Middle-Earth: Shadow of War Review

Shadow of Mordor was one of the biggest surprises in recent gaming memory.

Lord of the Rings games have always been a mixed bag, with the highs of Battle for Middle-Earth 2 and the lows of Conquest, but Shadow of Mordor really took things to the next level with the evolutionary Nemesis system.

Sadly, Shadow of War doesn’t quite hit the same high notes, though still does a great job with the ones it already has.

One does not simply make a good Lord of the Rings game

Shadow of War directly follows the events of Shadow of Mordor with players once again assuming the role of Talion the Ranger who has been taken over by the spirit of the Bright Lord, Celebrimbor. Both aim to forge a new ring of power in order to fight back Sauron’s forces and upon returning from Mt Doom, the plan seems to be coming into fruition until Celebrimbor is captured by the human form of Shelob.

Yes, that Shelob!

Talion is forced to give over the newly forged Ring of Power in exchange for the spirit, though slightly reassured he and Shelob have a common enemy in Sauron. Shelob uses the ring for visions and tells Talion and Celebrimbor to go to a Gondorian stronghold in Mordor which is said to be under siege by Sauron’s forces.

Unsurprisingly, Celebrimbor is distrustful of Shelob but Talion believes she holds the key to weakening Sauron. And thus the quest begins.

Both the good and bad thing about Shadow of War is that it picks right up where Mordor left off. Almost to a tee. You kill a lot of orcs in a similar combat system to Batman, you still use your sword and pick enemies off with a crossbow and arrow. You’re deep in the heart of the Nemesis system, making enemies and knocking off generals. And you’re running around a map Assassin’s Creed style picking up collectibles and getting involved in side missions to get the advantage on your enemies.

And that’s great because Mordor had an efficient, exquisite system which got the best out of the genre. But while Shadow of War feels bigger in scope, and has more of a Hollywood blockbuster feel, it’s hard to shake the feeling that it’s ultimately treaded a bit too lightly. It’s not taken many unnecessary risks and just added some new bells and whistles to craft a wholly similar experience.

Again, not a bad thing as this is still one of the best open world designs on current gen platforms. The Nemesis system has had a bit of an upgrade with orcs having more of a personality and feeling more individual and unique, less generic.

To paint a mini picture, I had a grudge against one orc general I’d originally killed with an arrow to the eye. This orc continuously cheated death and kept coming back to fight me, each time with a new scar. But during these fights, I’d also be taunted by a bard-like orc who kept playing tunes and melodies in the background, ready to sneak in the occasional cheap shot. The most impressive thing about Shadow of War is the personality these enemies have and how you can craft your own enriching narrative off the back of your experiences with them. That’s the real magic of the game.

The Eye is Ever Watchful

You can also gain followers from different races in Mordor, such as the Uruks and Ologs, use the in-game store to upgrade their attributes, and even plan out battle strategies, sending your forces to distract one general so you can swoop in for the deathblow, or even allowing them to go off and fight the general themselves. Be careful, though, some orc’s loyalty is not as strong as you might think.

In addition, Talion has a larger upgrade system which offers up new moves and more durability, as well as unlocking special moves which gives the game more of an RPG feel.

The side quests remain mostly the same, with you stopping orcs from getting supply drops, or crashing feasts and parties. You can go in for all out assault, or poision their grog so that they die unawares. The environment can also be used to your advantage by blowing up barrels and campfires, dropping fly nests down on top of groups, and even releasing creatures to do the fighting for you.

But a new social conquest mode has also been added where, if you’re connected online, you can avenge other Talion’s who’ve been killed and earn rare weapons. You can also raid other player’s fortresses and attempt to conquer them yourself. You can opt to do this in both friendly or ranked modes, with ranked modes actually allowing you to put your orc followers on the line in battle.

Shadow of War also includes some fun optional objectives, like solving the riddles of treasure doors by collecting hidden words and playing historical battles through the guise of other characters. The story does leave a little bit to be desired – particularly the Shelob arc – and it’s not a dramatic evolution from Shadow of Mordor, but Shadow of War is a fun, fast-paced, enthralling epic that’s among the best Lord of the Rings titles ever made.

+ Gorgeous art
+ A massive world full of content

+ Nemesis System had some interesting upgrades
+ Social Conquests additions are solid

– Story is quite weak.
– Not a dramatic evolution from Shadow of Mordor

Middle Earth: Shadow of War

7 out of 10

Tested on Xbox One

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