Middle Earth: Shadow of War (SoW) is the sequel to Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor; a very well received and fresh take on the world of The Lord of the Rings from developer Monolith Productions. Set in the 60 years between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring. Bilbo is safe back in the Shire with the ring of power in his possession. I remember the hype for Shadow of Mordor but just like Witcher 3: Wild Hunt I played a small section at the start of the game and never really went back to it. Not to say i found the title boring, more so that I knew it required a large amount of my time and that wasn’t something i had a great deal of. When I heard that Shadow of War was going to release I knew i would have to find some time to give this title the attention i believed it deserved.
Having seen the films and read the books and watched a lot of YouTube videos on the lore of J.R.R. Tolkien master piece of a world, I felt I would have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. I feel SoW has two sides it needs covered, as its set in such a well-known world I think it’s important to cover the game play aspect and the lore aspect of the title…. so here we go.
With such an incredible world to build a title on Shadow of War has some expectations. Set in a world of magic, magical creatures and war there is a lot of scope and plenty of reasons for the way the game is. With the world having been around for a long time you know you already have a huge following both good and bad while aiming to please both. I found however in my time player Shadow of War that the lore was bent right out of shape and it did more harm to the lore than helping it along.
You begin having a flash back of the end of the first title having just manufactured a new ring of power and during the events that follow you get a little bit of the origins of the main character Talion, a ranger who guarded the black gate who watched as his family were killed and then he himself has this throat cut. While most would have died, Talion, fuelled by rage somehow manages to link with arguably one of the most important characters in the whole of the Lord of the Rings, Celebrimbor the elf lord, now a wraith who was tricked by Sauron into creating the rings of power in the first place. Talion and Celebrimbor seem to fuse into one body. Talion’s body is kept alive by the inhabiting wraith meaning Celebrimbor can once again have an influence on the world around him. During the creation of the new ring of power Talion is flung backward with the ring while Celebrimbor is somehow kidnapped. You manage to track him to a cave inhabited by Shelob, a great spider who for some unexplained reason can now transform into quite an attractive woman. She then trades Celebrimbor for the new ring you crafted, of course once you remove the ring and hand it to Shelob, Talion’s wound along his neck opens and he begins to die until Celebrimbor again shares Talion’s body.
That is part of the problem I had with the game, the lore wasn’t constant with the world we have come to know. A new ring of power felt as if it broke the lore completely and while yes we had the ring maker to help, if it was that easy, why didn’t Sauron simply pay closer attention to how the rings were made and make a replacement to the one he lost? As for the Orc’s they were bumbling, tried to be funny and were nothing like the fear inducing creatures you would expect. One such Orc called Bruz helps introduce you to a key part of the game, Forts and he does so in a comedic manor. Don’t get me wrong, it was funny at times but it did feel a bit forced at times. However if you looked at the title as a story that could have happened within the world then you could give the title some slack.
Now we have that out of the way, let’s look at the title for what it is. Shadow of War is an extremely fun game, with plenty to do between all the collectables, missions and the return of the Nemesis engine. Shadow of War starts rather slowly I feel, with you running back to Shelob every few minutes for support. As a ranger known as the grave walker, who strikes fear into Orc’s it seems a bit silly; but it does help you feel capable at the game before you get into the real stuff. Reliving the memories of Celebrimbor helps you learn new skills and how to apply the other skills you unlock through the skill tree. The collectables range from Shelob memories which give you small snippets of the past of Middle earth, which of course add up to unlock a new skill later in the game.
Along with these are Gondorin artefacts which give you morsels of lore, as well as helping you understand the relationship between Talion and Celebrimbor. The last main collectable is the Ithildin fragments which are ghostly words spread around the land, once all collected the words allow you to fill in the blanks of a poem to gain access to legendary loot left behind by Celebrimbor himself. Loot can be found after defeating captains; gems can also be equipped into gear to give you bonuses depending on the colour of the gem and what equipment you combine it with. You can also find the in game currency, Mirian which at the start is used to upgrade rare quality and above gear, also allowing you to buy the ability to slot gems into your gear. It’s not until later when you think you have quite a fair bit of this currency that its real use becomes clear.
The Nemesis system makes a return in Shadow of War, I have to say this really makes the game bigger and better than in Shadow of Morder. It not only lets you see the strengths and weakness of the Captain’s you plan to fight, it helps add some strategy to the title. It allows you to see what the Captain looks like, as giving you the name, no longer just Uruk’s but now trolls and other beasts which makes the armies you face feel more alive. As you progress you gain the ability to build your own army and the Nemesis system allows you to see information on the Captains that follow you. This gives you a strategic edge to use the tools you have to overcome the enemy. Clever planning means an easier time when playing. This system made the world feel more real, I couldn’t count the number of times I would be creeping about the top of an enemy fort, getting ready to drop in and fight a captain when I would be ambushed by another. These fights add surprise and show that Talion isn’t the only thing to fear in the world. Of course if you hadn’t planned to fight this captain you might not yet have any information to help you overcome him. A number of times I found my arrows or ability to vault over this foe were ineffective and it’s enough to seed a little bit of panic.
I often found myself being surprised in this game world. To be reminded that you’re not the top dog. Dragons roam the lands and beasts ready to kill you. Orc’s and Uruk’s try to swarm you when they can, if they do they will call others for help. Fight sloppily and mistime the last chance to survive, that foe will become a captain themselves and I found they became my next target.
Finding a captain suddenly springing from nowhere adds its challenges, but when that captain then learns your attack fighting style it forces you from comfort. You have to adapt to survive in this savage world. When a Captain who fights for you suddenly turns up and announces his betrayal you can’t help but feel wounded and go for his blood. I found one such Captain turned on me, so I killed him to make a point. A little while later I was confronted by him again, he had cheated death and changed his title to the Unshamed. He rambled on about how we hadn’t shamed him and that he wanted to shame me. So to make a point I fought him, dominated him and made a point to shame him. This lowered a Captain’s level as only Captains the same level as you or lower can be added to the ranks of your own army. When I met him again I dominated him once again, now his helmet and armour gone, replaced with metal stripping and nails. This Uruk was a survivor and i wanted someone like that in my ranks.
So in all what did I take away from Shadow of War? The game is not perfect, it reminded me a lot of Assassins Creed, complete with climbing controls which seemed determent to give you away. Jumping right into the middle of a camp a number of times when I meant to jump for a rope or ledge nearby. The captains offer a lot to the game, with their stories, strengths and weaknesses, you can grow attached to them as you command them to do jobs, you can feel a little upset if they fall. It means however that that foe was stronger…. and I must have him for my army! Shadow of War is really enjoyable and offers hours of fun with so much to do, so much to collect and so many to conscript. I look forward to reaching the end of the game to see how the story plays out.
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- Epic Siege battles against armies of Orcs
- You fight a Balrog
- Varied, exciting new environments
- The storylines for Bruz and most of your Orc companions
- The entire final act
- Bloated systems and menus
- Side characters' stories end abruptly