Lo Wang is back.
At first glance, Shadow Warrior 2 may look like a fast-paced and colored shooter with as little story as its predecessor, 2013's Shadow Warrior. In the time I had playing an early build with the game, I shot and sliced my way through hordes of towering demons without hesitation, the gameplay leaving little room for conversation. I raced between objective points, seeing how quickly I could shoot down my enemies, sparing only the briefest of glances at their rotting remains.
For all its seemingly indiscriminate demon-fighting, Shadow Warrior 2 does house a narrative, built around its new quest system. I began my session by initiating a quest via an NPC, who sent me on a fetch quest in order to solve a dilemma currently facing the returning main character, Lo Wang. It was stock-standard as far as video game questing designs go, but its existence in the game was surprising, given the nature of the combat. Writer and narrative designer Slawomir Uliasz would later explain to me how developer Flying Wild Hog structures the quest system in Shadow Warrior 2, and how the system helps to set the game apart from other first-person shooters.
GameSpot: When coming up with the new story for Shadow Warrior 2, how closely do you stick to what's been established in the previous games? Or do you have free reign on where you want to take the story?
Uliasz: The goal was to make something new, something interesting, something different from the previous Shadow Warrior. Not only in terms of gameplay experience, but also in terms of story and storytelling. That's why we came up with this strange world, which is kind of a mix of our own human realm and a demonic realm. It's a little bit apocalyptic, but not kind of Mad Max-ish apocalypse with a lot of suns and deserts around you, but with a lot of lavish, strange environments. It's a mix of a demonic world and, let's say, Japanese-like setting which is now the base of our game.
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As a shooter fan, there are a lot of great-looking FPS games to look forward to this year--we've got DOOM, Battlefield 1 has just been announced, and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is coming up. What sets Shadow Warrior 2 apart from these games?
I think a lot of folks compared Shadow Warrior to Doom. And it's flattering for us. Most of our team are first-person shooter fans themselves, and we are quite… let's say, an old team, in terms of average age. So most of us played the original Doom and I can say I was raised on Doom and Wolfenstein as my first FPS games. So I'm flattered we were compared to Doom.
On the other hand, Shadow Warrior 2 is not Doom and it's not aiming to be Doom, Call of Duty, or Battlefield, as good as those games may be.
We drifted away from the idea of a corridor shooter, which all of those games are, or I think they will be. Especially in the story mode of those games. Right now, Shadow Warrior 2 will be more of an action-RPG than a classical shooter. We have a lot of things that we took from those kind of games, by which I mean Diablo or Borderlands, and a lot of other games from this genre. We have a much more open level that you can proceed through however you like; you can kill everything that moves, or just carve your path through enemies to reach your target, or you can try and go stealthy and use the vanish power to sneak past enemies and assassinate only the targets that you need to. In some missions you won't need to kill anyone at all.
We have this rich loot system which allows you to modify your weapons. There are a lot of upgrades that change how weapons work. We have maybe over 70 weapons in the game which will differ from each other. Not all of the weapons will be good at all points in the story. We have main story missions and we have optional missions and even side missions which are like short stories composed of three missions. And they are loosely tied to the main plot. So you can either rush head-on through the story or you can explore the world. You can even pick-up those randomly generated missions that don't have anything to do with the story, they are just for grinding and for you to search for loot and get experience.
So I think that we are a first-person shooter, but we are not exactly in the same genre of those three great games you mentioned.
Shadow Warrior has a specific type of tongue-in-cheek humour. How do you balance trying to be funny without being too tacky or lame?
With the humour, we took much more care not to follow the original 1997 game which was perceived by many as misogynist, racist even.
It's a good question, but it's also hard to answer! I'm not sure if we always succeed with our jokes. Sometimes we are a bit cheesy, and sometimes we are cheesy on purpose. Sometimes, we are more on a serious side. But the main tool of our narration in both games, there are differences between the two main [companion] characters. In the previous game it was Hoji, this smartass demon. And now, Lo Wang stuck with this young genius girl called Kamiko, and they're totally different characters. She's young, she's super smart, she's very self-aware. And she perceives him as… someone with bad taste, bad mouthing, and bad humour. And he's not so keen on having her in his head. He perceives her as a smartass, someone who keeps her nose too high for her standing. And so on and so forth, so there's a lot of conflict between those characters. A lot of places to make jokes to make humour into these conversations.
And Lo Wang as a character, he's the type who doesn't take the world too seriously. He's more of a joker, more of a devil, and he simply cannot take anything too seriously. So that's why he comments when he's attacking, or why he's a douchebag sometimes. He's not a perfect hero.
With the humour, we took much more care not to follow the original 1997 game which was perceived by many as misogynist, racist even. It was our goal from the previous game, and this game as well, to stay on a normal side. We know that you don't need to make jokes about women or make a racial joke to make it funny. There is a lot of humour in this world, not only racist or misogynist.
Is it difficult coming up with new Wang jokes that haven't been overdone?
Most of the Wang jokes I can credit to Scott Alexander, my colleague and fellow writer. Sometimes I think they come to him naturally. If you ask me it's a little bit difficult, but for him it's something he's got in his blood. He's got a good knack for comedy, and at the same time he's not afraid of using bad words. And we still try to balance the seriousness of a situation to make it more of a contrast than just a standing joke. I hope we will succeed with it.
You mentioned that you can go through some levels without killing monsters and adopt a stealthy approach. Does that mean I could play through the entire game and avoid all the monsters except the bosses?
That's a good question! I've never tried it. Technically, probably yes. It's not like we are encouraging a player to do this. But we are not forbidding it from happening either. It's not like we are Deus Ex, which is very focused on stealth. We don't have this stealth system using covers and everything else. But we still have some mechanics that can allow you to be stealthier. For example, not all of the weapons make sound. You can use a bow from a distance to stealthily kill some opponents. Or you can vanish completely from monsters' sight and use it to your advantage for an aggressive kill, escape, or just sneaking past monsters that you don't feel like fighting. Yes, there are stealthy elements in the game, but I wouldn't go as far as saying that we are a stealth-based game.
The main focus of our game is on fighting. And you can avoid fighting, but all the rewards for a player come from confronting enemies. But I can perceive that some of the players will try a stealthy approach and do perfect missions without killing anyone except the target. We'll see!
You have teased a release sometime in 2016, is there a window you could give us for expected release?
Fall, or maybe early winter of 2016. But I think it will be the last quarter of the year.