In 2016's Shadow Warrior 2, players often found themselves pressing pause in the middle of a killing spree to check if a +3.1 percent haste bonus modifier was superior to the damage gem they already had slotted into their revolver. It was a bizarre juxtaposition with the arcade flippancy of Flying Wild Hog's ongoing revival of the 1997 3D Realms shooter. There were dozens of different builds, leveling thresholds, loot pickups, and infinitesimal stat buffs. It wasn't necessarily bad, it felt a little incongruous to the tone in the rest of the game.
In next year's Shadow Warrior 3, Flying Wild Hog intends to go back to the basics.
"It's going to have much simpler character progression," says Paweł Kowalewski, game designer at Flying Wild Hog. "We don't want to draw the player's attention away from the action. We don't want anyone standing in place for five minutes wondering what upgrade they should put on their weapon to increase some stat for whatever percent. We are going back to the first Shadow Warrior, but we are upgrading everything."
We saw a bit of the studio's newfound razor focus in the reveal video released recently. Lo Wang jumps through a dewy canyon that pays homage to the spellbinding mountain ranges in southern China. Wang is equipped with a brand new grappling hook, which soups up some of the rebooted series' rudimentary platforming mechanics. At times, Wang looks like Faith from Mirror's Edge—catapulting through the sky, linking together wall runs, rope swings, and vertical scampers—always keeping an eye out for the color red, videogame shorthand for "you're going the right way."
Eventually, Wang makes landfall in a combat arena in front of a giant wooden gate. A Ming-era meat grinder rattles away in the foyer. With the power of his grappling hook, Wang yanks the machine forward, mulching all the demons in its path.
That is a point of emphasis for Kowalewski. Shadow Warrior might not be the doodad-laden maze that it was in 2016—you might not be able to min-max Lo Wang like he's Commander Shepard—but Wild Hog still intends to deliver a combat experience that's more flexible than its previous efforts.
"We improved the movement of our character, and that allowed us to build bigger, more vertical arenas. But then we thought, 'Now we have to fill them with combat,'" he says. "We want more than the generic explosive barrels, we want devices that are connected permanently to an arena that you can interact with in different ways. We are thinking about approaching encounters from different angles."
There are probably some fans who will be disappointed to know that Wild Hog is stepping way from some of the ludicrous scale it experimented with previously. It was enthralling to witness the sheer number of weapons the team managed to fit into Shadow Warrior 2. (73 in total!) Kowalewski says the team is reeling that instinct in considerably—they don't have a final count of arsenal in Shadow Warrior 3, but he expects it to land somewhere around eight weapons you can carry around, each polished to a mirror shine.
Instead, Wild Hog wants to express its appreciation for videogame gun design in other ways. When you kill certain enemies, says Kowalewski, Lo Wang will have an opportunity to gain their "trait." For example: In the trailer we watched Wang cut down some weirdo jack-in-a-box mech. Afterwards, he reaches into its sundered chest and pulls out a horrifying fireworks-belching minigun—just nothing but confetti and gore—which obliterates the rest of the legion around him. "You can only use it for a limited time," he continues. "It adds another layer to the combat."
It's interesting to consider that we've been living with the Shadow Warrior reboots long enough for this level of introspection and reinvention to even be possible. The original game came out in 1997, and it never achieved the same level of global recognition as Duke Nukem or Doom. The stereotype laden portrayal of an East Asian protagonist seemed to seal its fate as a late-90s also-ran. But now, in 2020, Wild Hog has firmly reconquered the franchise. It belongs more to that studio than it does to 3D Realms now. The fans have become the authors of a brand new legacy.
"We are old enough to remember the classic game. It's surreal that this IP is basically ours right now," says Kowalewski. "This is our Shadow Warrior, people will connect this game with our studio from this point. At the beginning we were worried if there was a place for a game like this on the market. But from the response to Shadow Warrior 2 and the trailer for Shadow Warrior 3 on social media, it feels great."