Review: Middle Earth—Shadow of War (PC)

Developer: Monolith Productions

Publisher: WB Games

Genre: RPG, Action, Adventure

Rating: M for Mature

Platforms: PC/Steam, PS4, XBox One

Price: $59.99

The sequel to the surprise hit  MIddle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Middle Earth: Shadow of War continues the adventure of the undead ranger Talion and his quest for revenge. The land of Mordor is bigger than ever, and more importantly, ripe for the taking. This action RPG will send you all across the country building up an army of orcs to take on the might of Sauron.

Content Guide

Eagles not included

Spiritual Content

Shadow of War is a game based on the Lord of the Rings property, which means its mythology carries over. This includes dark magic and demonic forces (one plot line focuses on a necromancer trying to raise a balrog) The main character is possessed by a ghost.

Violence

Shadow of War is almost all violence. Most of the game is spent killing Orcs with a sword and arrows. Spectacles like decapitations are common, complete with blood and viscera.

Language/Crude Humor
There’s a few curse words the orcs in this game, but they’re in black speech, the language of Sauron.

Drug/Alcohol Use

Orcs drink from barrels of grog, an alcoholic drink.

Other Negative Content

The way you build up your army in this game is by capturing orcs from the enemy and brain washing them to serve you against their will, which is slavery. Orcs are bred for war in this mythos, but depending on your inclination, that still may not excuse their treatment here.

Positive Content

Lord of the Rings is a tale of good overcoming evil, and Shadow of War plays with this theme by demonstrating how much the ends justify the means. It makes the case that the ends actually are the means, and doing evil things to make the world better is just as bad as the evil fought.

Review

To the games credit, it delivers both shadows and war.

When the Shadow of Mordor trailer came out in 2014, many (myself included) saw it as an Assassin’s Creed clone. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since a lot of the Assassin’s Creed games are great. Shadow of Mordor went on to become a surprise hit, standing out with its tight gameplay and adding new elements to its genre.

Middle Earth: Shadow of War takes everything that people liked about its predecessor and tries to enhance it, and while it fails in a few regards, overall Shadow of War is a better version of the first game. Aside from a graphics update, the game is bigger, has more to do, and has better story and characters than the first game.

The graphics in Shadow of War are top notch, which should be expected from a triple-A game developer. Mordor, the fictional realm that the evil overlord Sauron resides in the Lord of the Rings mythos, has a diverse range of environments and climates. There is the standard volcanic area, but Mordor also possess green grassland, mountains of ice and snow, and deep caverns and canyons. This gives the game visual diversity, something that was rare in the first game, and makes the game less of a drag. If you get bored with the dark clouds and ash of one region, you can travel to another.

Visit Scenic Mordor!

There are more areas to explore and more things to do. Shadow of War has more side quests ranging from small fetch quests to big story missions which are well thought out and designed. One quest has you follow a orc necromancer as he tries to summon a Balrog (a devilish creature wielding a flaming sword and whip), and another where you help the scattered remains of an army that was overrun by Sauron’s forces. These quests help keep the game fresh and present new challenges to you when the main story starts to drag.

The main story works well enough to facilitate the action. This game picks up where the first game drops off. Talion, the ranger killed by Sauron’s forces in the first game who comes back with the help of Celebrimbor, the ghost of the elf that forged the one ring, decided in order to destroy Sauron, they need to build their own army. Most of the game involves carrying out this task this in various ways. Capturing and defending citadels and making your army stronger will eat up a lot of time.

I like the message of this game. Without spoiling the ending, the question of whether the characters are just as bad as Sauron for what they are doing becomes the main conflict, and in a genre where many games consist of killing your way to the big bad, I think it’s a question worth addressing.

Cry Havoc! And let slip the orcs of war!

The main pull of the Middle Earth series, though, is the nemesis system. This is what made Shadow of Mordor so appealing, and Shadow of War builds on it, making it the centerpiece of the game. In both games, most of the enemies you face are orcs, belonging to Sauron. But thanks to being undead and possessed by the ghost of Celebrimbor, Talion has a special power to brainwash Sauron’s orcs into serving him. This is the main mechanic you use to build and army.

On top of that, each orc you can brand and possess has their own unique look, personality, abilities and voice. This is what turns Shadow of War into a great game instead of a good one. Having an army of orcs becomes more than just a chore. While building my army up, I had found orc captains that I really liked and tried to keep alive (which made it all the more heartbreaking when they died). There were also orcs I didn’t like who nonetheless proved themselves in battle and impressed me enough to make war chiefs. In this game, there’s a chance orcs betray you, and when you’ve sent a particular orc to the fight pits to make them stronger, it makes the betrayal all the more bitter.

The nemesis system in Shadow of War is the main reason why this 60 hour game doesn’t feel like 60 hours. Like the environments, the variety of the orcs you encounter not only keep the game fresh, but make Mordor seem like a real, living place. How much more interesting would Assassin’s Creed be if every mook remembered you and interacted with you in a different way?

What will this orc’s fate be? General? War Chief? Pastry Chef?

There are a few things that don’t work in this game. The loot system isn’t as strong as it was in Shadow of Mordor. In the previous game, you could use runes to give your character and weapons new powers and abilities. Each weapon could hold multiple runes. In this game, you get weapons and armor as drops, and they only have up to 3 different powers (depending on rarity). Runes only give minor upgrades, like a boost to strength or health.

The max level you can reach in this game is 60. While playing, around level 14 I found a dagger that always lit enemies on fire. You get a lot of loot in this game, and while gaining levels, I found daggers that were stronger, but none had an ability like that. This kind of RNG doesn’t ruin the game for me, but the loot system could be improved if you were able to transmute properties to stronger equipment, like in Diablo III.

It’s a minor problem, though. If you liked Shadow of Mordor, Shadow of War is a must buy. It builds on all the good stuff from the previous game without changing so much that it’s unrecognizable. In that way, I’d compare it to moving from one Pokémon game to the next generation. It’s overall the same experience, but there’s new elements that help make the game deeper.

Also, both franchises involve enslaving creatures to fight for you.

The Bottom Line

 

 

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Simon Jones

God, games and good times. When not playing videogames, you can find Simon at the D&D table, doing parkour or muay thai, or napping.

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