‘Shadow Warrior 3’ Developers Want Players To Feel Overpowered
“Over the top” is easily the best way to describe Shadow Warrior 3.
It’s the phrase that game designer Paweł Kowalewski used the most in an interview about the upcoming 2021 action game from developer Flying Wild Hog and publisher Devolver Digital, and it’s the overwhelming feeling that comes through in this 17-minute gameplay footage that came out on Monday.
The demons, the violence, the speed, the one-liner quips from protagonist Lo Wang: It’s all over the top. As a first-person action series, Shadow Warrior has been over the top since its beginnings in 1997. That spirit was kept alive in the series’ reboot in 2013 and through Shadow Warrior 3, which Kowalewski described as an upgraded version of the 2013 that’s been turned up to 11.
“We really want the players to feel overpowered,” he said in a video call with Mashable.
That comes across pretty clearly as the gameplay footage shows Wang ripping through enemy after enemy with his sword and guns as geysers of blood rain down around him. In one instance a few minutes into the clip, he rips out a piece of an icy kugutsu demon’s head, exclaims “Winter is coming,” and throws it down to freeze a small hoard of enemies in place. He then proceeds to splinter them into tiny icy pieces.
“This is your ultimate fantasy of being this hero who has a job to do and enjoys it,” Powalewski said. “This is a very important part of the connection between gameplay and the personality of our protagonist. As a player you should feel that this guy really enjoys the situation he’s in.”
Wang frequently sounds excited during gameplay, and the use of the environment in combat adds to that empowering feeling that Shadow Warrior 3 tries to deliver. Internally, Powalewski said they refer to what they’re trying to deliver as a ninja playground.
“We always think outside of player-related features like weapons and movement,” he said. “We always think about the environment, how you can interact with it, how you can use it against the enemies.”
In the final section of the gameplay clip, there is an arena filled with demons both large and small, and in the middle of the arena are two massive spinning blade contraptions. Wang can pull on them using his grappling hook — a new addition to the game — and yank them into enemies to slice them to bloody bits.
That grappling hook is also used as Wang travels through the environment along with another new addition to his pool of talents: wall-running.
“We thought, ‘What else can we do to make the combat and the traversal even more spectacular?’” Powalewski said, noting they wanted players to be able to move freely like a ninja from their favorite animes. That freedom of movement is the thing he’s most excited for players to experience.
The humor of Shadow Warrior 3 is what really brings those ideas of freedom and power together with relatability. Wang will frequently joke and make pop culture references to things like Game of Thrones, action movies, and even other video games — things that players (and the developers at Flying Wild Hog) tend to enjoy.
“The times have changed,” he said.
Still, it’s very clear that Wang, a vaguely East Asian martial artist, is a walking stereotype. His name alone, Lo Wang, is a penis joke. While some ribald humor like that isn’t unwelcome in games, it feels a bit weird to see content poking fun of an Asian person coming from a Polish studio.
In talking about inspirations for some of the design decisions in the game, Powalewski said they try to take inspiration from Japanese and Chinese cultures and put their own spin on it. It gives Shadow Warrior a homogenizing feel, lumping different cultures and identities into one convenient “Asian” backdrop for use as a playground for violence.
Gameplay-wise, Shadow Warrior 3 looks like a fun, action-packed game to sink some time into, offering so much freedom of movement while we so many of us are still stuck at home due to COVID-19. But its dubious approach to Asian representation isn’t something that can be looked over.
There is certainly noticeable growth in this series in terms of how it handles its setting and main character, but it appears it still has a way to go based on what we’ve seen.
Once Shadow Warrior 3 comes out in 2021, hopefully the broader picture it paints will be a bit better than what we’ve seen thus far.