2013's Shadow Warrior was a real treat. An FPS with speed and over the top gunplay to match its Build Engine inspiration, the game was fun but rooted in the past. Linear corridors shuffled you forward, and weapons were unlocked over time as you played through a set story campaign. It all felt like a deliberate callback to the original era of FPS, warts and all. I played it and enjoyed what I saw, but I felt no drive to push me towards the end. My all too brief time with Shadow Warrior 2 feels like a direct response to these problems, taking what people love about those classic shooters and combining it with a modern sensibility to keep things interesting.
Taking place years after the first game, Lo Wang once again finds himself possessed and facing down a horde of demons that are traveling through dimensional rifts caused by the events of the first game. Your spirit guide this time around is a "brilliant neuroscientist" (is there any other kind?) who also happens to be the daughter of the Yakuza's head honcho. She has refined taste, which immediately clashes with Lo Wang's down and dirty attitude and causes quite a bit of humorous friction as she interjects herself into your conversations.
Levels in Shadow Warrior 2 are procedurally generated, and the entire game is an open world which allows for fast travel, grinding enemies for upgrade parts, and looting the area for new types of guns. I was impressed with the amount of traversal that is possible in the game. Lo Wang can double jump pretty high and clamber on rooftops, and the level layouts didn't feel that restrictive, letting you explore and grind for loot at your leisure. Enemies are also randomly generated, with traits ranging from elemental resistance to enhanced aggression being bolted on to standard foes as they spawn. You still have access to a wheel of eight weapons at a time, and that can be split any way you like between bladed implements and firearms.
Speaking of which, the guns in Shadow Warrior 2 feel drastically improved over the original. The ones I used all had a stylish design, a real kick when being fired, and also overly complicated but awesome reload animations. I started off the demo with a full set of weapons and abilities at my disposal, and everything from grenade launchers to SMGs to revolvers felt fun and interesting to use. There is also a minigun covered in skulls that reminds me of Garcia Hotspur's weapon in Shadows of the Damned, which is always a great thing.
On the melee side of things, I really appreciated the dedication to first person that the game has shown. Dashing forward with swords or doing a spin attack from that viewpoint really adds to the action, and even stuff outside of combat like combat rolling after a long fall is all rendered impressively. As far as the combat is concerned, blades felt exactly as I remember, and I was dodging and chopping foes with ease from the minute I picked up a controller. Considering that Shadow Warrior's blades were some of the best in the genre, it doesn't surprise me that they merely polished rather than innovated here.
What does change for both guns and melee is the weapon customization feature, which allows you to bold on pickups of variable rarity to change the properties of certain weapons. This can be anything from adding elemental properties to changing the nature of the weapon itself. I spoke with writer Scott Alexander as I played, and he described one upgrade that converted your standard machine gun into a deployable turret that would shoot enemies for you as you sliced them on the other side of the room. The upgrades are all appropriately themed as well, and I noticed that speed upgrades were presented as silver jaguars that wouldn't look unfamiliar on the hood of a sports car.
Darksiders 2 was brought up as an inspiration as I was speaking with a gameplay designer about the new systems, and I feel that they really captured what worked about that game's combat and loot pickups. It's a complete merging of fast paced old school gunplay and a more modern looter shooter mentality. Time will tell if that wears out its welcome over the game's six-hour campaign, but I'm very excited to explore all the weapons and once again shoot electrified grenades at flaming demon men.
Shadow Warrior 2 was previewed at the Devolver Digital booth at PAX East 2015. It will be releasing later this year on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.