2014’s Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor borrowed heavily from Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series and Warner’s own Batman Arkham games. The result was a great open world game with exciting combat set within Tolkien’s fantasy world.
Monolith and WB Games’ sequel, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, builds upon what had gone before to create a game that is, for the most part, so much better that its predecessor.
One again, players take on the role of Talion, whose fate is entwined with spirit of the elf lord, Celebrimbor. The story continues directly from the first game in that it is set between the events in The Hobbit and those of The Lord of the Rings. Much of the game’s stylings are taken from Peter Jackson’s films, rather than being an original interpretation of Middle-Earth solely based on the novels.
Sméagol, looking and acting exactly as he does in the films, joins the much more expanded cast of supporting characters. Talion gets to fight alongside his Gondorian people against Sauron’s forces. There’s an interesting recon, giving the spider, Shelob and seductive female human form, that’s caused a bit of controversy amongst the devoted. Personally, I’m not precious about the game following the established law.
Despite its adventure and RPG elements, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is first and foremost a fighting game. Talion is a dab-hand with the sword, knife and bow, allowing for some frantic savagery, shadowy stealth and precision sniping.
The Arkham-inspired combat is just as exciting as the previous game, if not even more fun. But it seemed easier. Pretty early on I found myself to be able to easily take on a hoard of Orcs with two or three captains, no trouble. This was a far cry from the brown trousers that Shadow of Mordor use to give me when I found myself flanked on all side by a group of blood-thirsty orc captains.
The much-lauded Nemesis system, introduced in the last game provides consequence to player success or failure. The orc leaders will remember you. And lowly grunts will get promoted and upgraded into a formidable enemy should they defeat you. The characterisation of the orc commanders really makes the game. It’s very satisfying to beat them down after they’ve thrown some vicious shade at you.
All your combat abilities and more are, of course, upgradable. At first glance the skill tree seems a bit sparse, especially having just come from Total War Warhammer 2. But it is very well balanced, unlocking abilities at a decent pace to both keep things interesting and not overwhelming. After paying you dues the game soon has you performing acrobatic feat of archery and even taming (and riding) drakes (i.e. small dragons).
You earn weapon and armour upgrades by besting orc leaders. Mixing and matching the best combinations. Many weapons have challenges that, when attained, unlock slots for gems that buff your equipment.
Shadow of War is a massive game, and one that I found myself easily side-tracked. You’ve got collectables, loot and side missions all vying for your time. Then there’s the constant distraction of trash-talking orc commanders in need of a good hiding. Unfortunately, when reviewing games, you seldom have the time to go after all the collectables. But killing orc leaders is just so much fun.
Despite being, overall, a much better and more refined game than last time, there are still some niggles.
The visuals are nice, but I was expecting something along the lines of The Witcher 3. Instead I’d say that they aren’t any better than Shadow of Mordor. The lighting seems flatter this time out, and with less atmosphere than the last game.
I wouldn’t say that the game is a very stable PC game at this moment in time. My system runs the first game with no trouble, across three monitors. Shadow of War repeatedly crashed my graphics driver, full screen, and the only way to get it running was to drop the resolution from 5880×1080 to 1920×1080 and play windowed. Even then I still got the odd crash to desktop with a complaint about the GPU. I think NVIDIA and Monolith need to work this out together.
The inclusion of loot crates in the game has generated much controversy. Whilst you can purchase silver crates using currency earnt in-game, gold crates can only be purchased using real-world money. For the most part, this isn’t a problem. You still get the game you paid for and you can still play the game as intended. More well-heeled players with money to burn or, more likely, time more players wanting to enjoy faster progression through the game, at a premium.
As with the first game, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is a fun experience. Much in the same way as Rocksteady did with their Arkham Batman games, Monolith have increased the scope of the game giving use a bigger and more interesting playground to act out Middle-Earth fantasies.