One thing that both Shadow Warrior and its sequel have in common is Wang. Rock hard and full of spunk, he is undoubtedly the star of the show. Other than that though, Shadow Warrior 2 is very different indeed from its predecessor.

For instance, imagine that the world Wang inhabited in Shadow Warrior was a pair of skinny jeans. They restricted Wang, offering him little room for maneuver, but that’s not an issue in Shadow Warrior 2, no. In Shadow Warrior 2 the world is a pair of boxer shorts that are freer, roomier, giving Wang the chance to breathe and move around at his leisure. And you know what? A free Wang is a happier Wang, so by proxy, it’s a more fulfilling experience for you that’s handling him.

In Shadow Warrior 2, Wang’s wise-cracking exploits play out across a number of expansive, procedurally generated maps – the linearity of the first game thrown out of the window. Now you’re free to progress the story at your own pace and get side-tracked along the way. And trust me, you will.

After picking up side quests at the Dragon Mountain hub you’ll eagerly head out to complete them, making use of Wang’s new movement options that let him make the most of the open environments. You can double jump, dash and climb up ledges, all useful for efficiently reaching your objective in the most flamboyant of fashions, and they’re also a great way of running rings around your enemies too. In fact, controlling Wang is so fluid and enjoyable that you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny, eager to track down secrets, and more importantly, awesome loot.

With the introduction of loot, Shadow Warrior 2 is essentially an action-RPG. From skills that can be discovered and then upgraded with the points earned by leveling up, to outlandish weapons that can be customized with all manner of effects, there are many ways to power up your Wang and make him your own providing you put in the time and effort. You can add elemental effects, change the nature of your bullets, or even reduce the casting time of your favorite spell. For a gamer like me who absolutely adores Diablo, it makes Shadow Warrior 2 an interesting proposition, adding depth to the already absorbing gameplay.

Building on the over-the-top action of the previous title, it’s the combat of Shadow Warrior 2 that really shines, making it a pleasure to engage in again and again. There’s a huge variety of weapons on offer, ranging from samurai swords to grenade launchers and even a chainsaw, and applying them to the varied enemies that stand against you is always satisfying. Blood spills as limbs are dismembered and bullet holes are blown into your unlucky victims, and in their final throes, goodies emerge as a reward. It makes for an addictive gameplay loop which will undoubtedly have you revisiting locations not only for the thrill of killing but also for the excitement of discovering a worthwhile upgrade.

As enjoyable as it is slaying demons and the Yakuza on your lonesome as Wang, however, making use of Shadow Warrior 2’s co-op makes it all even more fun. You can run around creating a bloody mess with up to three friends online, shooting and slicing everything in sight. It can get a bit chaotic, sure, but it’s the fun kind of chaotic; the kind that leaves you with a wide grin on your face due to the sheer carnage that’s happening on screen. There’s no doubt about it: with four players, Shadow Warrior 2 is an insane murder party.

The only thing in my eyes that lets Shadow Warrior 2 down are its graphics, or at least, just one aspect of them: character models. Shadow Warrior 2’s Japanese-inspired environments are just gorgeous – honestly, I had to drag myself away from taking pictures of them using the game’s photo mode – but most of its human character models are very poor indeed. Luckily, there aren’t that many of them, so seeing them doesn’t break your immersion too much.

Shadow Warrior 2 surprised me. It takes a chance by adopting a more open-ended structure, but it pays off. All the humor of the original game remains intact, and there’s more emphasis on you simply having fun, whether that’s by yourself or with others. And what fun it is. The enhanced movement options and visceral action means it’s a joy to play, and the loot system just sucks you in as you seek out the best weapons and customization items to make your Wang the best there is. Shadow Warrior 2 is more than I expected in a sequel, and you can’t get better than that.

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