Middle-earth: Shadow of War, the sequel to 2014’s critically acclaimed Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, is a feature-rich, epic adventure that both fans and newcomers to the series will love. With a mix of army-building, orc-hunting and a new story from the Lord of the Rings universe to enjoy, there’s so much to see and do in this fantastic open-world adventure from the guys at Monolith Productions.
“…you set out to foil Sauron’s plans by destroying his armies, one orc captain at a time”
In Shadow of War, the story picks up after the events of the Shadow or Mordor (thankfully, they’ve included a nice catch-up montage for those of you who haven’t played the first game). Talion, the protagonist, is still fused with Elf Lord Celebrimbor and, together, you craft your own ring of power to take on Sauron.
Right from the get-go, your newly crafted ring falls into the wrong hands and Talion is given a glimpse of a harrowing future for Middle-earth. Determined to stop these grim set of events from unfolding, you set out to foil Sauron’s plans by destroying his armies, one orc captain at a time. For fans of the Lord of the Rings lore, this slightly familiar yet epic story throws you right back into the world of Tolkien and even includes some nice cameos from notable characters from the LotR universe.
“…the combat is extremely satisfying as you lunge, roll and jump your way around the battlefield, slaying orcs like it’s nobody’s business.”
Even though there’s an impressive amount of main objectives and side-quests to do in Shadow or War, you’re going to be spending most of your time going head to head with orcs. With quite similar fighting mechanics to the Batman Arkham series, you’ll need to learn to block, counter and attack at the right moment to successfully slash your way through Sauron’s armies.
Just like in The Arkham games, the combat is extremely satisfying as you lunge, roll and jump your way around the battlefield, slaying orcs like it’s nobody’s business. That’s not to say there isn’t a challenge involved when taking on these waves of enemies, lead by orc captains, with each one having varying weaknesses and strengths.
It’s in this specific gameplay mechanic that Shadow or War really shines. Throughout the game, you’re tasked with hunting down each of these unique orc captains in order to weaken Sauron’s armies. As you do, you come across lower ranked orcs that you can interrogate to find out more about their captain’s strengths, weaknesses and even location.
Admittedly, you might think this sounds quite repetitive but with the work Monolith has put in to ensure each of the orc captains have their own personalities and characteristics, it’s actually quite enjoyable tracking each of them down for the final showdown battle.
It’s in the outcome of these final orc captain battles that Shadow of War’s Nemesis system comes into play. If you fail to take the captain down or you end up dying during the fight yourself, they will remember this the next time you meet and comment on the outcome of your previous encounter. The game will even remember if you managed to remove one of your opponent’s limbs which is a really nice touch.
Monolith has also included a section called ‘Siege Missions’ which tasks you with defending or storming an enemy stronghold. It’s during these particular missions that your army and skills are put to the test against what are, sometimes, more unpredictable and often stronger enemies and beasts.
Now, we can’t talk about gameplay in Middle-earth: Shadow of War without mentioning the controversial loot box system in place. This system allows you to upgrade your armour and weapons from orcs you’ve killed along with upgrading your own elven powers.
There’s been some fan outcry over the perceived necessity to purchase additional loot boxes to stand a chance of progressing through the game at a more expected pace. For us, we didn’t find this to be the case and found our play-through (in which we didn’t purchase additional boxes) went by at a respectable pace and we never really felt held back by the lack of ‘free’ upgrades available.
“Shadow of War’s real standout piece of graphical craftsmanship is the attention to detail for each of the orc and orc captains you encounter.”
There’s no denying that Middle-earth: Shadow of War is a great looking game given its ambitious scale and level of variety in locales and enemies alike. Showcasing a surprisingly vibrant world, Shadow of War’s real standout piece of graphical craftsmanship is the attention to detail for each of the orc and orc captains you encounter. Each one of them feels well thought out, impressively finished and believable as a living, breathing character in the Middle-earth world.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War is one of the most well-executed and well-rounded gaming experiences of 2017. The story is engrossing, the gameplay is addictive and the vastness and depth of the world Monolith Productions has created really is a sight to behold.