Middle Earth: Shadow of War (“Shadow of War”) is an action RPG developed by Monolith Productions and is the sequel to Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Tom had an interesting time playing the game. Here’s his review.
Story-wise, the game continues right where we left off in the previous game. Playing as Talion, you and your best elven-ghost friend, Celebrimbor, have just defeated the big bad of the previous game and you decide to forge a new Ring of Power to take on Sauron, with the hope that nothing bad ever happens to this new ring. Immediately, the ring is stolen by the spider-witch, Shelob, who promises that she isn’t up to anything evil and actually wants to help you defeat Sauron. And so the game begins…
If you enjoy the Assassin’s Creed and Batman Arkham Knight video game franchises, you’re going to feel right at home in this game.
The combat feels ripped right from the Batman games. Rapidly press the attack button, point your analogue stick towards an enemy and every so often press the dodge button when the prompt appears above another enemy’s head and when your combo meter is full, unleash a devastating Area of Effect (“AOE”) attack or brutalise a single Orc by executing them in front of their comrades (some of which might flee in fear). To the everyday gamer, this feels great. You look like such a badass with minimal effort. To the “hardcore” among us, this all feels like one Quick Time Event (“QTE”). As long as you can time your dodges and vaults, you are essentially unkillable. Even if you are brought to your knees and are facing a deadly blow from an Orc captain (more on those later) you can gain a second-wind by… you guessed it! A QTE. One quick timed press of a button and you’re back on your feet ready to slaughter some man-eaters.
There is, of course, the skill tree to meddle with as well, as you level up. Again, very similar to Batman and Assassin’s Creed. You can fill the tree out in a certain play-style of your choosing: Stealth, Ranged, All Out Attack and the like but don’t stress about “messing up” an optimal build and feel like you might miss out on something. There’s no level cap and you will eventually unlock the entire skill tree.
When you’re not in combat, you’re playing a re-skinned Assassin’s Creed. Explore the area by climbing a tall tower and use Sauron’s Eye to scan the area for more places to climb and repeat the process. And in true Assassin’s Creed form, there are hundreds of collectibles to pick up if you get tired of murdering hordes of Orcs. Having said that, the game does look fantastic, especially with it’s 4K update on the new Xbox One X. The update is coming in around 65GB in size, so for us Kiwis who haven’t been graced with fibre just yet, an overnight download might be on the cards.
The most important aspect of this game, in my opinion, is the Nemesis System and the Orcs themselves (my favourite part). The Nemesis is back and revamped from the previous game. What is the Nemesis System? In Shadow of War there are two types of Orcs: Captains and Grunts. Grunts are your run of the mill “cannon-fodder” enemy and Captains are the big Orc Warchiefs. While Grunts might be your run of the mill bad guys, Captains are something else completely; they have personalities. Unlike all the faceless enemies you’ve slain in the past, the Captains are characters you’ll likely remember. Not only do they all have different personalities, fighting styles, weaknesses (for you to exploit) they actually know and remember YOUR character.
If you’ve taken out one of the Captains earlier on in the game, you can probably bet that behind the scenes, that Orc is plotting its revenge against you. You’ll likely be in the middle of a tense combat area and all of a sudden the camera will pan around and Garl the Drunk or Borgu the Bard (Yes, they have their own unique names and yes there are bard Orcs) is back for his sweet revenge. The reverse is true also, if the Captain manages to slay you, they’ll be sure to remind you the next time you see them. Better yet, if a Grunt kills you, they get promoted to Captain rank! On top of all of that, the Captains will learn from your fighting style. If you like sneaking up on Orcs from the shadows, you can be sure that the next time you try that they’ll most likely counter that and you’ll have to find another way to take out that particular Captain.
I could go on about the Nemesis System because there is a lot of depth to it but for now I’ll leave that for you to find out and explore.
The last thing I’ll touch on is the micro-transactions, which seem to be more and more common in this day and age. The micro-transactions in this game allow you to buy “Loot Crates” which help alleviate the “grinding” you have to do through the game. They give you better gear, items and Orc Captains (You eventually have to make your own Orc army to fight Sauron) which you can get throughout the game. To be honest, there’s no point dropping any money on Loot Crates for the main game quest as you’re graced with decent gear just by completing the normal missions and slaying Captains. It’s when you get to the end game content where those micro-transactions look very tempting.*Very minor spoiler* At the end of the game you have a bunch of forts that you need to defend and you can send your Orc Captains to go and look after them. The problem is finding all the really high level Captains that can look after themselves. Giving them decent gear and providing them with decent bodyguards is where the real grind of the game is. This is my big gripe with the game. Hopefully Warner Bros. will look to change this.
Overall, Shadow of War is a pretty solid title to pick up in 2017. If you loved the previous game or you’re a fan of the Assassin’s Creed or Batman Arkham Knight series you will certainly enjoy this game.