Despite the currently middling reviews and overall lackluster reception the game has received thus far, let it be known that Shadow Warrior 3 will fondly be looked back at as the best first-person shooter game of the year, if not one of the best first-person shooter games of this generation. This seems like quite a confident, arguably arrogant, statement; but rest assured: Shadow Warrior 3 is a ridiculous and lightning-paced ride with personality bursting from the seams and is the most fun I’ve had with a video game in years. If Doom Eternal is first-person shooter perfection, then Shadow Warrior 3 is a shining gem. What Shadow Warrior 3 lacks in size, it more than makes up for it with confidence and energy.
Speaking of which: unfortunately, comparisons to Doom Eternal are unavoidable. Make no mistake, Shadow Warrior 3 has its own identity, but its influences are quite apparent. Probably fitting, though, seeing as how the original Shadow Warrior in 1997 was a Doom clone of its own. Of all the other games clearly inspired by Doom Eternal, Shadow Warrior 3 is fairly unique in that it takes influences from Doom Eternal and recontextualizes it to make it its own. No matter how often I may compare the two, Shadow Warrior 3 outdoes Eternal in nearly every regard on a mechanical level. If nothing else, it’s at least a nice breath of air to have a Doom-like to not have heavy metal for a soundtrack. Maciej Kulesza composes a sensational soundtrack, a mix of oriental sounds and electronic music to make for an utterly mesmerizing soundtrack. On a surface level, it may not be the most memorable music out there, but when you listen to it you won’t be able to help yourself but dance along to it.
Speaking of enemies, this game is packed with the most interesting and visually-distinct enemies I’ve ever seen in a shooter game. From flying enemies that shoot at you, to a katana-wielding monster that deflects your bullets, to a giant beast that burrows underground, to a slinky-like monster that avoids you like the plague but sets traps in its wake, to a Mancubus-esque abomination that flies around the arena, these enemies are more mechanically different than the last, each asking for a different way to approach them.
Tired of the constant meters and cooldowns in something like Doom Eternal? Shadow Warrior 3 sidesteps that game’s restrictions by simply letting you take full advantage of its mechanics. Your katana essentially works as Doom’s chainsaw, in the sense that when you kill an enemy with it, it drops ammo. But rather than waiting for it to recharge, you can simply whip it out when you want. It’s not the most powerful weapon you’ll have as it quickly gets outclassed by better guns and stronger enemies, but it still functions as an important and fun mechanic to keep the flow of the game’s pacing going.
In fact, the only real meter in the game is one that allows you to perform an execution on an enemy; a gory cinematic kill that allows you to use the enemy’s weapon for a short period of time. Kill the annoying flying enemy to use their eye as a bladed weapon that flies around the arena similarly to Yondu’s quiver in Guardians of the Galaxy, kill the katana-wielding enemy to use their katana that slices through enemies seamlessly, rip out an enemy’s mystical eye to be used as a freeze grenade, and more ridiculously: the drill enemy’s giant drill that shreds through the arena with ease. These executions are an improvement over Doom’s Glory Kill mechanics in that these cinematics are not only sensationally rarer, but wildly more gruesome and even more satisfying to pull off. It’s even more high-energy strategy in an already lightning-paced game, adding much more depth to the otherwise mindless combat.
While slicing, dicing, and shooting enemies, you’ll find yourself in a truly beautiful world. The world of Shadow Warrior 3 is really something to behold, landscapes and structures exploding with painstaking detail and electrifying color. When the very first level takes place on the back of a rampaging dragon, you know you’re going to have an absolutely absurd and beautiful game on your hands. It’s one of the very few games I’ve played where I literally stopped what I was doing just to look at how pretty it is, something I almost never do in these action games. The whole game is a visual feat, really. On top of everything looking fresh and beautiful, everything from guns to enemies and environmental hazards are visually distinct from each other, allowing anyone to pinpoint what the threats are and how to go about the levels. It’s such stellar game design.
Now the game’s biggest shortcomings come down to the length and content. Shadow Warrior 3’s campaign is quite short, roughly 5-6 hours long if you play through it normally. That wouldn’t really be a problem for me, but by the end it feels so anti-climactic all I had in me was a resounding “wait, that’s it?”. You kill the dragon, the world is saved, and everyone goes home. Worse yet, the game only has the one campaign. No challenge or endless modes, just an option to go back to certain chapters to replay them and possibly find missed collectibles or upgrades. The game is still fairly new so it’s possible we’ll get more content and possibly a whole DLC down the line, but as it stands now it’s a little bit barren. Since its release, the game got a “Hero Mode” that gives the player a set amount of lives, and when they’re out that’s permadeath. It’s more content for sure, but since the game is just a hair under full-price, it feels like a rob.
Complaints aside, I still can’t recommend this game enough. Shadow Warrior 3 is a wild, exhilarating, and gorgeous little ride. I find myself coming back to this game so often that it’s become a problem. It’s a brutal time at points, but never frustrating due to the wickedly fast respawn loading and energetic action. My journey to master the game has been a rewarding one, and I hope many others will be able to look past the Doom Eternal influences and realize it still has its own goals and ideas in its vibrant mind. With it’s energetic personality, dynamic enemies, and masterful presentation, Shadow Warrior 3 is unapologetically itself. Enjoy Shadow Warrior 3 for what it is, and it’ll be the time of your life. I hope my initial prediction is right, because this game deserves to be looked back at fondly.