Middle Earth: Shadow of War – Review
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: 10/10/2017
Middle Earth: Shadow of War continues the story of Talion, the ranger-turned-wraith. Banished from death after he and his family were slaughtered by the hand of Sauron, Talion continues his conquest to free Middle Earth from the grip of the dark lord. Talion is not alone in his travels, sharing his body with the spirit of Celebrimbor, the eleven craftsman who forged the rings of power, and one of the only men to ever stand a chance against the dark lord. Using the powers of the wraith and the one ring, players forge an army to challenge Sauron and his minions. Players fight their way to the top and conquer Mordor in the name of the Bright Lord in Shadow of War.
The combat of Shadow of Mordor has been improved for Shadow of War. The new upgrade system has powers within that change how Talion can fight and move. The upgrade menu is divided up into six categories.
Combat – This category is based on the hack and slash aspect of the game for players who want to rush their enemies with their swords drawn. Upgrading abilities in this category allows Talion to acquire faster ground executions and critical strike bonuses.
Predator – This is the stealth category. If you’re a player who prefers silent take-downs without alerting the rest of your enemies, then this is the skill tree for you. It also contains one of the best skills in the game: Eleven Agility. The Eleven Agility skills give Talion a huge burst of speed when you successfully press the prompted action button. This makes traversing the large environments a lot easier and allows for quick escapes in dire situations.
Ranged – This tree is exactly what it sounds like. It gives Talion additional wraith abilities for ranged combat. Taking advantage of the landscape, you can use these abilities to gain the upper hand on your enemies.
Shadow Strike – A must-have ability, Shadow Strike allows Talion to teleport to an enemy and then instantly stun or kill them. Some enemies are invulnerable to it, so you must use it wisely.
Wraith – Being banished from death has its perks, it seems. These skills are best used when being overwhelmed. Skills like “Ice Storm” give the player an edge when in a crowd, much like the “Eleven Light” skill, which creates a blast of light that pushes away enemies. At later levels, it can also set enemies on fire, freeze them or poison them.
Mounted – Use the beasts of Mordor to your advantage with this skill tree. While mounted your abilities are limited, but with these upgrades you have more of an edge against your foes. The three main domination abilities are a must have: “Caragor Rider,” “Graug Rider” and “Dragon Rider.” Mounting these beasts gives Talion control over them, even when not riding them. Who doesn’t want a dragon on their side as they storm an outpost?
Story – These skills follow along the main story-line as well as side missions throughout the game. As you complete more of the story, these abilities will unlock automatically.
With these skills, Talion and the Bright Lord Celebrimbor become stronger than ever. With the power of the newly forged ring, Talion can turn enemy orcs into allies using the various domination abilities. Combat is more difficult than before, as enemy captains now have a more diverse skills set. Their attack patterns have changed as well. Some Uruks can daze the player and prevents counter prompts from displaying; others can poison Talion so his wraith abilities cannot be used for a short period of time. These abilities can be viewed via the new and improved Nemesis System.
The new Nemesis System retains a lot of the same mechanics as the original, but with some added features. There is a constant fighting between Uruk captains, creating “Nemesis Missions.” These missions can be infiltrated, allowing players to decide who increases in power as the victor, and who dies and gets erased from history. If you have multiple Nemesis Missions, be sure to plan accordingly. Once one is completed the time to interject into another will fade away.
Much like the first game, once you reach a certain point in the story you will be able to brand Uruks into fighting for you. Branding enemy captains gains you allies in the upcoming battles. You can also command your Uruk via the Nemesis menu to carry out tasks on your behalf, such as becoming a war-chief spy or assassinating an enemy captain. You can even assign yourself a bodyguard that can protect you if things go south during a battle. This is very useful as they can save you if you are out of last chances after your health drops to zero.
The new story feels much more Tolkien-ish than the previous game. With the addition of new characters and new environments it feels like less of the same. There’s just one problem with it all: Talion. Talion’s character really hasn’t changed much from the first game. His stiff and Aiden Pearce-like quality brings a drawback to the story compared to the rest of the characters. He rarely shows emotion, and more often than not, he has the same expression on his face for the majority of the game. The Elven Wraith Celebrimbor constantly tries to get a hold of him, but more often than not, Talion is oblivious of his headings.
The addition of more lore-friendly enemies makes the story feel a lot stronger, as you mainly fought Uruks as part of the original story. Throughout the story you’ll fight enemies such as Nazguls, Trolls and even a shapeshifter. Eventually, players will even have to face a deadly and powerful Balrog. The return of classic characters such as Ratbag gives the game some comical relief, if the Uruk jokes about pink-skins were’t enough for you. The story is an improvement from the first and feels more like a true Lord of The Rings story, even if they are a little loose with canon materials.
Shadow of War has five regions to explore, all of them feature different types of Uruk tribes. Ranging from dark to machine, each tribe has different tactics. Captains also possess special abilities based on what tribe they belong to. The regions themselves are smaller than the areas from Shadow of Mordor, but cumulatively they are larger than both previous locations combined.
Each location has different terrain, respective to their geological location on the maps. For example, if one region is located by the sea then we can expect an abundance of foliage in the area. Each region is controlled by a fortress, these fortresses are run by overlords, which Talion will have to overthrow using the army he’s built.
Added to Shadow of War is a much better loot system that replaces the runes from its predecessor. Shadow of War has interchangeable armor and weapons. The types of armor and weapons you receive are based on the Uruk you kill. If you kill an Uruk captain that has a high level, the weapon you receive from them will match their level.
If you have weapons and armor that you no longer want or need, you can sell them for in-game currency. Use in-game currency to purchase upgrades for your army during sieges. You can also upgrade weapons and armor or purchase loot boxes from the marketplace. You can also use gems to enhance your gear from the gear menu. There are three categories of gems:
Potency – Potency affects damage done by weapons, the percentage is based on the level of the gem in this category.
Vitality – Vitality increases health, the percentage is based on the level of the gem in this category.
Wealth – Wealth affects XP and currency dropped by enemies, the percentage is based on the level of the gem in this category.
There are five types of gems that increase the percentage of their respective traits: plain, carved, polished, refined and perfect. You can forge these yourself as long as you have three of any of the previous types of gems. For example, three plain gems become one carved gem and three carved gems become one polished gem.
Middle Earth: Shadow of War is everything the sequel should be. Every aspect of the original game has been improved upon, and new abilities have been added. The key theme of the original remains the same, only this time on a much larger scale. With a constant flow of Nemesis and Ally missions, the Nemesis system won’t run out of baddies anytime soon. Additional endgame content is also in the works, but an official release date has not been revealed. With more locations and more characters the world of Middle Earth feels larger. Harness the power of the one ring and spread the influence of the Bright Lord in a mission of revenge in Middle Earth: Shadow of War.