The first person you meet in Middle-earth: Shadow of War is a woman with midnight black hair and a dress that has been deliberately torn at strategic locations. You’ll learn that she’s a version of Shelob, a giant deadly spider animal. The game explains its mysterious human form over time. While fans of Lord of the Ring’s knowledge may have difficulty embracing this unique interpretation of Tolkien stories, it shows that Shadow of War is a game willing to take risks with its source. This is our Middle-earth: Shadow Of War Review.
And in a way, this example shows the full bow of the match: unpleasant at the beginning, disappointing at the end, however, seeing how they explain it all is an exciting ride.
Middle-earth: Shadow Of War Review: About
- Platform: PS4, Xbox, Windows, iOS
- Developer: Monolith Productions, IUGO
- Publisher: Warner Bros.
- Genres: Hack and slash
- Release Date: September 27, 2017
Middle-earth: Shadow Of War Review: Gameplay
Like its predecessor, Shadow of War comprises powerful Orc Captains with specific strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits defined by the Nemesis system of the game, the number of fears, special abilities, and useful powers is much more robust than in the first game, making it essential to find a strategic approach to eliminate some of the game’s more powerful enemies. The amount of information you get about each Orc once you’ve revealed its vulnerabilities can feel almost overwhelming. Still, you’ll quickly adapt to the game‘s acronym and what features to look out for.
Your primary goal is to raise an army against Mordor’s troops by recruiting every Orcish leader you meet. These characters strike the perfect balance between humor and absurdity against the dull seriousness of the human cast, and you’d wish the quirky inhabitants of Mordor could be constant companions instead of the short vignettes that flash across the screen when you kill or are killed by one. One particularly colorful character I met was an Orc prophet who yelled at me about a snake cult he was part of; I ended up killing him, but it left a lot of questions about how Orc religions work.
You spend most of your time in Mordor killing Orcs. Shadow of War builds on the first game and has a free-flowing combat system that allows you to dominate creatures one-on-one, yet retain control when surrounded by a dozen or more opponents. However, that momentum decreases when too many things happen on the screen at once. When an enemy captain is ready to be forced towards you, an icon above his head turns green. Incoming attacks can be countered after a blinking prompt, and you’ll have a whole range of different skills to take out legions of enemies. But the chaos of battle can make it frustrating to attack opponents.
But apart from narrative problems, some setpieces are breathtakingly fun. You ride a turf, work with a couple of ridiculous Orcs, fight an imposing, winged Balrog, fight the Ringwraiths. It’s a compilation of the greatest hits of the worst moments from The Lord of the Rings. After a slowly building opening act, the game gains momentum as it crashes towards what appears to be a final impasse against the forces of evil. And this battle deals with criticism of the previous game; it’s an epic multi-stage battle that still has QTEs, but no more than the conflicts you’ll encounter while playing the game regularly.
Amazingly, that fight is not the end of the game. Shadow of War continues, but with its momentum wholly exhausted. What should be an exciting climax, instead descends into a nasty slogan for a movie that is not entirely worth the time and effort. In the final act of the game, you cycle through the four forts you’ve explored before for a total of 20 more defensive siege fights. If you haven’t upgraded the Orcs you met at the start of the game – and until now, there’s no reason to – you’ll need to replace and upgrade your entire train of Orcs to match this more powerful invading force.
The enemies you face get higher with each encounter, so you’re also forced to upgrade each castle over and over again, either by building your current Orc army or by finding new hunters and replacing the old ones. This Sisyphean quest has no correspondingly significant characters to keep you company or explain why it’s essential to tackle defensive missions in the order you do. It’s not even clear why you want to do them in the first place.
And buried in the weapons screens is another separate item menu, this one for gems. Gems are stat boosters that you encounter during the game and which give each item another upgrade, such as increasing the chance of enemies killed with that weapon dropping into the game currency or an increase of 12.5% in the amount of experience you earn. They are useful, but managing the upgrades for yet another set of items nested as a menu in your equipment is busy work.
As an example of how overwhelmed with options the skill system is, there is an upgrade that unlocks the ability to ‘collect items by walking over them.’ In a standard game, you have to press a button manually to pick up each item you encounter. It’s a skill worth prioritizing if you want to spend skill points, but it doesn’t make sense that such an essential quality of life improvement is not just the default way of collecting items.
Middle-earth: Shadow Of War Review: Conclusion
In our experience with the Middle-earth: Shadow Of War, loot boxes purchased with in-game currency have only earned us Epic-tier rewards, rather than the guaranteed Legendaries of the paid currency. And that addition summarizes some of the additions of Shadow of War – things like the store and menus and the loot system do not make the game terrible, it would just have been better without them. It tries to be bigger than its predecessor, there are more skills, more weapons, more orcs, but still, you want less. But at its core, it is a fun experience with wonderful moments that give a fascinating insight into some of the untold stories of Middle-earth.
While fans of Lord of the Ring's knowledge may have difficulty embracing this unique interpretation of Tolkien stories, it shows that Shadow of War is a game willing to take risks with its source.