Features loot boxes which will be disabled completely as of May 8th, 2018.
Copy purchased used.
When I heard Monolith Productions would be releasing a sequel to Shadow of Mordor, I groaned. I knew I’d want to play it, but I couldn’t convince myself that it was a necessary game. Granted, no game is necessary. No, what I mean is that there was no additional story to tell. Yes, I know that they left the cliffhanger in Shadow of Mordor indicating that Talion and Celebrimbor would create a New Ring, but what new story could be told? You know the outcome… Sauron would be defeated by Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee when they destroyed the One Ring. Whatever actions taken by Talion against Sauron would only be a delaying action at best.
But still, they made Shadow of War. So is it worth playing?
Like in Shadow of Mordor, the gameplay in Shadow of War is wonderfully fluid, and tremendously fun. Taking on scores of orcs at once, with the litany of skills available to you, is easily one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had in a game in a very long time. The amount of enemies thrown at you rarely becomes overwhelming, while still being just enough of a challenge to keep things interesting.
Of course, where the game shines is with the expanded Nemesis system, which you must leverage to make full use of your orc army.
That’s right, you’ll be recruiting orcs into your service, and using them to wage war against Sauron’s forces in battles throughout Middle-earth. Each area you’ll be fighting in is suitably large, and you’ll eventually gain the freedom to travel between the various strongholds. I say eventually, because Shadow of War takes an inordinate amount of time to get to the meat of the experience. Instead of allowing you to hit the ground running, you’re forced to retread ground you went over in Shadow of Mordor. That would be fine I guess, as long as there was a reason for you being required to relearn every skill you possessed previously, but there really isn’t a justification given. Instead, you have to start from square one, relearning everything from your ability to Brutalize enemies to even being able to perform Executions. Of course, once you get back into the swing of things, it gets much better.
In a change from the previous game, your skills also have optional modifiers you can choose between. For instance, while you have the standard skill Drain, you can choose to upgrade it to include the ability to regain Elf-shot with each successful Drain you perform, or you can make it so you can Dominate a foe, or even fully recover your health. It allows you to adjust your play style, and can even make it so you can adapt to the needs of the situation.
Aside from being able to create your own army and wage war on a strategic level, there have also been a couple other major changes. Instead of orc Captains dropping Runes, they now drop armor and weapons which vary in quality, much like in RPGs. They range in quality, from Common to Legendary, and you can even get your hands on some set items too, which give some extra bonuses. Obviously, the better armor you collect, the more special attributes they have. It’s a nice change from what was a much simpler system.
Shadow of War looks good, but not great. I’m sure that it looks much better on the PC and the upgraded systems like the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it looks like hot garbage on the vanilla Xbox One or PS4. I will say however, that it’s difficult for me to see much of an improvement over the aged Shadow of Mordor.
Wow… I really wish I could say more. I mean, like I said, it’s not a terrible looking game. It’s just that it’s not what I would consider to be all that great looking either. Aside from the visuals, the sound work is actually good. Again, it doesn’t stand as much of an improvement, but it’s good nonetheless. The voice acting is excellent as ever though, so you’re at least not going to need to endure bad voiceovers.
Shadow of Mordor focused more on Talion’s individual campaign against Sauron’s forces, and while that remains largely the same in Shadow of War, it’s just on a greater scale. Once you complete the major objectives in an area, you can choose to take part in an assault on the local stronghold, unseating the Warlord and taking control for yourself.
The siege itself if a fun diversion, but it’s remarkably short. Battles consist of taking control of points throughout the stronghold, like playing capture the flag. However, if you take the steps to weaken the defenses of the base you’re attacking, the battle is a pushover. The Warlord fights themselves are not much different from the engagements with other lesser Captains, with the exception that they hold a better ratio of strength to weaknesses.
Of course, just because you conquer a stronghold, doesn’t mean that it’s yours forever. Your bases will be subject to attacks, meaning you’ll be compelled to defend them, or hope that your defenses will hold on their own. If the attacking force is greater than your own, you’ll be treated to being required to retake the fortress again. While I’m not completely opposed to this sort of mechanic, I do find it a little tiresome. Furthermore, this plays an important role in the endgame of Shadow of War, where you must maintain your hold on each fortress in order to unlock the “true” ending.
That’s assuming you want to endure a ton of grinding…
What’s enjoyable about the conquest focus in Shadow of War, is that it does add a bit of strategy. Instead of simply stacking up numbers, you can actually play to the strengths of your followers. If you need to take out one of the enemy Captains, or you’re seeking to dethrone a Warlord, you can choose to pair a Captain of yours who holds a strength which counters your target’s weaknesses. For instance, if your target has a fear of Caragors, you can choose to employ one of your Caragor riders to take him out. It’s definitely a rock-paper-scissors system, but it’s functional and fun to exploit your enemy’s weaknesses.
STORY AND MULTIPLAYER
If you were to ask me what the campaign of Shadow of War is about, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with an answer. I know that at some point, Talion and Celebrimbor crafted a New Ring as a way to continue their fight against Sauron. I guess since Celebrimbor crafted the One Ring, he made the New Ring just as powerful as the original. Awfully convenient if you ask me, but whatever. Anyways, so Talion and Celebrimbor celebrate crafting this New Ring by losing it almost immediately to Shelob, a gigantic fricken spider, which somehow possesses the ability to manifest herself as a humanoid (and is of course, as a result, relatively attractive in comparison). That all comprises the Prologue, and is in effect, your tutorial to Shadow of War. You relearn everything you knew in the first game, and are forced to endure one of the most infuriating fights against a group of Nazgul.
Then, and only then, do you finally get your hands on the New Ring, giving you access to what Shadow of War is actually about.
Honestly, the entirety of the story is contrived and forced, and while Shadow of Mordor left me with the ability to say to myself “Yeah, this isn’t canon, but I can see it being possible at least”, Shadow of War‘s chain of events leaves me with the inability to consolidate the actual lore of the setting and the game’s content. Surely, at some point in Talion’s campaign against the Dark Lord, someone would’ve taken notice. Word would’ve gotten back to the rest of Middle-earth, right? That’s not to mention how Sauron somehow can assume a physical form in Shadow of War, despite not being able to throughout the course of events in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings sagas, without the aid of possessing the One Ring.
But the key to enjoying Shadow of War lies in whether or not you have the ability to suspend your disbelief long enough to just play the game. I’ve found the best means of doing this is to just ignore the story entirely, playing YouTube videos or watching TV while mindlessly slaughtering and enslaving orcs to my will. It seems obvious to me that Monolith Productions didn’t care much of the lore of Middle-earth, so I don’t feel like I should care much for the lore of their game.
Not content to just leave things be, and to craft a wonderful gameplay experience paired with one of the most ludicrous stories which takes place in a fantasy intellectual property, Monolith decided to include multiplayer. In it, you’re given a few options which are (thankfully) entirely ignorable.
Online Conquest makes up the competitive portion of Shadow of War, giving you the option to attack fortresses bolstered by other players. You can also pit your own Captains against other players’ Captains in Pit Fights as well, potentially boosting your followers’ level. Lastly, Online Vendettas are back from the previous game too, making it possible for your to take out a Nemesis of another player. If this seems succinct, it’s because the multiplayer seems tacked on. Don’t get me wrong, the inclusion of multiplayer aspects in Shadow of War is nice, but they’re pretty half-baked if you ask me.
WILDCARD: CHASING THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR
You may have heard the news that Warner Brothers and Monolith Productions have announced that they’d be removing microtransactions and loot boxes from Shadow of War. In fact, that’s the first line of this review, and the focus of one of my past articles. Still, I felt it necessary to do my part, and I’ve held true to my declaration that I wouldn’t enable this kind of predatory BS in my gaming, so in a message to publishers out there who still think this is going to be okay:
Hey, Warner Brothers. I bought my copy used! So even though I’m playing your game, you aren’t make a single cent off of me! Take that!
Sure, that may be a little petty, but I have to hold to my standards. Warner Brothers has already raked in the profits they’re expecting from the microtransactions, so it doesn’t hurt them at this point to cut them from Shadow of War. If anything, I think it shows their hand, and I feel it deserves to be noted as such.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is fun. Too much fun if you ask me. Monolith Productions has cobbled together a game which is easily one of the biggest time sinks I’ve gotten into, and I had the feeling I’d be loving my time with it.
And I have.
Still, it’s hard to recommend this to anyone that wants a meaningful story, as the narrative definitely takes a back seat to the gameplay and a shameless attempt to reach into players’ wallets for loose change. With that in mind, do you like open worlds? Do you like solid gameplay? Do you like Tolkien lore, but not enough to vomit uncontrollably upon experiencing every instance of unmitigated apathy for the setting?
If your answer to those questions is along the lines of “yes!”, then Shadow of War is for you!
I’d still recommend you buy it used, but only to stick it to Warner Brothers. Don’t reward their ploy to appease critics of their business tactics.
What do you think of Shadow of War? Have you played it? Do you plan to?
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