Shadow Warrior 3 lead designer Paweł Kowalewski speaks with GamingBolt about the upcoming action game.
The Shadow Warrior series has gone from strength to strength since it was rebooted in 2013, and with every new instalment, developers Flying Wild Hog have made an effort to refine the formula to its zenith. With the recently announced Shadow Warrior 3, they’re look to keep that trajectory moving upward. With a greater focus on slick action and extreme mobility and level design revolving around new mechanics in those areas, Shadow Warrior 3 is thus far looking like a distillation of everything that this series has been about.
Curious as we have been to learn more about the game since it got announced, we recently reached out to its developers to ask our most burning questions about it, and in the process learned more about everything from its combat to its traversal to its progression mechanics and much more. You can read our conversation with lead designer Paweł Kowalewski below.
"Shadow Warrior 3 is a huge improvement over its predecessors in every area – from rounded and more responsive controls, to a more focused arsenal and greater enemy variety – where every piece of the puzzle has a meaningful role."
Shadow Warrior’s blend of over-the-top action has always been key defining traits of the series, and it looks like Shadow Warrior 3 is taking that one step further. Can you talk about some of the biggest improvements the sequel is making in these areas?
Whenever we’re about to start the development of a new title, especially in the case of Shadow Warrior 3 which is a new installment of an already existing franchise, it’s important to look back at what we’ve achieved so far and which elements can be improved even further.
Shadow Warrior 3 is, in short, a huge improvement over its predecessors in every area – from rounded and more responsive controls, to a more focused arsenal and greater enemy variety – where every piece of the puzzle has a meaningful role. Level design has also improved with each location being hand-made, providing better pacing and interactivity with Lo Wang’s surroundings.
Last, but not least, we’ve finally been able to add brand new gameplay features that we’ve been thinking about over the last couple of years, like the Grappling Hook, wall-running and outrageous executions which activate powerful temporary abilities that expand Lo Wang’s already diverse combat options.
Another area where Shadow Warrior 3 is introducing some exciting changes is traversal, which, thanks to things like the grappling hook and wall-running, looks much more dynamic and nimble this time around. What impact will this have on combat?
We don’t want the Grappling Hook or wall-running to only be used between combat arenas. Sure, both of them allow us to create more complex and engaging traversal sections, but we knew from the start that in order to make these new features really meaningful, they also need to play an important role within our combat space – and they do! Thanks to these new abilities combat arenas are more vertical than before, as various anchor points for interactions with the Grappling Hook or certain walls that Lo Wang can run on create additional “connections” between different sections of the arena. Of course, all movement from previous Shadow Warrior games (double jumps, aerial dashes, wall climbing) are coming back as well, but the addition of the Grappling Hook and wall runs improves the overall dynamics of the game and allows for heaps of creativity when approaching enemies from different angles.
One more important thing to note is that the Grappling Hook can also interact with certain enemy types, allowing Lo Wang to quickly close down distance between himself and the enemies, expose enemy weak spots, or throw explosive barrels straight into incoming groups.
The mechanic of performing executions on enemies and then temporarily acquiring one of their traits to then use for yourself is one that has a lot of potential applications- what’s the biggest impact this will have on combat in your view?
Executions are the “cherry on top” of our combat system, because it’s not just a fancy finishing animation – it also adds another layer of strategy when dealing with hordes of demons rushing at you. Every enemy is unique and possesses some kind of important trait – it could be a weapon or offensive/defensive power that the enemy is casting.
The idea is these abilities are closely tied to a particular enemy’s visual design and behavior in combat, so that even before finishing a new enemy type for the first time, Lo Wang should be able to predict what kind of unique ability he will acquire upon execution. These enemy-inherited abilities are powerful and usually do things that weapons from the standard arsenal cannot, expanding combat efficiency. Later in the game, when you’ve already seen most of the enemies, performing executions is also part of split-second decision making as it’s not only about finishing off enemies whenever you have an opportunity to do so, but also which enemy is the ripest power source to mine in order to dispatch the rest!
"First person melee combat is part of Shadow Warrior’s DNA and one of the most distinct features that makes it stand out, so we’re putting a lot of effort into making the swordplay go hand-in-hand with gunplay."
It looks like Lo Wang’s katana is going to play a pretty important role in combat, given the fact that there’s a button dedicated to it. Can you talk about what this means for variety in combat, and allowing players to switch between melee and ranged seamlessly?
First person melee combat is part of Shadow Warrior’s DNA and one of the most distinct features that makes it stand out, so we’re putting a lot of effort into making the swordplay go hand-in-hand with gunplay.
With each Shadow Warrior game we tried to make the katana combat feel better, whether through improving the responsiveness or improving the controls for executing special attacks. However, even though we received lots of positive feedback regarding melee combat in our games, we always felt like we still haven’t achieved that seamless “yin/yang” kind of blend between swordplay and the gunplay, because players were always forced to switch to a particular weapon before they could start attacking with it.
Having two separate attack buttons (one for katana and the other for a ranged weapon) changes combat drastically as it allows for instant “switch-attacks” between the sword and gun, which we noticed not only makes changing playstyles more fluid, but also encourages a more aggressive approach and closing the distance to enemies more often in order to land few safe katana strikes in between firing with guns.
With the expanded movement and combat in Shadow Warrior 3, what’s been your approach to level design, and how the game’s levels are populated by combat and traversal challenges?
The moment we had the working prototypes for the Grappling Hook and wall-running we knew that we finally had almost unlimited freedom of movement. So we started thinking about the environments as a “ninja playground” where level layouts and all interactive elements supporting Lo Wang’s abilities are there to maximize fun.
As for the balance between the combat and traversal sections, the game has larger combat arenas that are locked until the fight is over, but also throws up smaller combat encounters during traversal. We also wanted traversal sections to be more entertaining than ever before and with the addition of new dynamic movement options, even outside of combat Lo Wang will have his hands full employing his nimble ninja moves.
Shadow Warrior is a series that’s traditionally always appealed to the single player crowd first and foremost, and it seems like Shadow Warrior 3 will be doing that as well, but do you have any plans for multiplayer, whether that’s co-op or PvP? Is it something that you would consider adding to the game following launch?
At this point we’re focusing all of our attention and resources on the single player campaign, so until all the pieces are in place we don’t want to distract ourselves with anything that doesn’t support an awesome single player experience.
Nailing humour and witty writing is a particularly hard thing to do, and something that games don’t always succeed at, but it’s something that Shadow Warrior games have always been known for. What can fans expect from Shadow Warrior 3 as far as that humour and wit is concerned?
Ever since Flying Wild Hog started working on the reboot of the franchise back in early 2012, our writers have put a lot of effort into reimagining Lo Wang as a younger, goofy, pop culture geek who considers jokes his “verbal superpower”. With that being said, anybody who has enjoyed his one-liners so far can expect at least the same amount of craziness in Shadow Warrior 3!
"Shifting away from the more complex progression mechanics of Shadow Warrior 2 was influenced mostly by going back to a linear, character-focused campaign. Since Shadow Warrior 3 focuses heavily on fast-paced action and a sense of adventure, we decided to cut the elements that we felt draw attention away from the action."
Shadow Warrior 3 is making interesting changes to progression mechanics, doing away with a lot of the build variety introduced in Shadow Warrior 2 and going for a leaner approach. What led to the decision to revert to a more focused style of progression?
Shifting away from the more complex progression mechanics of Shadow Warrior 2 was influenced mostly by going back to a linear, character-focused campaign. Since Shadow Warrior 3 focuses heavily on fast-paced action and a sense of adventure, we decided to cut the elements that we felt draw attention away from the action. That’s why we’re returning to our roots and implementing a much “lighter” progression system (similar to the Shadow Warrior reboot) where all pieces of equipment or new abilities are picked up as part of the journey at specific moments and progression is tied to a really simple skill tree.
Roughly how long will an average playthrough of Shadow Warrior 3 be?
It’s difficult to talk about overall play time at this point as we still have a good amount of development time ahead of us. What we can say for now is that we’ve learned a few lessons from our previous games, realizing that sometimes less is more. With that approach in mind we decided to focus more on density rather than longevity, so what can you expect from Shadow Warrior 3 is a campaign where every minute counts and every element of the game (whether it’s combat, traversal or narrative) supports our goal of delivering one consistent package, focused on providing one hell of an adventure.
As it stands right now, Shadow Warrior 3 is currently only announced for PC, but are PS5 and Xbox Series X versions also in the cards, especially given the fact that the previous two games did eventually come to consoles as well?
We’re currently focused on developing Shadow Warrior 3 to PC but would love to bring Lo Wang to more platforms! Look out for further announcements in 2021.