Middle-earth: Shadow of War Review
Mordor less? That certainly is the question. Can the award-winning hit from Monolith, 2014’s Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, go the route of Empire, The Two Towers, and Flash Season 2? Better what came before, that is.
I’d like to get to the topic of Loot Crates in Shadow of War as swiftly as I can.
Yes, they are in Shadow of War. Yes, they can be purchased by spending your hard earned £/$/€ and the like. Yes, they do allow you to bolster the Army you have stationed at the half-dozen fortresses around Middle-earth. Yes, they do allow you to gain temporary boosts of experience and spoils, which in turn will allow you to progress Talion a little quicker. Oh, and yes, you can get various armour and weapons from them. However, you can get all these from in-game activities, too. Partake in the numerous challenges, get Gold. Those same challenges award Mirian, too. You can also get Mirian from killing enemies, finishing missions, breaking down unwanted items, and from several other methods. Heck, you can even choose NOT to partake in any of the online/store events by not press A or X on them in the menu. Or, just don’t accept the online terms and conditions.
However you cut it, Shadow of War is not unwinnable. You don’t have to purchase any Crates via any currency. You don’t have to spend your precious (eh…eh…) monies on the marketplace.
Now that has been addressed, I’d like to waffle on about Talion, Celebrimbor, the refined Nemesis system, and a human-spider. Plus some other things.
Shadow of War picks up right from where Shadow of Mordor left us back in 2014, we’re forging a new Ring of Power. This story beat is what allows the game to introduce new players to how things work in Mordor, and for players of Mordor to get reacquainted to the combat and any changes to the progression system; of which there are many. Most of these changes are for the better – gone are the vertical tiers that are locked behind an experience system that could have been ground over and over, essentially nullifying much of the challenge later on. Instead replaced by horizontal tiers that are only locked behind each preceding node.
All of the nodes have two or three perks that can be unlocked, giving a level of customisation that wasn’t there in Mordor. You are limited to only one of these per node, this allows you to tackle encounters in many different ways. What may seem like a little like copy and paste, most perks go along the lines of ‘adds posion to X attack’ / ‘adds fire to Y attack’, etc. However, these allowed me to approach my targets with the knowledge that I am going after their weakness and fear. This is after investing the time into getting to know that about them.
As in Mordor, you can discover the secrets of each Captain and Warchief by dominating Worms – lower caste Orcs – into submission. They will then spill the beans on the Captain or Warchief you have selected, letting you know that Shag the Wyrm (I kid you not) is immune to headshots and stealth but is deadly fearful of fire and ghuls. The way I’d approach Shag? I’d select the perks that made my arrows summon ghuls upon the explosion of campfires, then I’d add fire to my Elven-light might attack. In Mordor, I often didn’t bother with discovering the information about my targets, as once I had unlocked a few abilities or runes for my weapons, I felt I could just brute force myself through the content, which worked most of the time.
A Right Gem
Gone are runes in War, replaced by a gem system that allows you to augment your weapons, armour and ring. On the surface, there appears to be little to the system, as there are only three colours; green, red and white. However, each of these can be combined – three at a time – to upgrade it to the next level, of which there are five. From there, each gem gives different benefits based on the item it is installed in. Fancy gaining more experience per kill? There is a gem for that. Want your army to take less damage or deal more damage? There are gems for that too. The system is very well implemented, as it doesn’t allow you to stack certain gems to be unbalanced in a certain area – imagine your army dealing 50% more damage on each gem slot. You’d just recruit and recruit, and steamroll through most content. Which wouldn’t be any fun now would it?
Nemesis a Trick
I tell you what, these puns just write themselves.
I enjoyed the Nemesis system in Mordor, even though I didn’t use it to my advantage as much I should have. Mainly due to being able to steamroll a lot of the content, which was a byproduct of being able to grind the experience needed to overpower myself at an easy level. With this, I didn’t expect that much change in War and on the surface, there doesn’t appear to be much change.
As I mentioned earlier, you can lead the intel on Captains / Warchiefs, exploit that and move on. However, what the game has hidden under that simple layer is astounding. The biggest trio of holy shahk (I believe it is spelt like that?) moments… Sending an Uruk to kill a Captain for me. A simple request, an easy result. Or it should have been. What I failed to pay attention to, because I’d been so engrossed in the game and hadn’t taken the time to see if the game had any unwritten rules, was that the Uruk I’d sent to follow up my command was, in fact, the blood-brother of the Captain.
Needless to say, it didn’t go well for me. I was promptly betrayed by the Uruk, as he sided with his brother. An audible profanity was said, but it wasn’t over yet. As I slipped into the shadows, I was then ambushed by an Orc I had failed to kill earlier. He had been stalking me for some time, it seems. In that time he had become immune to fire and stealth, which was unfortunate for me…. I had set up myself to be proficient in those areas. I was about to be defeated, as the two Captains and this Orc were on my back. My bodyguards weren’t responding due to me summoning them on a ridge and I hadn’t unlocked any mounts yet.
Time for the third holy shahk. I had no recovery attempts left. A sword was about to slice my neck when an archer saved me, he took out the wannabe-assassin, which allowed me to recover. The blood-brothers were both afraid of seeing Captains die, so they retreated. I was alive and War had just bettered the whole of Mordor in a brief experience. My saviour asked to be named Overlord. I am not sure if it would have mattered either way, but I obliged him.
Bugs. They are in all games, it is part and parcel of what we get delivered onto our hard drives nowadays. War has a few more than others, one of them a huge spider turned Human. Another is when you summon a bodyguard on a ridge/building roof/cliff, and they don’t do anything other than chillout – even when they are archers. I am unsure why this happens, but it took me a few deaths to realise it was happening. There were a few other bugs that made me chuckle more than rage. Such as dragons getting stuck inside structures.
One huge bug that I didn’t mind being included, however, was Shelob. Her role in War wasn’t what I was expecting, nor was it as lore breaking as I had read in previews. At least to me. If anything, her initial role is there to bridge the gap between Mordor players returning, and new players jumping into the franchise for the first time. I’ll say no more, for fear of
Loredor and Back Again
When I started this review, my aim was to give an overview of my experiences in Shadow of War. There is nothing like reading a review, getting just enough information to make an informed decision, then going out and buying the game (or not). Just like there isn’t anything worse than reading a review full of spoilers, mid-to-late plot points and the like. On that note, there are a few little lore parts than I’d like to trace around.
As someone who has seen the films and played the games, the story of Mordor and War fit in nicely. There are a few creative areas that overlap, but nothing that stops me enjoying the journey that I have taken with Talion and Celebrimbor. That being said, what I always enjoyed about the films, and to a slightly less extent in Mordor, and to an even lesser extent in War, is the art and graphics.
Peter Jackson’s Ring trilogy holds up well. Hell, saying holds up is an injustice. In a few years time, though, I don’t think I’ll be saying that War holds up well. Mordor, which I replayed before War, still looks solid. Whereas War has areas that just feel like they have been reduced in quality, so they could be ramped up for the Pro and X versions. Smudgy textures, pop in when you are looking at trees in an otherwise beautiful scene. When standing atop one of my fortresses, I look out to see dragons flickering in and out of view. It is a shame. Not to mention the absolute night and day difference in Talion between cutscenes and gameplay.
Those issues of mine – and they may only be mine – were more and more apparent after I had started to notice them. At one point, after noticing that Talion reverted to prerendered clothing during scenes, I rubbed my ring finger and murmured “my precious” – as I had grown really fond of my War experience. I’d wager it’ll be in my top five games of the year, without a shadow of a doubt.
Overall, I had an incredible time returning to Mordor and the surrounding areas. Monolith really did go and pull an Empire! An improvement in almost every single area, from gameplay, to the unrivalled Nemesis system, and the world they doubled in size. The latter half of the game is a bold move, one that I hope they can make payoff. And if they don’t, then I look forward to my yearly replays of War, and maybe Mordor. Maybe.