Middle Earth: Shadow Of War is a game I have REALLY looked forward to since it was announced, I loved the original Shadow of Mordor so much, I bought it for PS4 after reviewing it for the PC in 2014!
This sequel follows on from the first game and fits in with Peter Jackson’s movies, slotting in-between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies. This time around, the Orcs are attacking Minas Ithil, so Talion sets about trying to save the city from the Witch King and his Nazgul (Ring Wraiths). Of course, we know the city falls and becomes Minas Morgul, home of said Witch King of Angmar.
Celebrimbor, known as the Bright Lord, and the wraith attached to Talion, crafts a new powerful ring which will give Talion the power to dominate Orcs. Shelob gets her hands on it, though, and you start seeing the dynamic between the spiders and Mordor evolve as Talion is forced to jump through hoops to get information on what will happen. Towards the end of the first act, you’re given the ring back from Shelob, after helping her defend herself against the Nazgul. Here is where your conquest begins to start taking back Mordor from Sauron by recruiting Orcs and taking over fortresses.
The gameplay is much like other open world games and its predecessor: climb towers in which you then look around scoping items on the map. Each tower, once claimed, becomes a fast-travel point. Items that you mark are then shown on the area map and include collectibles like little bits of a video scene adding to Shelob’s story (reminds me of the Pieces of Eden from the very first Assassins Creed game). Loads of collectibles from Gondor with spoken history, Celebrimbor doing historic missions like riding beasts or taking out enemies using specific skills and, finally, there are missing words from a poem which you can use to open a door inside Celebrimbor’s hidden caves for high powered equipment.
Gameplay sees you going on an all-out assault against the orcs and those who command them. Much like the prior game, you have a fast-flowing combat system which chains attacks together easily. The stealth system is still there and my preferred method of play, especially after you get the dominate skill and can convert enemies instead of killing them.
Come Act 2, things do get changed up a fair bit. Here, you’ll need to start recruiting the Orc Captains instead of killing them, as you’ll need to be building an army. Bruz the Chopper (an Australian Orc with some epic dialogue and hilarious one liners) gives you instruction on how to go about this. Initially, you need to dominate a Captain and then make them your personal bodyguard who you can call in if things get a bit too hectic; then you set about dominating other Captains for your army, which in turn, weakens the area stronghold. These strongholds are the goal in each area and feature in the endgame conten. After all this, is Celebrimbor’s conquest of Middle Earth to try and stop Sauron. Once you have amassed an army and upgraded the Captains with things like Carabor to ride or siege weapons that inflict poison damage, you can set about storming the stronghold. Here, you have to push your way into the fortress taking areas that are marked on the map. Once taken, you then have to fight and kill the Overlord making the fortress yours.
For me, the highlight of the game is the Orcs and their personalities. They like to play with you when fighting them, and they all have their own personalities and taunts if they manage to take you down and become a Captain. I feel they do play the biggest part in the game. Everything in Shadow of War revolves around them. Regardless of whether it is the Nemesis system, Strongholds or the numerous Captains and grunts that are sword fodder, they are procedurally-generated, so everyone’s game will will feature different Orcs outside NPCs like Bruz.
The online aspect to the game keeps it single-player only, but emphasises more on community. You can attack other players’ strongholds for various rewards, which won’t affect your setup in the single-player campaign, but is a fun and different type of diversion. The best thing, however, is the upgraded Nemesis system. In the prior game, you could avenge the death of friends who had fallen to an Orc. This is still true of this game, but they have changed it up a bit as you are not just limited to friends, now. You’ll get a notification stating that an online vendetta is available, so head over and activate the marker. This will show you an Orc to slay, then take you to a fortress and be given an extra objective to draw them out. There’s also an extra bonus objective, such as killing a set amount of enemies using stealth or killing using the executions etc, which will bag you more gear and XP. If you are successful, you will then be given a gold revenge loot box which will have gear in it.
Now there is a big thing about loot boxes at the minute: petitions have been started as it is a form of gambling (you buy boxes with real world money and get random stuff). Loot Boxes are in full effect, here, and does need bringing up. You can buy them from the marketplace immediately after you start the game, and they will give you gear that is appropriate to your level. For example, you could buy £10 worth of gold to purchase boxes in-game, and get gear that will be no good an hour later, as you” get skill points and weapon drops often. You’ll also level-up pretty quickly.
These boxes also come in to play during Act 4. To get the true ending to the game, you can either buy them with Elite Orcs to speed up the process, or instead, grind on for an extra 20+ hours. The grind is levelling-up your Captains for the stronghold battles. Buying boxes understandably means you don’t need to spend as much time levelling them up, and it feels like they have done this to try and get you to buy boxes to rake in the cash.without the grind.
All in all, Shadow of War is a great game. Yeah, the story is a bit on the weak side, but the charismatic Orcs certainly make up for it. The nemesis system and online strongholds will keep you entertained for hours to come. If you don’t like loot boxes, simply don’t buy them and vote with your wallet. You can use the in-game currency to buy the silver boxes which have higher-powered Orcs and gear, not forgetting the boxes you get from a successful online vendetta mission. I won’t mark the overall score down like some sites have done with the outcry of loot boxes, as the game is great on it’s own merit.
Thanks to the Youtube channels featured for the gaming footage.
- Developer: Monolith Productions
- Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive
- Players: Single player only with online component
Retro at heart and lover of all things ’80s, especially the computers, the music and the awesome movies and TV shows! Crazy huge retro gaming collection spanning the ’80s and ’90s with hundreds of tapes, discs and carts for various machines on top of a 600+ strong Steam library that is ever-growing. No I am not a serial hoarder, just a dedicated retro gamer!