Way back in 2013, a small and fairly obscure Polish developer named Flying Wild Hog released their reboot of Shadow Warrior. While the original Shadow Warrior might not have been as well-known or successful as some of 3D Realms’ other properties, it still had a fairly devoted cult following eager to see the franchise reinterpreted with a modern coat of paint.
The end result was a game that is generally beloved by fans of the original and newcomers alike. Flying Wild Hog’s version of Shadow Warrior managed to hit the right balance between classic shooter sensibilities and modernized mechanics. It had fairly large and interesting environments packed full of hidden secrets to discover. These secrets included many fun throwbacks to the franchise’s origins, giving players plenty of incentive to search for hidden corridors off the beaten path.
Flying Wild Hog also did an admirable job replicating the original’s humor with their interpretation of Lo Wang. In a time when many shooters took themselves way too seriously, it was refreshing to have a protagonist that called back to the boomer shooters of old. Lo Wang was a total dork, an anime and video game-obsessed weeb with delusions of being an action hero. His dialogue was full of cheesy one-liners, references to geek culture, and dick jokes. Lots and lots of dick jokes.
Shadow Warrior 2, however, is a much more divisive game. Flying Wild Hog decided to jump on the co-op focused looter shooter trend with the sequel. Your milage may vary on how much it succeeded at creating a game that tried to juggle loot with the more retro-inspired feel of the first game. While I know plenty of people who still enjoyed Shadow Warrior 2, none of them will admit that the loot system made it a better game overall.
With Shadow Warrior 3, Flying Wild Hog decided to bring the series back to its roots. No more loot or extra gimmicks, just fast-paced, gore-soaked action with a few ideas taken from other recent shooters. In this regard, Shadow Warrior 3 is the shooter sequel fans probably really wanted to begin with.
Shadow Warrior 3
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Platform: Windows PC (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Release Date: March 1st, 2022
Shadow Warrior 3 starts with Lo Wang having what can best be described as a mental breakdown. He has lost his mojo following an embarrassing defeat at the hands of a gigantic dragon god that has been accidentally unleashed upon the world. The dragon now rampages across the land, laying waste to entire cities, and spawning hordes of demonic yokai from ancient folklore.
Lo Wang finds himself teaming up with his arch nemesis Orochi Zilla, a mysterious sorceress named Makoto, and his old friend Hoji to find a way to defeat the dragon and restore order to the world. Maybe he’ll even regain his mojo and learn some sappy lesson about teamwork and responsibility along the way.
While on the subject of the game’s story and cast, I might as well get the big elephant out of the room right now. It was revealed some time back that Lo Wang and Orochi Zilla were being recast, with Mike Moh and SungWon Cho replacing Jason Liebrecht and Eugene Lee, respectively. Devolver Digital have stated that this was to “correct the mistake” of not casting Asian actors to begin with.
Of course, in Devolver Digital’s attempt to remove “problematic” character casting, they have introduced a whole different problem. Lo Wang is Chinese, Orochi Zilla is Japanese, and yet their new actors are Korean. If Devolver Digital truly cared about having actors that reflected the “cultural identity” of the characters like they said in a press release, then you’d think they would have tried to avoid falling into the old “all Asians are basically the same anyway” stereotype.
This casting change has been the center of quite a bit of controversy among the fanbase, and I can hardly blame them. The first Shadow Warrior 3 trailers featured Jason Liebrecht as Lo Wang’s voice actor, which heavily implies that at least some of his recording was already finished before the change was made. Considering that the game was originally scheduled to release in 2021, it’s not hard to reach the conclusion that Devolver Digital may have forced Flying Wild Hog to delay the game so they could recast Lo Wang and Orochi Zilla.
While it’s definitely sad to see Jason Liebrecht and Eugene Lee go, Mike Moh and SungWon Cho actually do great jobs in the roles themselves. Many fans found the recast announcement trailer jarring and didn’t think that Mike Moh really “sounded” like Lo Wang. I can safely say that the trailer just didn’t really do him justice, and that his performance in the actual game is far better.
In fact, if Devolver Digital had just done this recast from the start and didn’t try to make a big display about how progressive they were being, then they probably could have avoided the controversy to begin with. Both actors are actually great in their roles, but the way Devolver Digital handled the whole situation left a bitter taste in many people’s mouths.
Many fans have also been worried about what Shadow Warrior 3‘s writing and humor would be like as well due to these changes. The series is known for its very crass and crude humor, and luckily Shadow Warrior 3 is no different.
It was around the time that I dispatched a giant rooster boss called the Ancient Cock, complete with a long, phallic neck and laser beam eyes, that I realized that Shadow Warrior 3 is definitely a worthy successor to the franchise. This feeling was further cemented when Hoji commented “Man, that giant cock really slapped us around” after the fight.
But that’s enough about the cast controversy, story, and writing. While Shadow Warrior has always had humorous writing (assuming you like dick jokes), the real reason you play it is for the gore-soaked, high adrenaline action that blends melee combat with exotic firearms. In this regard, Shadow Warrior 3 delivers.
Gunfights in Shadow Warrior 3 typically happen in carefully constructed death arenas where you’ll need to slaughter all the enemies in your path before you can move on. You’ll be gunning down a variety of colorful yokai in some seriously gorgeous Asian-inspired locations.
Lo Wang’s arsenal includes his revolver, a four-barreled shotgun, a pair of dual-wielded SMGs, a grenade launcher, a buzzsaw-firing crossbow, a railgun-like pistol, and his trusty katana. Regardless of which gun you are wielding you can quickly swap to your katana with a click of the right mouse button. You can dispatch enemies in melee range with rapid katana combos, charged attacks, and once the upgrade is purchased, elemental-infused chi attacks.
The combat in Shadow Warrior 3 is slick and responsive. While the list of guns may sound a bit sparse, the smaller arsenal means you’ll swap between each of them throughout an engagement. Every gun feels great to shoot, and none of them feel useless or underpowered.
In addition to your main arsenal, each yokai has a unique special weapon that you can nick from them by performing an execution move. These include ice bombs that freeze nearby enemies, giant swords, hilariously colorful rocket launchers that shoot fireworks in every direction, and even black holes. To perform an execution move you need to build up a power gauge, with larger enemies requiring more energy to execute.
Shadow Warrior 3‘s combat encounters place a large emphasis on hazards and elemental debuffs. Every arena has explosive barrels of various elemental flavors, and many of them also have bottomless pits, spike traps, whirling death blades, and other hilariously hazardous contraptions. Lo Wang’s chi blast ability returns as a way to help enable these environmental kills, allowing you to push enemies into spike traps or off ledges.
Shadow Warrior 3 is also a much faster and more mobile game than its predecessors. Lo Wang can wall run along specific surfaces, and you get a grappling hook early on that can be used to swing around the environment. Using the grappling hook is basically just a preset animation for each grapple point, but it is incredibly fun to swing around a level while reducing enemies to a fine paste with fully automatic weaponry.
The grappling hook has some combat utility as well, and can be used to pull yourself closer to enemies so you can slice and dice them with your expertly crafted blade of folded Nippon steel.
The grappling hook and wall running play into Shadow Warrior 3‘s noncombat navigation, too. The game features lots of platforming in-between battles. None of this platforming is difficult, but it’s fun nonetheless to double jump, swing, air dash, and climb through the game’s many exotic locations.
Secrets have always been a hallmark of boomer shooters, and previous Shadow Warrior games had tons of them. These included hidden resources, the ability to get a gun earlier in the game than usual, or just fun Easter Eggs like half-naked anime girls or fortune cookies with humorous messages. Sadly, the secrets in Shadow Warrior 3 are pretty much nonexistent.
As far as I can tell, you can’t get any guns earlier than they are normally introduced via secrets, and I never found any cute Easter Eggs or gags like in previous games. Most “secrets” are just upgrade orbs that can be used to upgrade Lo Wang’s abilities and guns. They also aren’t super well-hidden, and I believe I found a good chunk of them before finishing the game.
In fact, the game’s levels are significantly more linear than previous installments. Most of them are just straight paths to each combat encounter, with a handful of branching paths to claim the aforementioned upgrade orbs. If you are expecting any sort of exploration in Shadow Warrior 3, then you will be very disappointed.
The upgrades themselves are rather basic in their implementation. Each gun has three upgrades that get progressively more expensive, while Lo Wang has four “skills” with three upgrades each. That said, the upgrades themselves are all fairly solid and meaningful enhancements.
The first upgrade for any given gun or ability tends to be a bit bland, and is usually just a flat percentile stat boost to something. However, the later ones tend to be much more interesting. Upgrading the katana gives you access to the various elemental chi attacks from the previous games, while the shotgun eventually no longer needs to be reloaded and becomes fully automatic.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Shadow Warrior 3, however, is its length. Lo Wang’s latest adventure only took me about five hours to beat on the default difficulty. This also included getting all but two achievements, and I had almost every upgrade, so I assume I found most of the “secrets.” Shadow Warrior 3 is the first game in the series that is almost as expensive as a full priced AAA release, and yet it’s also the shortest of the games so far. Much like an encounter with a man who has a dysfunctional wang, Shadow Warrior 3 is over before you know it.
On the bright side, Shadow Warrior 3 is an absolutely gorgeous game. There are some seriously stunning environments and vistas to behold in the game’s quiet moments between hectic firefights. The game’s levels are extremely varied and visually interesting, ranging from the back of an enormous dragon during a snowstorm, to bizarre Japanese-inspired ruins. There’s also a lush jungle where you fight in the canopies of enormous trees while swinging from vines.
The combat itself is incredibly cathartic and extremely flashy. Shadow Warrior 3 has plenty of awesome enemy designs, and it’s a visual treat watching them all get sliced to ribbons. Enemies explode into giblets with some of the game’s higher power weapons. The execution moves, while not as varied as those found in games like the recent Doom titles, are extremely gory and fun to watch. The weapons these executions produce are also all visually over-the-top.
All this carnage is accompanied by a downright fantastic soundtrack. Like its predecessors, Shadow Warrior 3‘s music is a funky blend of traditional Japanese instruments and pulse-pounding electronic beats that perfectly encapsulate the game’s frantic action.
Despite the game’s high fidelity and unbridled carnage, Shadow Warrior 3 is a very stable and well-optimized game. I’m running an absolutely ancient 1070 as my GPU, and yet the game still managed to stay at a consistent 60 FPS on high. That’s not something I can say about many new games these days.
In terms of bugs or glitches I only encountered a handful in Shadow Warrior 3, and they were largely based around some of the more bizarre enemies and how they navigate terrain. You probably saw the accordion-like clown enemies in the trailers that flop around like a slinky. Their animations occasionally flip out when traveling over uneven terrain.
I also had problems with the trapdoor hazards and some of the game’s larger enemies. There is one arena in particular with a huge trapdoor with meatgrinders underneath. The larger ogre enemies would not fall into this trap, and instead just floated in place above the meatgrinders until the doors closed again. The entire time this was happening the ogres were stuck in a running animation loop.
Some minor issues aside, Shadow Warrior 3 is a worthy sequel to the beloved shooter franchise. While the arsenal is smaller than previous games, each gun has its place and is extremely fun to shoot. The emphasis on environmental hazards and special weapons acquired from executions also help keep the combat nice and varied. Each combat encounter feels like a carefully crafted sandbox, and they all invite you to paint the walls red in demon viscera.
While the wall running and grappling hook mechanics are basically just premade animations, they add a fun dynamic to each combat encounter. The fast-paced maneuverability of Shadow Warrior 3 allows you to pull off plenty of very satisfying feats of high-flying acrobatic mayhem. The combat is fast, responsive, and brutal.
Voice actor controversies aside, the new cast are great in their respective roles, and the franchise’s signature crass humor is back. The characters are just as amusing as previous games, and I got quite a few chuckles out of Lo Wang’s dorky one-liners and crude jokes just like in the previous games.
It’s just a shame that the experience is over so quickly. Perhaps a premature ending is a fitting flaw for a game crammed so full of dick jokes, but at the end of the day you are still left wanting more.
Shadow Warrior 3 was reviewed on Windows PC using a copy provided by Devolver Digital. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Shadow Warrior 3 is set for a March 1st release date across Windows PC (via Steam), Xbox One (via the Xbox Store), and PlayStation 4 (via the PlayStation Store).