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December 2023

Shadow Warrior 3: Definitive Edition

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Release Date: March 1, 2022


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PC Review - 'Shadow Warrior 3'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 28, 2022 @ 6:00 a.m. PST

Shadow Warrior 3 marks the triumphant return of fallen corporate shogun Lo Wang and launches the offbeat first-person shooter series to the next level.

Shadow Warrior 3 opens with a broken and defeated Lo Wang playing with his action figures. His preview adventure left his best friend dead and a giant dragon destroying the world. His every attempt to defeat the dragon ended in miserable defeat. He appears to give up, but then his old frenemy Zilla appears. Zilla offers Lo Wang exactly what he needs: the chance to kill the dragon and get his mojo back. He'll need to recover the mask of Hoji and bring it to a mysterious witch. What could go wrong?

The biggest barrier to enjoying Shadow Warrior 3 is probably how much you can tolerate a game that is an homage to '80s movies with a protagonist who does not shut up about '80s pop culture references. This is Lo Wang's entire deal, so fans should be used to it, but newcomers have to understand that Lo Wang is what happens if Travis Touchdown were obsessed with old American pop culture. Every word out of his mouth is a curse word or an inside joke. Some can be hilarious, but others are duds. The game does a bit of a disservice, as the funniest jokes are usually character-based, but Shadow Warrior 3 ultimately knows what it is: a game about an annoying motormouth ninja who saves the day and makes everyone want to kill him.

I don't usually like to be so blunt, but the best way to describe Shadow Warrior 3's gameplay is Doom Eternal. It's a very fast-paced, arcade-style shooter with an emphasis on nonstop movement, constantly getting close to enemies, resource management, and lots of violence. So much violence. When you pick up the game, fans will find it very familiar, but newcomers may take a while to adjust to the shift in gameplay. It's fast, furious, and it has little time for anything but rip and tear — or, in Shadow Warrior 3's case, slash and quip.

Like Doom Eternal, Shadow Warrior 3 also has a limited pool of ammo that you can quickly replenish. Most weapons only have a handful of shots at any given time, but any enemy you kill with your katana drops ammo. Likewise, any enemy you kill with your guns drops health. Similar to the chainsaw and glory kills, constantly swapping between the two keeps your ammo and health full. This feels a little less balanced because your katana is always available, so any theoretical weapon limitations are functionally nonexistent because you're getting constantly ammo. It's difficult to complain about a good reason to cut zombies in half with a magic sword.

Speaking of glory kills, Shadow Warrior 3 has its own version of the concept that mixes it with a chainsaw and a new feature. As you fight, you'll get finisher orbs. Once you fill up enough orbs, you can perform a finisher on a foe, and that instantly kills them and refills your health. Stronger enemies require more bars, with large foes taking two bars and a specific foe taking three. Once you perform a finisher on a baddie, you gain a unique buff or weapon based on the enemy you kill. Basic yokai mobs will double your health, big hammer-wielding foes give you a giant hammer, and massive chaingun-wielding behemoths let you temporarily use their chaingun.

This system is an encouragement to not save insta-kills for a tough enemy but for the enemy that'll provide the best possible buff. I preferred to save mine for the katana-wielding monsters that gave me a powerful blade that tears through a dozen strong enemies. At the same time, you can use it on a regular mook to sacrifice potential damage for a huge health buff or an ice-bomb that freezes everything nearby. A lot of the weapons feel overpowered, but that's not always a problem. Sometimes you want a "kill everything nearby" button, much like how Doom has a BFG. Pushing it into the natural flow of combat helps it feel fast-paced.

All of the standard weapons and some character abilities can be upgraded by finding upgrade tokens throughout the stages or completing challenges that reward them. I'm a bit mixed on this system. It's neat to get more powerful, but the value of certain skills is so low that they're not worth touching while others are absurdly overpowered. Certain weapons only become fun to use after you upgrade them multiple times, whereas that same investment could be used to make a particular gun absurdly strong instead.

Shadow Warrior 3 has a good — but not great — selection of weapons. You have a standard pistol that can be upgraded to set things on fire, a shotgun that can be upgraded to have full auto and no reloads; a pair of sub machineguns that can be upgraded to shock foes; a grenade launcher that can be upgraded for more booms; a railgun that can be upgraded to slow time, pierce foes, and freeze everyone around it; and a shuriken launcher that does limited damage but stun-locks foes to leave them vulnerable to other attacks. This is in addition to your handy katana, which can be given elemental ranged attacks.

I like the weapons in Shadow Warrior 3, but I don't love them. Many feel like standard shooter fare, which is a tough disappointing for a franchise that has had some truly absurd weapons. The standout is perhaps the Basilisk, the aforementioned railgun that feels powerful and will probably be many a mainstay weapon because of how incredibly strong it is. Reliable is good, but I sometimes wished for something besides the classic. The shuriken launcher is the closest to feeling unique, and it amounts to shooting a bullet that sometimes stuns a foe. You get a grappling hook (and the game even jokes about how everyone needs one now), but it only latches to small foes or green rings.

Your other weapon are the game arenas. Most (but not all) are filled with a variety of traps that you can use on foes. Explosive pots litter the landscape and can inflict dangerous status effects on foes. Spinning buzzsaws or floor pits can be activated by shooting a glowing yellow marker, and they serve functionally as instant kills. They take a while to recharge, but they can be used repeatedly and can turn some overwhelming fights into a cakewalk. The best fights are those built around a busy arena with tons of paths and traps. The most boring involve you just shooting foes.

Outside of combat, there's … not much else to the game. A good chunk of time is spent platforming from area to area, but this almost exclusively consists of running at green walls, which effectively automate the next part. They're not bad, but it doesn't feel particularly meaningful, and they rarely integrate with combat. You can collect the aforementioned power-up items, but most are directly in your path or off a very small side path. There's no need to hunt for them.

There are two potentially significant flaws with Shadow Warrior 3. The game feels enough like Doom Eternal that the shortcomings stand out more. It's still a lot of fun to play, but it lacked the same highs as Eternal. Everything meshed together, and I never felt the same sense of frantic control. It feels more like an arcade experience. That means it lacks potential roadblocks like the Marauders, but it also means that nothing shines as much as I'd like. I still had plenty of fun with the core combat, and "not quite as good" isn't remotely the same as bad.

The grappling hook fills a similar role to the meathook in Doom Eternal, but it can only be used on specific enemies, so it feels far less useful. Sometimes you can use it to get more mobility away from a dangerous spot, but I kept forgetting it existed. The same occurred with the chi blast, which was far less satisfying and useful than the blood punch, and once again, it seemed borderline useless on big enemies. The weapons don't feel as structured, and I used the Basilisk railgun most of the time because it's powerful, pierced enemies, and froze everything near its target. The shotgun stands out because it takes a full series of upgrades to feel like the base Eternal shotgun. (Admittedly, it feels awesome once it is fully upgraded.) None of this is terrible on its own, but it invites so much comparison to its obvious inspiration that it's hard to ignore.

The other flaw is that the game is short in addition to feeling padded. It took me about five hours to finish the game on my first runthrough, and while there are higher difficulty levels, it doesn't give me a ton of encouragement to try them. Once you're through 60% of the game, you've basically seen everything it has to offer, and all that remains is going through the same platforming puzzles and arenas with slightly different skins. By the time I reached the end of the runtime, I felt like the game had just avoided overstaying its welcome. A good chunk of the game, especially the last few levels, is comprised of basic platforming puzzles that are fun the first few times through but start to blur together by the end.

For the most part, Shadow Warrior 3 looks really good. It's bright and well animated, and every enemy, item and power-up stands out well. There are some impressive gore effects that make the damage you inflict on enemies feel significant. There could be more variety in level design, but at very least you're frequently shifting from one area to another, so it never gets dull. The voice acting is largely excellent. Mike Moh's Lo Wang is immensely annoying in the exact right ways and manages to save some jokes that would otherwise land with a thud. For me, the standout was SungWon Cho's Zilla, who knocked every scene out of the park.

Shadow Warrior 3 is a fun shooter that falls short of greatness. The combat is fast and frantic, and it is intense enough that I found myself getting lost in it. The short length, lack of variety, and inevitable comparisons to Doom Eternal don't do it any favors. I am glad that I played Shadow Warrior 3, and I imagine a lot of folks will feel the same way. It might be best to wait for a price drop, as $50 is slightly hefty for the amount of content you get.

Score: 8.0/10

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