Shadow Warrior 3 is the first game I’ve played that feels like it’s deliberately aimed at the discount market. It’s a short, 6- to 8-hour burst of crowd-pleasing, picturesque violence that you can burn through in a single long evening, or over the course of a couple of weekends.
Two console generations ago, I’d have called SW3 a good rental. While it’s by no means a perfect game, its primary flaw is its launch price.
At $50, it’s a little disappointing, but if you got it for $10, $20, or free on the Xbox Game Pass, as an Epic freebie, or as part of a Humble Bundle, SW3 would be a solid burst of cathartic mayhem. This may be the first game I’ve ever played where it feels like it’s biding its time until it reaches that point.
Save the World From Yourself
At the end of 2016’s Shadow Warrior 2, Lo Wang – former assassin, would-be ninja superhero, and giant nerd who’s simultaneously living his best and worst life – accidentally released a massive, magic-eating dragon into the world. At the start of SW3, after multiple unsuccessful attempts at dealing with the problem himself, Wang is forced to team up with his former arch-nemesis Orochi Zilla to kill the dragon and save what’s left of Earth.
That’s about all you get. SW2 was more of a “looter shooter,” with a deeper world, a lot of enemy variety, and a larger supporting cast. SW3, by comparison, is stripped down to the quick, with a small arsenal, limited upgrades, a relative handful of monsters, and an eight-hour campaign that’s limited to a single player at a time.
It features no co-op, no multiplayer modes, and no additional difficulties, as well as abandoning the gear-hunting mechanics of SW2. Instead, it’s a linear series of monster arenas that puts a lot of focus on mobility, offensive variety, and constant demon murder.
It is, not to put too fine a point on it, Doom Eternal with a sense of humor and a grappling hook. Wang is given a double-jump and air dash right at the start of SW3, and in between combat zones, you’re asked to navigate long, tenuous sequences of narrow platforms, steep slides, walls to run along, and destructible obstacles. It’s reasonably well-executed, but it’s wearing its primary influence on its sleeve.
You don’t often see a series that changes its entire sub-genre so dramatically between games. The original 2013 Shadow Warrior was a little more like this, but less goofy, and its 2016 sequel seemed to be wanting to tap into the same flavor as Borderlands. SW3 is trying to split the difference, between Doom-style straight-up action and a sort of Marvel Cinematic Universe self-aware, self-mocking spectacle.
It still manages to feel like it’s got its own distinct identity, mostly due to Wang’s running commentary and its weird Chinese-myth-by-way-of-Peter-Jackson monster design. It’s a near thing, though. I’m left with the impression that, if there’s a Shadow Warrior 4 at some point, it’ll be a gory, profane dead ringer for whatever goofy and/or heavy-metal FPS gets popular in the next five years.
Guns to a Sword Fight, and Vice Versa
As Wang, you’ve got a gradually-growing arsenal of seven firearms, and can switch to his katana with a single button press at any time. Enemies you kill with guns drop health; those who die to the katana drop ammunition.
That, plus the slowly-respawning health and ammo drops in each primary arena, set the tone for SW3‘s combat. You can take a lot of damage in a hurry in Shadow Warrior 3, but you can restore it almost as quickly with a few kills in rapid succession. It even does the Doom Eternal thing where little enemies will constantly respawn in an arena as long as a bigger one is still standing, so you can bulldoze through them to score easy resources.
The guns are fairly generic at first, with a revolver, shotgun, submachine gun, and grenade launcher making the rounds, but SW3‘s upgrade system slowly makes most of them more fun to use. You can gimmick the SMG to fire electric rounds, for example, or turn the shotgun into a full-auto riot gun that can dump its entire ammunition supply into a demon in seconds. The final gun, the “Shuriken Spitter,” staggers enemies with sticky death frisbees, and that’s hard to hate.
On top of that, Wang has a Finisher meter that gradually refills from pickups. One bar is enough to kill a small fry, while you’ll need two to take out a bigger enemy. In each case, the Finishers last a little too long to be entertaining—the genius behind this mechanic in games like Doom and Serious Sam is that each kill only lasts a second or so—but refill your health and leave you with a temporary “Gore Tool” that you can use to your advantage.
The Gore Tools are arguably the best part of SW3, which makes it irritating that they’re relatively hard to come by. This can range from an overheal to a powerful one-shot “grenade” to, at the highest end, dual chainguns that can sweep an arena clean of life in a few bloody seconds.
If there was one thing I’d change about Shadow Warrior 3, it’d probably be making it faster to charge up Finishers, so you can use the Gore Tools more often. It’d go a long way towards remedying the problem with the combat, which is simply that a lot of the enemies have a little too much health.
SW3 badly needs another big gun or some other kind of “nuclear option,” as its bigger monsters are sacks of meat with relatively high times to kill. Being able to wrench one or more of them apart like a chicken wing on a fairly regular basis would address this issue.
Put a Dick Joke Here
There are a lot of nits to pick with Shadow Warrior 3 overall, like its abysmal final boss fight, or how many of its achievements and built-in challenges don’t reliably keep track of your progress. It’s also got a few cool levels, some decent monsters, and a couple of good laughs. It’s a mixed bag, but it’s decent overall. I’ve enjoyed my time with it.
More than anything, it reminds me of all of the throwaway story-based first- and third-person shooters that appeared in the years immediately following Halo, especially on console. SW3 is a decent-looking, fast-moving game, but it’s over before you know it and there are a lot of little signs that it might’ve been kicked out the door in a hurry.
It’s worth a look if you like this kind of FPS, where speed, agility, and sheer twitch reflexes are king, but SW3‘s campaign is all you get for $50, without even the token attempts at extending its playtime that you’d get from a B-tier PlayStation 2 game.
It’s a fun trip, but it’s arguably not $50 worth of fun. Once you’ve beaten it, you might go back once to clean up the (2 or 3) achievements you missed, and that’s all you’d get.
In a way, I find this refreshing. It’s nice to have a short game around for once, rather than yet another 100-hour open-world extravaganza. Shadow Warrior 3 doesn’t feel like enough game for $50, but it’s also not interested in keeping a grip on me for the next 300 hours. It’s done and over with, and that’s okay.