Middle-earth: Shadow of War
The sequel to the acclaimed Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor game by Monolith is out! Does Shadow of War bring the same magic or does it collapse? Find out in our official review!
The Story Continues....
The closing moments of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor saw Talian and the Elf Lord Celebrimbor gain vengeance over Sauron and the Black Hand of Sauron. With the curse broken, Celebrimbor was ready to depart for the shores of Valinor. That is, until Talian convinced the Elf spirit to stay and finish off Sauron and his armies once-and-for-all. With Celebrimbor back in the fold, Talian turns to Mt. Doom and says, “It’s time for a new ring.”
This is where Middle-earth: Shadow of War begins.
In the opening moments, we witness the duo forging this new ring of power in the fires of Mt. Doom. Just as it is completed, Celebrimbor is kidnapped by the mysterious spider, Shelob. After a bargain is struck, Talian hands the newly forged ring to Shelob in exchange for the Elf Lord. As Talian decides to double-cross Shelob, she shows him a vision of Minas Ithil, the last Gondorian stronghold in Mordor, under attack by the forces of Sauron. The two form an uneasy alliance, despite the protests of Celebrimbor, that becomes the motivating force behind Shadow of War.
These early conflicts begin to show the cracks in Talian and Celebrimbor’s partnership. After everything they went through in Shadow of Mordor, it looked as if the two were (mostly) on the same page. However, it’s easy to see that their priorities do not align, early on, in Shadow of War. While Talian urges to save the world of men, Celebrimbor sees the bigger picture that Sauron is the bigger threat. In fact, there is even a moment when Talian is concerned about all the casualties, only for Celebrimbor to respond with, “That’s the price of war”. His callous disposition causes the two to squabble throughout the sequel.
Much like in Mordor, War’s storyline feels a lot like the Peter Jackson films. Obviously, these games take on a much darker approach, but the pace, character development, and conflicts feel right at home between both sets of trilogies. What makes these games so enjoyable, apart from the gameplay, is the enthralling story it tells. Much like, developer, Monolith Productions did with Mordor, War continuously finds a way to surprise gamers and leave them on the edge of their seat, throughout the campaign, right up until the final moment that ties everything together.
A Expanded Nemesis System Makes All-Out War Possible
When Warner Bros. Interactive introduced Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, they also gave the world a nice introduction to a unique gameplay system known as the “Nemesis System”. Initially, this system was mainly used to buff up enemies who defeated you in Shadow of Mordor. Afterward, the Monolith team took all the information from Mordor and used it to make an even better version of the Nemesis System for Shadow of War. Even going so far as to say,
"This was our ambition to do the big, blockbuster version of the ideas we’d begun to explore in the first game. It's kind of our Terminator 2 to Terminator."
Suffice to say, they succeeded. The upgraded system allows gamers to gather followers and lead them into all-out wars. It allows for an experience that comes close to the battles waged in The Lord of the Rings franchise. It also requires a lot of strategy and skill to form the right team to take down rival Uruks.
Furthermore, the new system allows for rivalries to be made. One slip-up had Talion falling in battle to an annoying Uruk named Maku. After I completed the Vengeance mission, and killed him, he kept coming back stronger and more mechanic. While at times it got annoying to constantly get interrupted by this character, it was a neat element added to the game.
Middle-earth Add-Ons and Upgrades
With this sequel, Monolith and Warner Bros. made it a point to add features and upgrade existing ones. For instance, the entire menu screen and upgrade system has been completely streamlined. It no longer has a bulky feel to it, as weapons, armor, and skill are now easily upgraded. Plus, the tabs that show strengths and weaknesses in enemy captains have been simplified.
As for new features, Middle-earth adds a variety of new modes, both small and large, for gamers to enjoy. One rather large feature is the multiplayer function, called Social Conquest Mode. In this mode, gamers can participate in either Friendly or Ranked matches where rival gamers try to invade online fortresses. In Friendly, you can do this for fun without losing any of your followers. However in Ranked, you’re not as fortunate, as your followers can and will permanently leave you for a variety of reasons.
This brings me to the next add-on, microtransactions. That’s right, you can now spend your hard-earned money to help you along the way as you play Shadow of War. The inclusion of microtransactions doesn’t mean that you can’t still make in-game purchases with the currency you collect. It only means, if you’re running out of money, you can purchase inventory with your own. This function becomes useful later on, as a sort-of shortcut, but it can be tedious and pricey.
Finally, one of the coolest effects in Middle-earth: Shadow of War is the dynamic weather system. As you wage war on Sauron’s forces, take a moment to enjoy the weather as it’ll actually affect the behavior of enemy forces. Since developers started adding in real-world effects like weather and day-night cycles to their games, it’s become one of my favorite things to look at. It’s that small detail that can really make a game that much better and it does in Shadow of War.
From Hack and Slash to RPG
Since WBHI began distributing Rocksteady’s Arkham games, they have tried adopting those combat mechanics for any of their games that could use it. Shadow of Mordor used it and so does Shadow of War. That Hack and Slash style of gameplay makes every battle situation exciting and possible to beat, with the right timing. Unlike Shadow of Mordor, though, Monolith made it a point to turn the franchise from a Hack and Slash style to a more free-based RPG.
When beginning the game, you won’t notice anything at first. It’s when you get deeper into it and you start waging war with your followers that you start to see the difference. It all stems from the idea that this story-driven game should have more character development, without the need of cut-scenes, and giving the gamer a more unique, personalized experience.
For the most part, Shadow of War is still a linear game. No matter what you do, the end result will still be the same, it’s not like a Telltale or Bethesda game where your actions choose the outcome. However, the personalized experience comes from your approach to battle and who you choose to follow you. That could be the difference between victory and defeat on the battlefields of Middle-earth.
An Unnecessarily Hidden Ending
While the game as a whole is an enjoyable experience, there is one part that seemed unnecessary and completely annoying to fans of the Middle-earth games. That is the hidden ending. For some strange reason, they locked a second-ending to Shadow of War behind a game-within-the-game called Shadow Wars. In this, you have to successfully hold territories and fend off enemy attackers. The game, while long, is a fun way to spend time away from the story and even becomes fun post-game gameplay. The bonus is, if completed, it unlocks a very satisfying ending for our main character Talion. That bonus, though, is the problem. In order to see it, outside of YouTube, you have to complete hours and hours and HOURS of Shadow Wars for a 15-second scene. Why they would decide to lock such a nice ending is beyond me. Clearly Monolith overthought this when they were developing the game. This ending should’ve been included at completion of the final act. It turns out to be a rather large blemish on an otherwise enjoyable game.
An Addictingly-Fun Action-Packed Drama That Nicely Ties the Series Together
Overall, Middle-earth: Shadow of War is the sequel fans have wanted. Monolith and WB didn’t try to reinvent or overhaul what worked in Shadow of Mordor. Instead, they kept everything people loved and simplified anything that felt convoluted. Plus, it continues what was an intriguing story and adds a ton of drama and character-driven conflict to take it to the next level. Monolith obviously made a few questionable choices, like the hidden ending, that may have fans scratching their heads. However, as a whole, it’s everything you’d want out of a finale.