxious voice acting, and generally derivative new gameplay mechanics do little to set this entry apart from other FPS titles. However, combat is, as always, incredibly satisfying, and probably worth enjoying at least once.

Shadow Warrior 3 does little to reinvigorate the Shadow Warrior series. A scant campaign, downright bad narrative, obnoxious voice acting, and generally derivative new gameplay mechanics do little to set this entry apart from other FPS titles. However, combat is, as always, incredibly satisfying, and probably worth enjoying at least once.

PROS

  • Visceral combat
  • Great arsenal of weapons

CONS

  • Bad story
  • Underwhelming gameplay additions

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