Now I’m often very skeptical when it comes to sequels but even more so when it comes to Monolith sequels. These guys are extremely talented designers and passionate gamers. They have created some of the finest IPs in the FPS genre and other ground-breaking titles; they, however, tend to be extremely reckless for their sequels. Condemned 2, FEAR 2, Blood 2 and so on. So, having loved Shadow of Mordor I was highly cautious for Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. But will I be wrong this time and has Monolith finally made a great sequel at last? (Okay No One Lives Forever 2 was pretty good).
Shadow of War as you may expect is bigger, better and more bad ass than the original game. Monolith had a tough job to follow up from the smash hit of Shadow of Mordor which was a highly enjoyable and immersive LOTR fan favorite.
Now the best advice I can give to the hard-core LOTR fans is that you may want to be open to certain changes to the lore. In terms of the narrative, everything seems fairly reminiscent of the original game with Talion and Celebrimbor forging a new ring of power that can rival Sauron’s own ring. Yeah, okay there’s a new ring. But it’s a ring meant for good and soon enough once it’s made, it’s stolen by Shelob, who is now a sexy Goth lady. From giant spider to an extremely hot dominatrix type who pretty much owns Talion as he gives the ring over to save Celebrimbor without much thought on the damage this can result in.
Now, this really this just an addition to the Lord of the Rings’ lore overall, with Monolith expanding the adaption with fresh and new ideas. These changes do have some substance to them and I feel it’s worth observing them. However, Talion is such a bore most of the time and the first couple of hours are slow. But going past this segment of the game, things improve greatly.
As you may expect, the story is nothing to shout about but what does warrant merit in the highest regards is the “Nemesis System”. This immensely dynamic element just enhances the depth and scope of the world and the impact you have on it. Encounters with captains and War chiefs granting more complexity in terms of their personality and how they engage you in combat scenarios. Every encounter feels and plays differently and the degree of variation of all the orcs is immense. There unique strengths and weakness will ensure each encounter requires a different selection of tactics that could resolve the situation through brute force or simply shooting a nest of Morgai flies into a crowd, scaring your target away.
The Nemesis System offers players a chance of studying their targets, planning out hits or to simply be minding your own business when you are ambushed by an Uruk or three of them. There’s no set path with who you encounter, when, where or how. It’s simply a fantastic means to create bonds of hatred and strangely enough, find new allies on the battlefield.
There’s a further layer of depth as you can recruit various orcs to become part of your ever growing army, forging strange alliances and friendships in order to take on the worst of the worst. There are so many possibilities within the world as your actions can have dire effects meaning certain captains can grow stronger with the death of another. Betrayal is also another factor in recruitment and at times, it’s pretty shocking when it does happen. Followers can turn on you within the blink of an eye but it’s all about your presence, your stance within the following and how you treat certain situations. Killing others, intimidating and shaming will result in a complex progression and it can alter between benefiting and damning Talion.
This component of Shadow of War is enthralling and by far the strongest aspect overall. It stands as an utterly compelling link between the player and the game. Shadow of War proves to have the intelligence and it’s great the Nemesis system is stronger than ever. What was to be the highlight for Shadow of War turns out to be fairly underwhelming. Sieges can be a major event of intense combat, high stakes risks, and comforting rewards. Confronting the fortress of an almighty general can be amazing but in some aspects; there are limitations. Sieges often become repetitive and lack any major variation in their designs, layouts, and conclusions.
Yet the Nemesis system remains the key aspect that holds this game together and has been vastly improved from the previous installment. Combat has been tweaked slightly but overall remains largely the same. What has been expanded upon is the customisation within the abilities system, granting Talion immense power and greater methods of attack. Abilities are able to carry up to three ‘augment’ abilities that can improve your chosen power, or add something to your repertoire that works in tandem with it. You can only have one active per ability, and each set is unique to that ability. You can also apply various gems to weapons and armors to improve damage, increase your chances of obtaining loot or increase health. There’s a great amount of depth here that’s easy to accustom yourself with after a couple of hours.
While you’re doing all of this Nemesis killing and overthrowing War-Chiefs, you’ll notice how good Mordor looks and sounds. The production values are of the highest quality, honoring the film series and the book with an amazing representation of Middle-Earth that’s full of diverse locations, interesting landmarks and great sound design including some of this year’s best voice acting.
Now I know what you’re all thinking and yes I will address the matter everyone has spoken about. Loot crates are a bad thing and especially in this case. I heard reviewer’s state you don’t need to buy any crates and I strongly agree with this statement. But I agree more in terms to say, you shouldn’t buy these crates for a number of reasons. However, it seems as though WB really wants you to do so.
The main issue I have with Shadow of War is how much of a grind the game can become once you’ve settled into the game. By level 16 you’ll start to notice the immense amount of XP you need to progress further and only story missions carry a fair amount of weight in XP. Side missions don’t come close and you may have to complete a dozen to even gain half of what you need. It can be tedious as leveling up means you can recruit better orcs and within certain moments in the game, there’s a large jump in Orc ranking. You have to be the same level or higher in order to recruit an orc and but the halfway point in the game, you’ll notice many of the better orcs are extremely high level. Thankfully the game is fun, so completing side quests and indulging in the Nemesis System is compelling even after 30 hours.
Also act 4 ruins the pacing completely and just feels massively unfair as a tedious gauntlet of sieges that seem to never end. Not to mention that the orcs attacking you, Generals and War-Chiefs will often massively outrank any of the orcs you have protecting your fortresses. Just, no.
There is an amazing game here that’s fun, meaningful and with a great mechanic that allows vast complexity and depth into what would’ve been a generic sandbox adventure game. The Nemesis system is really the core of this game’s brilliance with each orc having unique personalities and the nature of the world shifting with your impact. While the pacing and grind will surely annoy, Shadow of War is still very good. Sadly it’s held back by the nature of greed and the loot creates were not needed in the slightest. They’re the work of Sauron I tells you!
An Xbox One Review Copy of Middle-Earth: Shadow of War was provided by WB Games for the Purpose of this review.