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Hands on with || Middle Earth: Shadow Of War ||

The Warner Brothers Booth was arguably the most flamboyant and atmospheric booths at this years E3 show floor. Black walls that nearly reached the high ceiling enclosed the Middle Earth: Shadow Of War game demos and their preemptive theatrical walkthrough. A massive dragon was on display up front for fans to take photos with, and they hired the tallest actors they could find to play towering orcs that playfully harassed folks in line. To top it off, a red ambient light shot up into the ceiling and somehow animated itself like an evil and encompassing aura. Next door was the Lego Dimensions booth, and a live stage where WB’s showed off more of their featured games

The theater demo, which consisted of a WB’s rep playing a siege real time for an audience (not to mention live for Twitch users), was troublesome. A game breaking bug forced a hard reset, and various little glitches/bugs were noticeable throughout the demo. If you haven’t seen a siege played out yet the layout is quite expansive. Utilizing the nemesis system you pick the allies you want to charge in with you on the front lines. Your allies bring their own offensive perks like poisonous spiders, and aggressive mounts, while the enemy captains bring their own defensive benefits like hardened fortress walls or walls that leak with lava. 

After capturing certain points in the fortress and killing the required captains, you can make way to the heart of the throne room where a boss fight ensues. That throne room is aesthetically generated based on the characteristics of that boss. The nemesis system has been greatly expanded.

Come time for hands on, I figured I’d avoid the sieges (though they look very fun) and explore a bit of the world -- and try some of the story mode which we have yet to see much of. 

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6 Main Takeaways


 

  • The Nemesis system is still the best part of Middle Earth: This amazing system generates a range of great orc personalities, individual story-lines, and varied (as varied as Middle Earth’s black/grey/rust color palette allows for) aesthetics. Here it’s the star again.

  • The Story Missions still pale in comparison:
    From the main mission I played in the demo, this still holds true. It was a slog to make it through this quest. The storytelling was not engaging, and the linear structure shoved the game's open world mechanics into an awkward corner. 

  • The Nemesis system and Story Missions are still not properly integrated like they should be:
    There’s a way to make Middle Earth’s story missions more interesting. You incorporate the best part of the game, the nemesis system, into the story mode. This is not revolutionary thinking. Why the hell are they still so separated? Why is the Nemesis system still a subsidiary requirement to unlock more story missions? These are story missions I was reluctant to even get into in the first game because I was having more fun experimenting with the nemesis system... 

  • The range of Orc personalities/attributes adds color:
    Funny orcs, shirtless orcs, orcs that have a higher tendency to just sorta scream and not engage in dialogue, make for a lively time. As you level up your allies and shoot them up your ranks I can see the player becoming more attached to them than they already were in the original Middle Earth.

  • Middle Earth still looks monotonous, ugly, and more like a developer's sandbox, than a world to get immersed in:
    Middle Earth is still gray and ugly. I get it, it’s supposed to be. But there are ways to make ugly interesting -- this is just ugly boring. The way you make it interesting is to make it feel deliberate. Every portion of the region I explored felt like it had been manufactured by a developer “insert this ugly wrecked building here”, and was achingly empty.

  • The demo combat felt twitchy and unresponsive:
    I’m not sure if they were having issues the whole time…  There’s still a few months to iron the little guys out. But the action felt bad. This was in large part due to small bugs. Enemies would be teleporting around, hits wouldn’t visually connect, it just looked and felt sloppy. When it was working, I still wasn’t satisfied. Has Middle Earth’s already borrowed  Y to counter combat system aged to tedium? Arrow slinging felt the best. 

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The original Middle Earth was a game of grand potential. It was one of the few open world games I didn’t put down after the first few hours. But some baffling design decisions squander this potential and might provoke you to put the controller down. What seems to be happening here in Shadow Of War is that they improved on everything we loved about the original, and utterly ignored remedying the things we hated. Character personalities make a bland world a little less bland. But this is not a world you care to explore to find secrets and interesting loot and towns, you explore it so you can arrive at the next opportunity to utilize the game’s Nemesis system. I might play it for a good while to tinker with that system, but I fear I’ll put it down soon for all the usual suspects. 


 Look for Middle Earth: Shadow Of War releasing October 10th, pushed back from its original August 22nd Release date.

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