Middle-earth: Shadow of War is the long-awaited sequel to the critically acclaimed Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, having ushered in the refinement of the “Arkham” gameplay style first adopted by Batman: Arkham Asylum, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor near-instantly became a modern cult classic, with features such as it’s Nemesis System (Where enemies that defeat you in battle become new antagonists, and gain new abilities, stats and modifiers), open world rendition of Mordor and fluid combat, people couldn’t seem to get enough of Shadow of Mordor…
…Regardless to say, however, I completely missed the hype for Shadow of Mordor… And all of the Arkham games…
…Man, I need to catch up…!
Anyway, moving on – When I was tasked with reviewing Middle-earth: Shadow of War, I honestly didn’t quite know how to review it – I’d never played a game like this before, and I feared it would impact on my experience… Whilst this isn’t entirely true, it is still true somewhat – The game opens up with a small recap of the major events of the first game, plot threads such as the death of our main character, Talion, and his family to a band of Orcs (Some of which you’ll meet and face off against as Nemesis… Nemeses..? Nemesises? Nemesissies..? Wait… No… Let’s just go with Nemesis.); saved by the spirit of the great elf lord Celebrimbor, forger of the Rings of Power, the two went on their quest of revenge against the dark forces of Sauron, meeting prominent characters across Tolkien lore, such as Saruman, Gollum and The Black Hand.
I have to admit, however, this beginning intro does very little to set you up for the forecoming events of the game, especially when all it really tells you is “Tallion’s family died, he fused with Celebrimbor, fought Sauron and went to go make a new Ring of Power – The very same Ring of Power he immediately sacrifices to our first antihero-of-sorts, Shelob – Sent on his way to protect the mythical Palantir relic held within the city of Minas Ithil, holding the ability to visualise whatever the holder desires, be it the future, the location of a specific item (Such as a Ring of Power), or the location of a person, proving to be a stupidly powerful relic that would turn the tide of the war for Mordor.
Now, plot details aside, I have to state right off the bat that the controls in Shadow of War just feel a little bit… Clunky – You sprint, jump, ascend objects and leap with the A button, attack using X and block using Y, and stun enemies using B; this, more often than not, just leaves you feeling like you’re button mashing rather than meticulously planning your strikes and attacks – Stealth as well can prove to be a bit clunky, with you regularly leaping off of the smallest ledges, pacing forwards a few steps to accommodate for momentum, only to stumble right next to an Orc sniper or other enemy, ruining your chances for stealth.
As to be expected with these types of games as well, being caught out in enemy territory and having alarm bells set off will send dozens upon dozens of enemies to swarm you, which can lead to some especially frustrating moments when you have 2, 3, or maybe even more Captains and Nemesis rushing you at the same time, each with their own affinities, weaknesses, strengths, buffs and more… It can get extremely overwhelming.
To this game’s credit, however, dying over and over again to the same Nemesis can feel so gut-wrenchingly horrid that you can’t help but try your luck against them, even if they’ve gotten far stronger than your current limits allow – Just clambering for that sole chance to rip them to shreds for defeating you so many times pushes you further and further towards revenge; it’s a bit of an odd feeling, really. Improved upon the initial Nemesis System in Shadow of Mordor, now players can fight ‘Blood-Brothers’, who share deep connections with one-another – Kill one of them or even dominate them to recruit them into your own entourage and you can see the heartbreak when the other is confronted; it presents these enemies as surprisingly human, and kind-of makes you not want to murder them in cold blood.
On the topic of dominating Orcs into your own army, once you’re sufficiently far in the main story you recover the Ring of Power gifted away at the start of the game and are able to tame enemy Orc Captains and Champions to join your war against Sauron; this, however, is where the controversies of Shadow of War come into play – There are two main ways of gaining companions in Shadow of War; you either scope them out on the battlefield and recruit them manually, or you can pay real money for loot boxes. This impacts the single player game in such a massive way, however, as to lead your final assault on Sauron, you need to have some of the strongest Orc followers that money can buy… Or that you can grind for hours, and hours, and hours, and hours…
…You see where I’m going with this, no?
Whilst it isn’t required for the main portion and bulk of the game, it is annoying that the last final hurdle and epic battle has to, for all intents and purposes, be paid to witness in it’s full splendour. Warner Brothers, and to extent Monolith really have disappointed me honestly; despite taking three years to weave together this long-awaited sequel, they still saw it fit to charge you for arbitrary RNG chance increases just to see the final main battle of the game.
All in all, as a newcomer, Middle-earth: Shadow of War brings somewhat clunky controls, unnecessary loot boxes and an ending effectively locked behind either paying or grinding leads to a sour first impression. The game looks brilliant, sounds brilliant and really grips you with it’s updated rendition of the Nemesis System… But I can’t help but feel that there’s better out there. It’s a fun walk through Mordor, but a fun game…? Perhaps not entirely.
I give Middle-earth: Shadow of War a 7 / 10.