Co-op oriented action games have been trending during recent years with the remarkable success of titles like Diablo 3, Destiny, and Borderlands 2. The recipe to their success has been quite simple: engaging gameplay with a large library of loot to collect. For one reason or another, these games rarely tend to have compelling stories to tell, or
Shadow Warrior 2 has taken notes from these games to deliver something that is not only exciting, but something that manages to deviate in a way that feels distinct.
Shadow Warrior 2 is set in a world that merges several themes. There are many oriental characteristics such as wooden Japanese buildings and agile ninjas that would like nothing less than to take you down. But you will also commonly battle threatening demons, and travel to sci-fi facilities where robots await. The 10 hour campaign is rich with enemy and environmental diversity offering a strong sense of variation that greatly benefits the gameplay loop.
Though, your attention will be tested when it comes to narrative elements. Shadow Warrior 2 treats itself as a sarcastic and juvenile comedy despite the serious tones of its world. For some, these jokes can produce chuckles, but as a whole they are poorly executed by sub-par voice acting and writing. If you find yourself skipping every cutscene, of which there are more than you'd expect, you will certainly not be the only one.
The good news is that Shadow Warrior 2 excels in terms of gameplay. Dashing around and combating enemies is consistently an enjoyable affair. Every one of the 70 weapon types available have great sound effects, feedback, and controls. This is particularly impressive when it comes to melee combat. First-person melee is not typically a fun activity to engage in with video games, but that's different here. Using a katana to slice off the limbs of your enemies and gut them like a fish is effective and satisfying. You might just find yourself heading into close range combat more often than you'd expect.
Chaining kills together and using a variety of methods at your disposal is rewarded. At first you'll be too busy just trying to stay alive to pay attention to your style, but eventually once you get the hang of combat and enemy patterns quickness as well as precision will become a major part of your experience. Doing so will earn you Karma in addition to making you a much tougher opponent to deal with. At higher difficulties understanding how to flow between ranged combat and melee without taking damage is pivotal to your survival.
To stay alive you'll rely on dashing, picking up Medkits, as well as four different Powers that range from offensive to defensive skills. While the Medkits and Powers are relatively standard fare, the way dashing is handled is a mixed bag. There is no limit or cooldown, which feels underdeveloped and results in way too much movement spamming.
Combat is supported by a well-optimized engine that manages to hold steady framerates through chaotic moments. This is surprising when you consider that the engine is proprietary, developed by a smaller sized studio. As a result of this success, engaging groups of enemies is frantic and fast-paced, but the presentation never struggles to support its seemingly hardware demanding nature.
A Solid Presentation
The cohesive presentation is particularly a high note when it comes to group play. In Shadow Warrior 2 you're never stuck fighting alone as up to 4-player co-op is supported. If anything it's actually encouraged, as dealing with objectives is much more fun when you have a partner to bounce threat off of and flank distracted enemies. It's not mandatory, though. You can complete the entire campaign alone within reason.
Shadow Warrior 2's world is attractive, although shows blemishes. Certain levels have bizarre hues of color that don't fit well, and character models are rough. Outside of these minor shortcomings, what's here appears modern and manages to make a positive impression despite the use of procedural generation and substantial level variety.
As you play through the experience you will level up and gain access to new weapons. There's a good presence of options with many dozens of colorful weapons that can be upgraded individually. Character customization is okay, but not great. You can't do much in the way of altering your character outside of minor skill upgrades.
At $40 you're getting something that serves as a superb secondary game; a title that might not do well during longer play sessions, but is a go-to for quick group sessions. It's surprisingly well put together, with enough weapon variety that the small set of four special powers and lack of truly distinct play styles never becomes a problem.
Shadow Warrior 2 is in position to become Fall 2016's premier sleeper hit as not many gamers are talking about it, and there certainly isn't much in the way of a marketing campaign. Even then, its gameplay dynamics are so well executed that it could walk among this year's biggest games. If you're looking for a fun online co-op game to play with friends, this might just be the game for you. Just don't go in expecting a satisfying story.