Sequel to 2014’s Shadow of Mordor, Middle Earth: Shadow of War was already in the news for all the wrong reasons: microtransactions. However, after having enjoyed the first game and having gotten a taste of what Shadow of War had to offer in the gameplay teasers, we decided to give Shadow of War a try. Did we regret it? Let’s find out.
One of Shadow of War’s weakest elements is its story. If you’re a Lord of the Rings nerd (like a few of us here), you will immediately notice that they’ve taken a lot of liberties with the lore.
The story continues where Shadow of Mordor left off, and you’re still playing as the ranger Talion who’s sharing his body with Celebrimbor (the OG creator of the Rings of Power) thanks to the events of the last game.
There are a few recognisable characters from the films/books in the game, such as Gollum and Shelob the Great Spider (who is now an incredibly attractive looking woman somehow?), but overall the story is kinda silly. But we’ll forgive it since it wasn’t really the story that kept us playing. The story is completely non-canon though, so if you’re unfamiliar with LOTR lore or aren’t a fan of the franchise, you should still be able to enjoy the game, no problem.
Combat in Shadow of War isn’t all that much different from Shadow of Mordor. They’re still using the same combat system, so if you’re familiar with it, you’ll have no trouble getting right to the slaughtering.
The skill tree has been revamped and is way more complex and flexible. In addition to several new skills, each skill now has sub-skills which give additional effects and benefits to its parent skill. It’s quite overwhelming at first and it might seem like you won’t be able to get them all, but you get quite a lot of skill points over the duration of the game, so feel free to experiment and don’t worry too much about it.
There’s a lot of loot to be had. Higher tier loot, such as rare, epic and legendary drops, can be made even stronger by completing challenges specific to them. Doing so unlocks new abilities for them, and additionally, is more stuff for the player to do. Which is nice.
The world is littered with Uruks, they’re everywhere. You never know when you’ll walk into an ambush. It keeps you on your toes. It’s the same with Uruk captains. You never know when you might come across one, but when you do, you will definitely know…
The Nemesis System
Since we’re on the topic of Uruks now, we should talk about the Nemesis system. The Nemesis system which had people hyped back when it was announced for Shadow of Mordor has been further fine-tuned and refined. There’s so much variety in the Uruk it’s insane. In all our time spent playing the game, we haven’t come across any two Uruk captains who looked even remotely the same.
In addition to that, the personalities and voice-acting some of these Uruks have is top-class. It’s quite easy to get attached to the Uruks you like and if they’re in your army, you REALLY don’t want them to die in battle and genuinely feel bad when they do.
For the Uruks you especially hate, you can shame them, which is worse than death for them. This lowers their level and rank and basically makes them the butt of all jokes in the Uruk community. Keep shaming the same Uruk and you might even break their mind. It’s… not a pleasant sight. We actually felt bad for the Uruk afterward and recruited them into our army.
In terms of gameplay, the Nemesis system adds a host of new strengths, fears and counters as well which makes fighting higher level Uruks very challenging. Some of them are quite ridiculous. Enraged by Everything for example; you don’t want to fight an enraged Uruk Overlord. But the challenge is welcome, especially since Talion is already so OP.
The investigate option from the previous game has also carried over, so you can investigate certain Uruks to learn about the fears and strengths of a captain you’re planning to take on.
We’re of two minds about the Nemesis system. For one thing, it’s this amazing system that’s churning out these unique Uruks with colourful personalities, but on the other hand it’s in a game where your primary goal is brutally killing, enslaving or shaming them. We really didn’t feel like doing any of that to some of the Uruks we came across.
The biggest addition to SoW are the fortresses and the large scale battles. They’ve definitely captured the mayhem of a large scale battle; you’ve got hundreds of Uruks running around killing each other. You can upgrade your troops, captains and siege units to make breaching fortresses easier. The addition of new units, like the Drakes and the hulking Ologs makes things even more interesting. Drakes in SoW are awesome and their animations are incredibly well-done. The way they land, breathe fire, fly around, it’s all Skyrim level or dare we say, even better.
Once you’re through the walls the biggest challenge is the fortress overlord. This guy is no pushover, be prepared for a tough fight. Once you’ve defeated the overlord, you can take over the fortress and have your own forces defend it.
One thing to note is that there’s no strategy that takes place before battles. You don’t determine troop placements, or formations or where those newly upgraded traps are going. They’re all pre-placed for you. Which we’re totally okay with, we didn’t get the game expecting to play an RTS anyway.
Fortresses also tie-in nicely into online gameplay. Your friends can download your fortress, Uruks and all, and proceed to breach and take over the replica fortress. They’re definitely going to succeed in taking over the fortress, all you can do is try your best to slow them down. This is because scores aren’t determined by whether you succeed at breaching the fortress or not, but rather by how fast you beat the fortress.
Like in SoM, other players can try to kill the Uruk that managed to kill you. Uruks that have managed to kill you are immediately promoted to captain and become significantly stronger. Killing one of those Uruks lands you a loot box. You can also get loot boxes from the daily challenges.
Speaking of loot boxes, just ignore the microtransactions. You get plenty of silver(one of the in-game currencies), which you can use for your upgrades and to purchase loot boxes as well. You really don’t need to spend a single rupee. There wasn’t one moment in the game where we felt hindered for not using microtransactions. Loot isn’t locked behind loot boxes or anything, so you can get all the good stuff from just playing the game anyway.
Travelling is a big part of the game. While the environment in SoM was mostly bleak and dull grey for the most part, in SoW we see a variety of landscapes. You’ve got the icy mountains of Sergost, the green swamps of Nurnen and the volcanic terrain of Gorgoroth to name a few. There’s a lot of exploring to do and thankfully, all the movement upgrades from SoM carry over, those plus the new double-jump make exploring quite fun.
One thing we would have liked to see was heat or cold actually affecting Talion, like it does in Legend of Zelda: BotW.
The fortresses also look fantastic, and we’ve already gone on long enough about how great the Uruks are. Unfortunately, the game suffers from a lot of pop-in textures which ruin the overall aesthetic at times.
Middle Earth: Shadow of War – Verdict
Shadow of War is a bigger and better Shadow of Mordor. The Nemesis system was great, thanks to which we came across quite a few memorable Uruks. Fortress sieges were epic and fun, and also acted as a great platform for the new Nemesis system to showcase its unique Uruks.
The game somehow remains challenging through the campaign, despite Talion being OP. And the game definitely doesn’t end with the campaign, there’s a lot more to do. An absurd amount of things for that matter, some of which we thought were quite pointless. The story was also pretty weak but all-in-all, Shadow of War is definitely worth picking up, especially if you enjoyed Shadow of Mordor.
|Developer: Monolith Productions, IUGO
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platform: Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Price: Windows – Rs. 2,999 Xbox One and PS4 – Rs. 3,499
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Manish "Trigger-Happy" Rajesh
If he's not gaming, he's... no wait he's always gaming.