Middle-earth: Shadow of War is the perfect example of how to do a sequel right. Monolith Productions had their work cut out for them when it came to topping their 2014 surprise hit, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, and I am pleased to announce that their efforts have been a resounding success. Shadow of War manages to build upon and improve on every possible aspect of the previous game. It’s bigger, better and more ambitious, resulting in one of the best games I’ve played in years.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War’s story begins almost immediately after the end of Shadow of Mordor, with undead Ranger Talion forging a new ring of power with the help of his Elven wraith companion Celebrimbor. It’s evident from the start that Shadow of War has taken great effort to put more focus on the games narrative. Shadow of Mordor was criticized for its bare-bones and uninspired story. Shadow of War seeks to improve upon that with a lengthy campaign jam-packed with surprising twists and turns that will have the most hardened Tolkien fan beaming with joy. The game also wisely introduces some new and interesting characters such as the mysterious and morally ambiguous Shelob, the hilarious Olog warrior Bruz, and even the Witch King himself. These new additions help to make Mordor feel more like a living, breathing world.
The combat in Shadow of War is unsurprisingly brilliant. The previous game was lauded for its intense and snappy combat system, utilizing the now famous Arkham Asylum-style of counter fighting and stealth. Shadow of War expands upon that with a surprisingly deep and varied skill tree. Players can tailor their play style to suit their personal preference. Want to stalk across the rooftops, slicing Orc throats and popping off head shots with your bow? Or would you rather dive into the middle of the melee and start lopping off limbs? Shadow of War lets you mix and match these different combat styles to take down the monstrous denizens of Mordor. New skills and abilities like the devastating Talon Strike, long range poison shots and chain stealth kills allow the Gravewalker to become death incarnate.
Of course the biggest question on any Shadow of War fans mind is about the Nemesis system. Shadow of Mordor became such a surprising success on the back of this innovative and unique game mechanic. Shadow of War has taken the Nemesis system and cranked the dial up to 11. The Orc captains wandering around the game world are meaner, crazier and funnier than ever before. In my considerable play time I have come across an astounding number of unique and memorable characters, and I’m still finding more. The Orc’s are also joined this time around by the hulking Olog’s, Troll-like enemies that provide an altogether different challenge. The way these enemies interact with the player and each other is a delight to soak in. The dialogue is frequently hilarious and menacing and the characters evolve and change over time. Shadow of War has also heavily improved upon the follower system from the previous game. Followers are no longer mindless zombies- they retain their personality and skill set. I frequently became rather attached to my followers and was devastated whenever they died in battle or betrayed me. Yes, you heard that right- this time around your followers can break free of Talion’s hold and betray you. These form some of the most emotionally charged and interesting moments in Shadow of War. There’s nothing like being in the middle of a tense and difficult battle, only for one of your followers to turn on you at the worst possible moment. I could go on and on about all the new and interesting features of the Nemesis system, but discovering them all for yourself is one of the most fun things this game has to offer.
The game also scratches that Lord of the Rings itch by introducing all new fortress assault missions. Players are able to build their army with the most worthy Orc captains and assault the games five large fortresses. These battles can get fairly chaotic, and they are the closest to frustration I ever got with Shadow of War. While its great fun to play these epic battles, reminiscent of the best battles in Tolkien lore, it can sometimes become frustrating trying to make your way through the chaos. These assaults culminate in an epic battle with the Fortress Overlord. These enemies provide some of Shadow of War’s greatest challenges, and defeating them results in some sweet new gear and a genuine sense of accomplishment.
Shadow of War’s game world has improved massively from its predecessor. The game contains five large and varied open worlds, with a wealth of interesting locations and fortresses to explore. From the Icy tundra of Seregoth to the volcanic wasteland of Gorgoroth, Shadow of War gives players five breath-taking playgrounds to enjoy. These locations also host a variety of collectible items, such as memory fragments, ancient Artifacts and Miriam, the games currency. It’s a nice change of pace that these collectibles are not just for the trophy hunters, they all offer interesting little tidbits of story and help to add to the narrative of Mordor.
One of the biggest changes to Shadow of War from its predecessor is the inclusion of an RPG style loot system. Enemy captains and some story missions reward the player with new and unique gear. Weapons and Armour are a joy to collect in Shadow of War, each of them giving Talion a new skill or look. A legendary cloak may give Talion a bonus to poison damage, or allow his followers to wield flame weapons. The ability to collect this gear and give Talion new and interesting abilities is the kind of feature that will keep players like me around for a long time.
Shadow of Mordor was one of my all-time favorite games. I loved its open world, combat and unique enemies. Shadow of War has managed to take my lofty expectations and blow them out of the water. It improves upon its predecessor in every conceivable way and the result is a true must play game for Tolkien fans, fantasy fans or just fans of quality video games.
So, what do you think about Middle-earth: Shadow of War? Are you excited to conquer Mordor with your army of bloodthirsty Orc’s? Or shall you pass on this one? (10 points if you get that one by the way) As always, let us know in the comments and on social media!