Monolith certainly had a job on their hands revisiting Mordor, following the sleeper hit that was released back in 2014, especially if they were to make a grand sequel that could live up and go beyond the expectations of fans of the first game. Middle-earth: Shadow of War has done so in many aspects of the experience, though it does fall short in particular areas.
Said particular areas will apply to you if you are some kind of Tolkien purist with expectations of a narrative true to the original lore, then you might want to skip ahead. The game’s opening sees returning protagonist Talion, along with Cerebrimbor, forging a new Ring of Power. Confusing, right?
This was only exacerbated by the appearance of Shelob, who has apparently swapped out the whole spider thing she had going on for some kind of sexy witch form that even threw a non-purist such as myself. And yes, you can still expect the cockney/Australian/other accent that isn’t authentic to the franchise to be present within the Orcs, just for that extra touch of ‘what the hell is going on?’
However, bagging on the story of Shadow of War does feel rather obsolete, given that this was hardly a strength of the previous game either. One of the great features of the past and the present game is the Nemesis System, which ultimately gives you the platform to make your own story for yourself.
The Nemesis System is without a doubt the nucleus of Shadow of War, around which every decision you make will have some form of reaction going forward. The system has been vastly expanded, offering an ecoystem complete with Orcs that each have their own unique names, abilities and attributes. What’s more, growing your own army of allies has a much more prominent presence in Shadow of War, whereas the previous game only touched on this towards the end of the game. Expect to come face-to-face with several rivals, assassins and more this time around, whilst you’ll want to recruit a few heavies to keep any of these nasties at bay.
The combat is a key element to your time in Shadow of War, offering the same feel as the previous outing, reminiscent to the Batman Arkham series, only with an added dash of gruesome limb evisceration at the hand of our Ranger hero. The quick-time events take on a slightly different form, in which you will be required to hit the relevant button as on outer-circle descends on a highlighted inner-circle.
This definitely threw me off at first, which led to my first great frustration with Shadow of War. Having been killed in rather hair-tearing fashion by an Orc captain, my natural reaction was to hunt him down and impose my own brand of Talion street justice. This was only to be cut short as I was confronted by a QTE as he was on the brink of death, only to fail it and for the Orc to magically teleport to the other side of the map. There are new mechanics to help cope with situations such as this, including a brand new temporary sprint boost, but I kind of hoped chasing fleeing captains around the fields of Mordor for 10 minutes at a time were all but over.
But I digress, back to the good stuff. The game’s skill tree is much improved, allowing you to sink points into many different features that will focus more on building your core as opposed to altering your play style. This is accompanied by new weapon and armor enhancements, which can be enhanced with common, rare and legendary items. This is nothing new to the ARPG genre, but it is certainly a welcome addition nonetheless.
One of the most exciting inclusions in the build up to the release was the Sieges and fort assaults that we heard all about as we rode the hype train all the way to launch date. And they are most certainly one of the highlights, and will require plentiful preperation in a similar style to Shadow of Mordor, where you will use the Nemesis System once more to ultimately bring down a war chief. In order to do so, the battle will entail pushing the chief’s armies back with your own, all the whiel mounting drakes and caragors as you delve into scraps that see an eye-watering amount of character models on the screen at a given time.
We should probably address the ugly duckling of the game also, with the unpopular decision to offer microtransactions. I’m happy to report that they have very little impact on the game at all, with the exception of them being advertised whenever you decide to go to the pause menu. Put all that to the back of your mind, and embrace the fact that you are in an absolutely massive open-world, one that is three times the size of Shadow of Mordor, and it is enriched with a platform for you to build your very own experience.
Overall, I would implore fans who are skeptical about the direction of the lore and other areas of authenticity and just embrace the sheer chaos that Middle-earth: Shadow of War presents. The evolved Nemesis System and vast open setting will be more than enough to keep you entertained for a long time to come. Who knows? It might even become your “precious…” (sorry).
Review score – 9/10