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Shadow Warrior 3 Review

Wang returns, but size matters

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Shadow Warrior isn’t a franchise that has many on the edge of their seats eagerly anticipated for a new release. Sure, it has a steady enough following and one that, according to sales figures at least, quadrupled after the release of Shadow Warrior 2. So with the last entry being such a success, you can’t really question developer Flying Wild Hog’s decision to bring back the series for a third installment. However, you might find yourself questioning the decision to change so many things about the game. Luckily, many of the changes implemented in Shadow Warrior 3 make the game incredibly fun to play and newcomers should have no trouble jumping right into this one without having played the others. For long-standing fans of the series though, the third chapter may not be what you are expecting.

Shadow Warrior 3 game

Something that hasn’t changed in Shadow Warrior 3 is the main character Lo Wang. Despite the very ambiguous ending to Shadow Warriors 2, Lo Wang is in fact alive and well. The clumsy katana-wielding ninja has inadvertently unleashed an ancient dragon from its eternal prison, and now it's up to him and his former employer turned nemesis turned sidekick Orochi Zilla to embark on an improbable mission to recapture the dragon. It’s an exceptionally one-dimensional story and that’s about as deep as it gets. It’s definitely a downgrade in the quality of storytelling from the previous two installments. Aside from Lo Wang and Orochi Zilla, there are just two more story characters in the whole game. Oh, and a Tanooki. It feels like the narrative was more of an afterthought that would have been better placed as DLC for the previous title. Fortunately, Shadow Warrior 3 doesn't do its talking through the story. Where the game excels is in its frenetic gameplay.

Shadow Warrior 3 starts out with a wonderfully animated piece to camera from a Lo Wang fraught with distress over his recent escapades. You are immediately reintroduced to the tongue in cheek, off-colour humour that the series has been known for. With the main character named Wang, you would have thought that by the third offering all phallic jokes would be, for want of a better word, milked. You would be wrong. The opening sequence cuts between introducing the game's narrative and flashbacks of gameplay which introduce you to the game's mechanics. As far as game introductions go, this one is a swift and painless process. The tutorial system is brief and doesn't hold your hand too much. The game allows you to figure things out by means of throwing you into the action. This is always my preferred way of starting games. Long laborious introductions with arduous tutorial systems are part and parcel of most modern titles simply due to the nature and complexity of modern AAA games. Shadow Warrior 3's opening moments are refreshing and more akin to games of old which allow you to learn on the job.

Once you pass the introductory section you will be plummeted, quite literally, into the game’s 8 or so hour campaign. The first thing to note here is the beautifully crafted scenery and attractive graphics. You will traverse through a number of wonderful environments that are exceptionally easy on the eye. They include nicely detailed textures both up close and in the distance with a number of destructible items and collapsible structures that add a level of visual carnage that goes hand in hand with the hectic nature of the gameplay. The lighting and shadows look vivid and it's impossible to not occasionally take a minute to just perch on a ledge and take in the game's beautiful fusion of dreamscape meets ancient Japanese scenery.

Shadow Warrior 3 game

Where Shadow Warrior 1 took a more methodical and standard first-person shooter approach, Shadow Warrior 2 upped the tempo by making the game more of a horde style shooter in larger more open environments with a fairly balanced emphasis on combat and exploration. Shadow Warrior 3 ups the tempo once more by placing the whole game in tightly packed linear corridors that open into arena-style areas specifically designed with fluid fast-paced combat in mind. You will chop, shoot and blast your way through the game’s varied enemy archetypes who are introduced incrementally throughout the campaign. Once you have been introduced to an enemy you can safely assume a horde of them will show up the next time you find yourself in a combat arena. It creates a gradual incline in difficulty that prevents the repetitive combat style from growing laborious. Movement, and utilizing your environment is key here.

Just like its predecessors, the enemies are demons from the Shadow Realm. You will be pleased to know enemies come in all different shapes and sizes, from the creepy Slinky Jakku; part accordion, part gipsy, part coffee table? To the putrid Gassy Obariyon who looks to be a creepy mage stuck between the belly folds, controlling a huge flabby humanoid who slings green acidic mucus at you by way of vomits and farts. Aside from their unique aesthetic, each enemy has a different move set and some have higher resistance to certain weapons requiring you to consider your approach to combat. Especially late in the game when playing on higher difficulty settings.

The game is not designed to allow players to stand still and take carefully placed shots at enemies. More, the game expects you to constantly evade enemy attacks whilst frantically taking out enemies using a combination of weapons, both ranged and melee. It helps that the controls feel tight and precise. Keys are reasonably well mapped and the game offers a fully customizable key-binding menu both for keyboard and mouse and controllers. To aid in this Shadow Warrior 3 introduces a grappling hook that you can use both as a combat and evasion tool. You can use it to hook explosive barrels into dense crowds of enemies or to hurtle yourself closer to enemies. Likewise, you can use it to grapple onto higher platforms in moments where you become overwhelmed. I know, the addition of a grappling hook isn't exactly breaking new ground but the game is delightfully self-aware making puns within its dialogue referencing the lack of originality. It’s a nice touch.

There are upwards of fifteen weapons to choose from, some of which you can carry on your person and use at any time and others are known as Gore Weapons. These are essentially temporary weapons you get by performing ‘finishers’ on enemies and are either extremely powerful or give you an environmental advantage. You can think of these as similar to the ult system on Overwatch. In fact, two or three of them bear a striking resemblance to some of the ults from that game. A health buff can also be obtained by crushing the skulls of scrub enemies. The combat plays very similarly to Doom Eternal and fans of that game will no doubt find pleasure in Shadow Warrior 3. But where Doom allows for a respite between combat arenas and gives the players a chance to explore and loot the environment a little, Shadow Warrior 3 either throws you into a high octane traversal section or right back into another battle. Whilst these are undeniably fun, it did leave me feeling like the experience was diluted somewhat.

Shadow Warrior 3 game

The traversal in Shadow Warrior 3 has also had a complete overhaul. Favoured this time by a free-running approach, not unlike the Dying Light series. You will be wall-running, grapple swinging, ledge hopping and ground sliding your way through the ever-hazardous environments. There is no denying this method adds a level of finesse and satisfaction missing from the game's predecessors but it comes at the cost of the game world feeling too put together and force-fed to you like you are on an experience rather than an autonomous journey where your decisions are impactful on the course of the game. There is simply one way to play this game and everyone who plays will experience it the same way. This very linear approach leaves Shadow Warrior 3 feeling more like something you’d play two console generations ago.

Whilst what Shadow Warrior 3 does have to offer is genuinely a lot of fun, there is a distinct lack of content by today's standards. Your first playthrough will take you around 8 hours to get through. That is unfortunately where the game comes to an end. There is no New Game+ unlocked at the end of the game, no extra difficulty settings unlocked (you get 3 from the start), no multiplayer, gauntlet or horde mode and surprisingly co-op is also missing from Shadow Warrior 3 despite being a welcome and praised addition to Shadow Warrior 2. Even with the campaign being split into levels, there is no level select mode, meaning the only way to re-experience combat arenas is to start the whole thing over and there's basically no reward for doing so.

Another questionable decision is to feature just two bosses in the game. It’s such a huge disappointment because the bosses that do feature are a welcome change to the pacing and force you to be more methodical about your style of play utilizing things like the dash to evade much more precisely than you would in the rest of the levels. The bosses were two of the standout moments in the campaign and it’s a shame we couldn't experience more of this. It's especially disappointing when you consider that the debut in the trilogy had five boss battles and the second game had four.

Performance-wise, Shadow Warrior 3 can at times be temperamental. The game often cuts between pre-rendered cut scenes and gameplay and whilst you can see the intention was for these to flick between each other seamlessly, this is unfortunately not always the case. I experienced mild stuttering and texture popping when re-entering a playable environment after cut scenes and since you are often thrown into the thick of it - either sliding down a muddy ravine or in literal free fall expected to find something to grapple onto - the stuttering and performance drops can be an actual hindrance to gameplay rather than just a cosmetic nuisance.

Shadow Warrior 3 game

I also encountered a few bugs; nothing game-breaking but irritating nonetheless. Early in the game, you are asked to chase a Tanooki who has stolen your mask. At one point the Tanooki was clearly supposed to scarper away but the animation never triggered and it was left perched on a rock leaving me to chase nothing in order for the game to continue. Another bug I encountered on more than one occasion was enemies getting stuck on environmental assets. The first time this wasn't a problem because it was obvious, however, the second time a flying enemy was stuck behind a wall that I couldn't see and until this enemy was killed, scrub enemies would continuously respawn which had me in an endless loop of combat for near 20 minutes before I figured out the issue.

Shadow Warrior 3 is an extremely intense and fun experience. Graphical and mechanical improvements from the series' last outing really make this game pop and you will be hard-pressed to find another game with combat that is as free-flowing and hectic as this. These are the best 8 hours from the Shadow Warrior series yet. For that reason alone the game is definitely worth playing through. That being said, the game lacks a memorable story, has very limited world exploration, and surprisingly has fewer features and a shorter campaign than its predecessor. After a more than five-year wait since the last installment, I expect fans of the series to feel a little undersold by Flying Wild Hog.

Our ratings for Shadow Warrior 3 on PC out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
Shadow Warrior 3 looks great. The scenery, lighting and particle effects are truly something to behold. The dialogue and voice acting are well delivered and full of humour.
The free-running mechanics are filled with moments of finesse and fun. The combat is fast, frenetic and addictive. Varied enemies and weapons keep the game from growing stale.
Single Player
The story is thin, yet the gameplay shines through and carries the game. Unfortunately, a shorter campaign and no reasons to return decrease its value.
(Show PC Specs)
CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X
GPU: GTX 1080
OS: Windows 10 Home
PC Specs

Generally good performance but occasional stuttering and glitches that hampered the fluidity of gameplay. Noticeable texture popping after cut scenes.
Shadow Warrior 3 is a decent entry to the series. It’s the shortest one to date, has the weakest story thus far, and the least content. Despite this, the third chapter is the most fun and visually impressive yet. Your time with the game may be short-lived, but it will still be time well spent.
Shadow Warrior 3
Shadow Warrior 3 box art Platform:
Our Review of Shadow Warrior 3
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Shadow Warrior 3 is ranked #848 out of 1788 total reviewed games. It is ranked #20 out of 48 games reviewed in 2022.
847. Assassin's Creed: Valhalla
Xbox Series X
848. Shadow Warrior 3
849. PGA Tour 2K21
PlayStation 4
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