With the release of Shadow Warrior 3, it is finally clear that Flying Wild Hog’s ultimate plan for this franchise is to do whatever the hell they want with it. The start of the reboot series used a Painkiller frame for the rhythm of combat and exploration, the second game went into looter shooting with fun movement from the last game, and now the third game has decided that that ol’ DOOM Eternal over there is pretty neato. If you thought Eternal was over stuffed with mechanics and busy work, you may just enjoy Shadow Warrior 3, which can be best described as a streamlined version of that game with actually engaging and witty writing. Just know it may be a tad too streamlined.
Taking place a few months after the world changing end of the last game, Wang has now become a recluse talking to Hoji’s worn out mask and explaining that his failure to kill a world ending dragon (which also killed off all the ancients off screen) has made him lose his “mojo.” Thankfully, Orochi Zilla appears, now without his former empire or riches, to get Wang back in the game. He has a last ditch plan to end that dragon, and he needs Wang’s help to do it, along with a powerful witch named Mokoto. Things quickly spiral out of control as Wang ends up on an emotional roller coaster while the fate of the world hangs in the balance (or at least what’s left of it).
This is probably the best script in the series so far, tying up loose ends from the first two reboot games, while ignoring and outright removing more troubling elements from the last game by making the dragon just wipe everything out off-screen. As an exploration of Lo Wang, the story works great, perfectly nailing his morally ambiguous place in the whole way of things. It shows how his hero complex and love for ultra violence combine him into someone who means well, but can easily be manipulated by others, and it makes him genuinely sympathetic as he tries to make the best of a bad situation.
The key to this is everyone else is just as self absorbed, but still capable of doing good. Zilla is still clearly frustrated by Wang due to their past but has some respect for him when he finally gets his head together, and Makoto makes for an interesting addition to the dynamic. She knows a lot more then anyone else, thinking highly of herself, ending up making similar mistakes that Zilla did in the past. The forth, spoiler heavy character to the ensemble steals the show once they appear, resulting in a clever re-examination of some of the ideas and drama from the first reboot game.
Also worth mentioning that Wang and Zilla have been recast with Asian voice actors. Wang is now played by Hollywood actor Mike Moh, who does a solid job taking over the role from Liebrecht. It’s a similar inflection, but the energy is dialed down a little and there’s more natural sounding confidence in the quips. Zilla, however, is now played by Sung Won Cho, who you may remember from Unavowed and Yakuza: Like A Dragon. He does his own thing and creates a gruff and tired sounding former billionaire, even managing to hide the character’s real emotions in that gruffness to obfuscate how you should read him at any given time. It fits well with the manipulative character.
Game wise, it’s a straight shot campaign through a few levels with arena style fights with hordes of fast moving monsters. Your arsenal this time is made up of a revolver made for headshot ownage, a super shotgun, SMGs, grenade launcher, a ridiculous shuriken launcher, and a railgun you have to charge up. Wang’s blade remains a constant part of his load out you can summon with a separate button, along with returning quick swings from the first reboot game. Chi moves also return with the good ol’ chi blast, sending small enemies flying, and even flinching larger ones with upgrades.
As you play, you can find orbs scattered around to upgrade weapons and abilities. Each weapon has three upgrade perks, and Wang can improve his survival ability, resource drops from enemies, effectiveness of exploding barrels, and chi power. The majority of these orbs are found in challenges, though, which are listed in the menu. It’s similar to DOOM‘s level challenges, except now it’s one long list for the entire campaign, making it easier to keep track of everything and not feel so pressured to play against your playstyle for certain challenges.
Your success will be based far more on your skill, though. There are no momentum slowing ambushes like in the 2013 game nor the numbers and stats of 2, just pure carnage requiring reflexes and fast thinking. Run on walls, double jump all over the place, avoid enemies and find an opening. Helping with the rhythm is each enemy type is radically different from the last, and different weapons work better on different foes, forcing you to get used to switching. Those guys with the double edge halberds are best beat with a charged sword attack, but you also have to keep track of those flying witches that need some grenades or rail gun slugs to deal with. Grenades may also not be the best to have out when dealing with aggressive melee enemies, especially the massive ones charging at you that take the grenade and get you in the splash damage.
It feels ridiculous to describe this, honestly, because it’s the ast paced FPS formula at its most simple and elegant. What we have is a polished FPS based around movement, speed, and aggressive play, rewarding your work with drops, health mainly from guns and ammo from the blade. Further upgrades give you pick ups for a new insta-kill move you can use on enemies, much like the chainsaw in the DOOM games. This even has utility by giving you a powerful gore weapon, making you consider if its best to save up points for a large enemy for their powerful weapon instead of wasting them on small fry. When you nail the rhythm and learn how to work in the grappling ability into things, the game is an adrenaline rush few of its peers can match, even rivaling Eternal‘s absolute chaos. The streamlining of that game’s many resource managing systems helps a lot with this.
The game looks great (even with good character models for once), the music pumps you up (standout being Mojo), and the gameplay is a wild ride to experience. Thing is, Shadow Warrior 3 is short. The campaign can easily be wrapped up in four to five hours, and there isn’t anything else to do but replay that campaign. That’s fine, it’s a great campaign, but it is odd due to the game launching at a near full, major release price with little in the way of other features. FPS fanatics will have a blast finding the skill ceiling, but more casual players will have little else to mess with. The short story is still a great one that leaves you wanting more from the dynamics is spends the whole game setting up, and it doesn’t feel unfinished, but does feel too small in scope for the big setting its set in.
That is a weird problem for a game of this size to have, though. Where DOOM Eternal was almost suffocating in the amount of stuff it gave you to do and find, Shadow Warrior 3 has the opposite problem of being a good short romp that doesn’t have any further surprises besides what you find on the first go. It’s like the team tried learning from the mistakes of major AAA trends, but went too far in the other direction.
It’s hard to be mad, all things considered. Shadow Warrior 3 was affected by the Covid-19 outbreak seemingly fairly early into development, so making a smaller game with a lot of polish was definitely the right call. That does make the grappling parkour scenes a bit more frustrating, unfortunately. When they work, they’re a fun way to keep the energy of the game while giving the player a break from fighting, but they’re often built in a way that doesn’t take into account how players self-correct. Basically, Shadow Warrior 3 has a double jump, a tool made to correct the direction and distance of a player’s jump. Using it in these segments causes the flow to often be interrupted. The placement of grapple points can also be difficult to see in a few spots.
The game is so close to being an all-time great, but as it stands, it just manages to be an ambitious budget DOOM Eternal. There are worse things to be, of course, and the fact is actually improves on some of that game’s gameplay ideas is impressive. For the full asking price, it may be a bit much for most players beyond the most hardcore of the hardcore or huge fans of the reboot series. If you see it on sale, though, it is absolutely worth the money. Shadow Warrior 3 nails everything that absolutely needed to be nailed and then some, continuing one of the most promising series in the retro FPS revival. It would just be cool if there was more of it.