Shadow Warrior 2 review featuring Multi-Res Shading

BabelTechReviews received a copy of Shadow Warrior 2 for PC last week courtesy of Nvidia, and we played it over the weekend.  This editor has spent two long sessions playing the approximately 12-hour campaign from start to completion in WHQD 21:9 3440×2160 resolution.  It includes brand new Nvidia technology not seen in any other game until now.  Here are our impressions of Shadow Warrior 2, including a mini-performance Multi-Res Shading (MRS) IQ/performance evaluation using the Pascal TITAN X.shadowwarrior2-2016-10-16-14-36-08-75

Wild Hog is using their in-house Road Hog Engine which features next generation technology thanks in part to a collaboration with Nvidia’s Indie Spotlight Program with Devolver, the game’s publisher.  Shadow Warrior 2 uses Nvidia’s multi-res shading (MRS). MRS uses simultaneous multi-projection (SMP) technology built into NVIDIA Pascal GPUs to project images into multiple viewports. This allows gamers to control the resolution around the periphery of the game independently from the center.  Players can decrease the resolution of Shadow Warrior 2‘s graphics on the periphery of the screen, improving performance without affecting image quality on the center of the screen where the eyes are usually focused. By intelligently reducing the workload on the GPU, MRS can gain a substantial amount of performance as we shall see.

Shadow Warrior 2 is a first person retro shooter (FPS) which is developed by indie studio Flying Wild Hog and it is the sequel to the 2013 Shadow Warrior game. In Shadow Warrior 2, a player assumes the role of a modern ninja warrior to battle invading demonic forces in single-player mode or in a new 4-player co-op mode.  Like the Serious Sam series, the game is focused on dark humor, over-the-top gore, and it features over 70 different weapons.  As the player progresses, he can level up and customize weapons in a nearly unlimited manner to enhance their destructive properties. Shadow Warrior 2 features randomly generated level design and a procedural damage system to enemies which allows a player to graphically cut and blow off limbs and body parts as they continue to attack ignoring their own damage until they are completely destroyed.  shadowwarrior2-weapons

Shadow Warrior 2 even plays homage to similar games like the Serious Sam series, and it especially revels in juvenile “locker-room” talk and over-the-top ultra-violence.  You play the anti-hero Lo Wang who is basically a mercenary who takes jobs for money.shadowwarrior2-2016-10-16-11-20-10-55

Unlike the Serious Sam series, Shadow Warrior 2 intends to offend – everyone. For example, one of the sensei-type characters says, “I am what I am”, and Wang replies, “I’ve heard that before, was it Yahweh or Popeye?”   The sensei later claims, “I am not attached to any one outcome” getting Wang’s wisecrack response, “you’d be fun in Vegas” which deserves the retort from the master shutting him down, “And if you say anything else, you will be attached to my fists.”

Lo Wang, is very much in the Duke Nukem hero mold but he takes himself far less seriously, reminding us that “the way of the Wang is long and hard”.  After being complimented for a smart move, he warns us that that they are few and far between and to be ready “for a tsunami of stupidity”.shadowwarrior2-2016-10-16-19-14-29-55

With endless wisecracking and juvenile banter, Shadow Warrior 2 appears on the surface to be totally stupid, but it is a very fun kind of stupid that is carefully crafted to bring the player many laugh out loud moments.  shadowwarrior2-2016-10-16-19-48-10-86Surprisingly, Shadow Warrior 2 actually centers around a very intelligent story about a young woman whose soul is trapped in Lo Wang’s body, and their efforts to free her and to restore her to her own body brings them into endless battle with hordes of demons, robots, and gangsters, including huge bosses.  At stake is the future of humanity.  It is interesting to watch their attitudes toward each other change over the course of a dozen hours – from endless arguments, insults, distrust, and contempt, to mutual respect and ultimately, friendship.

shadowwarrior2-2016-10-16-11-18-17-09
“I hate to sound like a racist, but all you demons look alike.”

The game has a strange sense of morality which is against racism and rape, but it celebrates violence.  Shadow Warrior 2 also references just about everything.  Wang wisecracks about “Killing in the Name of” (Rage Against the Machine) and corny comments like “you’re so ugly, I should kill you blindfolded”.  And after slashing enemies, you get, “Pull yourself together”.  Although the comments tend to become repetitive, there is enough variety so as to not get irritating.  Although the screen may be full of action and enemy NPCs, Wang’s weapons are varied and up to the task.

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We never played the earlier Shadow Warrior games in the series, and we were not drawn immediately into this world, but rather disliked it at first.  Not helping our gaming experience, we had many crashes to desktop and had to start over from the last checkpoint over-and-over until we realized that using Fraps was the issue.  Once we shut Fraps down, the game became completely stable and we began to really enjoy it.  We didn’t have a single crash after we closed Fraps down.

As with most games in the action genre, Shadow Warrior 2 is repetitive, but it introduces many dozens of varied new weapons, and our favorite became a pair of Katana blades that also shot energy beams, in addition to our trusty shotgun and machine gun.  Being able to customize the progressively exotic weapons plus new and varied enemies helped to keep us engaged.

shadowwarrior2-2016-10-16-10-07-11-20Although Shadow Warrior 2 is not as graphically impressive as DOOM or Gears of War 4, its artwork, settings and diverse locations work to immerse the player in the Shadow Warrior gameworld.  It has a central home hub to which the player can teleport to buy ammunition and then return back into the story or into optional missions.  It moves seamlessly from steampunk cities awash in neon lights to forests and gardens, and somehow it makes sense.shadowwarrior2-2016-10-16-16-54-46-37

The enemies rely on their large numbers to overwhelm the player simultaneously, but the weapons Wang wields are very capable and often you will need to switch instantly from one type to another to be successful.  Some enemies are vulnerable to blades and mele weapons, while others require you to switch to guns or projectile shooting weapons to be effective.  You even have a good choice of ranged weapons to take out some of them before the mob arrives.

The sheer variety of the weapons makes Shadow Warrior 2 enjoyable as you slice, dice and shoot your way through your encounters.  You also have Chi weapons available that can blast enemies or render Wang invisible for a short time.  The audio is  top notch and the weapons sounds are very good.  There are also varied weather effects which are well done.shadowwarrior2-2016-10-16-14-00-14-70

Shadow Warrior 2 has a little replayability. There is procedural generation of some areas which means it will change a little when your return to it.  You can start over at a higher difficulty and attempt to collect every secret item, but little changes.  Multiplayer is the option to add real value to the game and there are several modes.  You can also play 4-player co-op with friends to play the campaign together against more hardened enemies.

Performance & Multi-res Shading (MRS)

We played Shadow Warrior 2 at maximum Ultra details all the way through the campaign at 3440×1440 using our Pascal TITAN X and Core i7-6700K at 4.0GHz where all 4 cores turbo to 4.4GHz, an ASRock Z7170 motherboard and 16GB of Kingston HyperX DDR4 at 3333MHz.  Our favorite experience was playing with the TITAN X on a 34″ 21:9 Acer Predator G-SYNC display, although playing at full 4K 3848×2160 was also a reasonably fluid experience without resorting to aggressive MRS.

Multi-Res Shading (MRS) refers to a multiple resolution shading technology which was created by Nvidia mostly for virtual reality (VR).  MRS works to increase a game’s overall performance by rendering the outer edges of the screen at a lower percentage of the basic screen resolution.  MRS causes the center of the screen to retain full image quality, and it works particularly well with Shadow Warrior 2 as players are mostly focused on the center of the screen during combat.  Nvidia’s image below illustrates what MRS does when it is enabled at 60% (or 40%) of the in-game resolution.
mrsThe performance results of the different Multi-Res Shading settings in Shadow Warrior 2 are quite effective. There are two settings – “conservative” at 60% of the screen resolution, and “aggressive” at 40% – where performance can be increased by up to 30% over using the full screen resolution without MRS.

The conservative setting adds an area that is 20% the size of the resolution on the top and bottom of the screen, and a border 18% the size of the resolution on the right and left sides. Everything that is rendered in the area impacted by Multi-Res Shading is shown at 60% or at 40% screen resolution.  The chart below is courtesy of Nvidia.mrs-2

Next we will introduce static image quality screenshots to compare the two main MRS settings against not using it, and we will also give performance results with our TITAN X which should be proportional for all GeForce cards.  We also compare the game in motion in a 1920×1080 video.  Let’s check out the settings that we used as well as their impact on Image Quality (IQ).

Image Quality & Settings

The main settings are Low, Medium, High, Ultra, and Custom.  Here is default Ultra at 3840×2160 with MRS off.shadowwarrior2-3840x2160-settings-100

Here are the grayed-out settings which may be customized.shadowwarrior2-3840x2160-settings-100-2

Here are the MRS settings which affect the peripheral resolution.shadowwarrior2-3840x2160-settings-3

MRS IQ Comparison

Our screen shot images and video for the IQ comparison were taken at 1920×1080.  But first, here is the same area at 3840×2160 at full resolution with MRS off.shadowwarrior2-3840x2160-100The next three screenshots were taken at 1920×1080 with varying degrees of MRS.  It is best to open all three images in separate windows or tabs to compare them directly with each other.  The easiest way to tell the differences are to look at the edges of the screen – especially at the tip of the sword and also at the glove at the edge of the screen

MRS Off – 100% peripheral resolution100-percent

The detail at the edge of the screen above is sharp and the sword tip has a very smooth edge.

MRS Conservative – 60% peripheral resolution

60-percent

The detail is slightly more blurry at the edge of the screen and the tip of the sword shows a bit more aliasing.  The detail at the center of the screen is not affected.  Of course, the world is in motion and due to the dynamic of the game, and it is almost impossible to have exactly the same screenshots to compare.

MRS Aggressive – 40% peripheral resolution

40-percentOn aggressive MRS, the bottom glove is more blurred and the tip of the sword is jagged.  If you are standing in one spot, aggressive 40% peripheral resolution is probably too low and 60% seems to be a better compromise.  But the big question is, how does MRS look with the game in motion?

The Video with MRS in motion:

We start at the same place as our screenshot with the player and sword coming into focus as they become visible.  Then we walk forward.  The same scene is repeated 3 times – first at 100% resolution, then at 60% MRS, and finally at 40% MRS.

As you can see, even an aggressive 40% MRS looks decent with the game in motion.  And if you are engaging in a firefight with enemies, you will not notice the IQ loss at the edges of the screen.  Of course, it is also important to see how MRS affects performance and if it is worth it or not.

Performance Impact with MRS at 4K (3840×2160)

chart-mrs

Even with the mighty TITAN X, frame rates at 100% resolution at 3840×2160 will fall below 60 fps in a regular scene, and using aggressive 40% MRS will give an overall increase of about 20%.  With multiple enemies coming at the player simultaneously, and with the screen full of explosions, gore, and effects, the frame rates will often dip into the mid-40s.  Most players would like higher minimums in a shooter, and enabling aggressive MRS will push the minimums into the 50s with no noticeable difference in image quality in those situations.

Shadow Warrior 2 also features an in-game camera where you can rotate and move the camera, change the DoF, bloom, and other settings, to really compose your screenshots.shadowwarrior2-built-in-cam

Conclusion

Shadow Warrior 2 is a really fun game and it is absolutely the most fun we have had with a shooter in the past 2 years.  We feel like we are repeating ourselves for the second time in a couple of weeks as we said the same thing about Gears of War 4, but in our opinion, this game tops GoW 4 in the “fun to play” department.  After a slow start, our opinion of Shadow Warrior 2 completely changed and we did nothing else but play the game to the neglect of all things we normally do, and we would have finished the game in one long 12-hour session instead of two sessions if we did not have to sleep.shadowwarrior2-2016-10-17-18-37-19-83

If we have to give it a score, Shadow Warrior 2 deserves an “8.5” as a exceptionally fun single player campaignIt is rude and even offensive at times, but it does not take itself seriously and the story is one of the better written and more consistent game stories that develops the plot sufficiently to carry the action logically.  However, if you are easily offended, this game is not for you.shadowwarrior2-2016-10-16-21-21-54-49

Shadow Warrior 2 comes highly recommended and it is a certain hit for Shadow Warrior series fans.  The graphics are high quality, the gameplay is excellent, and the story is good.  The incredible variety of weaponry and their upgradeablity adds to the game, and the enemies and bosses make for a good challenge.  The voice acting fits the game’s atmosphere perfectly and Wang’s ridiculous wisecracks had this player smiling and occasionally laughing out loud. We feel it is worth the $40 asking price for an excellent retro style shooter with good multiplayer action also.  And as an added bonus, it ships without any DRM.

MRS is another hit in our opinion, and in some situations it may make the game more fluid without noticeably affecting image quality.  We’d like to give this technology a ’10’ and we hope to see it adopted by devs for other shooters.

Stay tuned as we have many more reviews and evaluations coming up. Next Tuesday morning, you can expect a full review of the new GTX 1050 Ti compared with the Radeon RX 460-4GB, and the HyperX Stinger gaming headset evaluation will be posted later in the week.

Happy Gaming!