It’s been a long four years since the release of Shadow Warrior 2.
The sequel to Flying Wild Hog’s energetic and irreverent revival of the classic shooter franchise ditched curated levels ditched the linear levels of the first game and embraced the looter-shooter formula popularised by games like Borderlands.
Now, the third installment looks to wind the clock back. Lead designer Paweł Kowalewski says that discussions about the next Shadow Warrior began two or three months after the launch of the second.
“However, at this point we knew that we [wouldn’t] be doing it for a while, so you know we just threw all of our ideas into the drawer.”
Kowalewski says that the years following the release of Shadow Warrior 2 were “a very dynamic time period for our company.”
“We [wanted] to make multiple projects at once, so we needed to grow. We were looking for business partners who would allow us to grow and share the knowledge about managing multiple projects and managing a bigger company.”
During this tumultuous period, Flying Wild Hog not only moved to a new, office-space. They changed game engines, retiring their own proprietary code for Epic’s popular Unreal Engine.
Asked whether that transition was a challenging one for the studio, Kowalewski admits “I don't think we were worried about losing our identity. However, you know, when you are working on your own engine, there is this element of pride. This is our baby and we are working on it. But we knew that it would be impossible [to continue] working on our own tech because whenever we were hiring people they didn't have any knowledge about our technology.”
“Right now, we have three games in production - Shadow Warrior being one of them. All of them are powered by Unreal.”
Although that shift in game engine had the potential to give the third Shadow Warrior game a slightly different or less bespoke feel than the previous two, Flying Wild Hog knew that they didn’t want to tinker too much with the foundations of the series DNA.
According to Kowalewski, this meant keeping the swordplay as central as the game’s many exciting and unconventional guns.
“Even though the game is recognized as a shooter, It should be a pretty good hack and slash game as well. This is something we were improving with each game. We were always looking also for a seamless blend between the two play styles.
Kowalewski says “it worked quite okay in previous games but with this one I think we finally nailed.”
The breakthrough, he says, came in the form of giving players a dedicated katana button that Kowalewski describes as akin to something out of Devil May Cry. Rather than have to juggle through your arsenal once enemies get close enough, you just tap the right bumper and cut to the chase.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t big changes being made here. Shadow Warrior 3 will strip away the 4-player co-op, procedurally-generated levels and largess of lethal weapons introduced by the previous game.
The humor of previous Shadow Warrior games is also due for a touch up.
As a direct result of the outdated, offensive and racist stereotypes found in the original 1997 Shadow Warrior, Kowaleski says that Flying Wild Hog’s reboot of the series has “shifted more towards humor based on cultural references.
“We added this element to the backstory that Lo Wang likes comic books, video games, American action films and things that many gamers also like.”
“We wanted to make the character more relatable to the gamer community. So there’s certainly not any offensive humor. We are paying a lot of attention to that. We are focusing more on the pop culture stuff.”
This time around, Kowalewski says that the team have topics like superhero movies and Game of Thrones in their sights.
Jokes aside, Kowalewski admits the studio “feel more comfortable with this linear single player campaign. They’re better for the gameplay. They’re better for the storyline. We feel that’s the kind of games we like to play as gamers.”
An intriguing inspiration for this shift that Kowalewski cites during our chat is Titanfall 2, saying “we want to make a campaign where every minute counts.”
“Wherever you go you have something to do, whether it’s combat, whether it’s traversal or some unique capstone moment that takes you away from your standard play style and introduces a new mechanic.”
The world’s first taste of Shadow Warrior 3 embodies that ideal nicely. The first trailer for the game, which debuted as part of Devolver’s recent Direct livestream, throws a new weapon or enemy into the mix every minute or so.
For better or worse, Kowalewski says the final product will be a little less breakneck.
Asked how the studio approach encouraging players to experiment rather than find a combination that works and stick with it, Kowalewski says that each weapon is a “unique piece with its own purpose and combat space.”
“We have this mindset that every weapon can kill but some weapons can own. That means there are certain enemy types upon which certain weapons are especially effective”
In the seven years since Flying Wild Hog’s first Shadow Warrior, the FPS has drifted in cultural relevance within the wider gaming world. Don’t get me wrong, people are still excited about shooters but always-online multiplayer experiences tend to attract more eyeballs than the kind of curated single-player campaign that Flying Wild Hog are building here.
Asked how the studio plans to stand out, Kowalewski points to the game’s swordplay mechanics, humor and “Asian-tinted setting”.
“Maybe shooters aren’t the center of gravity for right now. But we still think that with these kind of elements that make our IP unique, like we always have something to say to draw the attention of [potential] players towards us.”
Kowalewski says that “Shadow Warrior is obviously rooted deeply in the 90s” and the era of arcadey, old-school shooters and while realism reigned as the dominant trend throughout the early and mid-2000s, there’s now been something of a resurgence for this style of game.
He says it’s “Something old for us. Something that we knew we know from our childhoods and teenage years [but] it's going to be something new for the new generation of gamers. Something that people don't know.”
Shadow Warrior 3 is slated for release in 2021.