Middle-earth: Shadow of War (Legendary) Review
Middle-earth: Shadow of War promises to build on the solid foundations set by its predecessor with an evolution of the iconic Nemesis System, all new areas to explore, and the ability to take the fight to Sauron’s door with an army of your own making. Has Monolith Productions done The Lord of the Rings franchise proud, or is this one loot box you shouldn’t open?
Middle-earth: Shadow of War (Legendary) Review
As I am reviewing Middle-earth: Shadow of War the game, I will not be going into great detail regarding the controversy surrounding the micro-transactions, you can read my thoughts on that here. Now, if we can agree that all developers want to make more money if they can, let’s move on to the stuff that really matters.
It took less than one hour of playtime before I was hooked. Although I enjoyed Shadow of Mordor I felt it was clunky and incredibly repetitive. Despite being its sequel, Middle-earth: Shadow of War shares neither of those traits and instead introduces players to an experience honed to near perfection. Arguably the games most improved asset is the acrobatic elements of the exploration. It’s nearly seamless. Jumping from rooftop to rooftop, navigating through dark caves, hopping between the backs of enemies while slitting their throats. It takes the very best this industry has to offer and improves it in almost every way. If only they could figure out that I wanted to drop into the window below, not the ledge at the bottom.
Accompanying a variety of new acrobatic feats and abilities designed to impress and ease the task of navigation, is a grossly immersive combat system that will see you wincing with every limb you separate from your enemies. Building on the original, the basic actions remain much of the same. You plan your attacks between dodging enemy strikes and countering their abilities, all while looking for opportunities to deploy your own – and there are a lot. From start to finish, you feel as though you can take down an entire army of Sauron’s minions and even after 50 hours of playing, I’m still finding new and interesting ways to take down my enemies. A full on frontal assault utilizing your ability to dominate your enemies, remaining in the shadows and destroying an entire camp without so much as a sound, or summoning a fire-breathing Drake as you take to the skies and spit death over everything in sight. You will struggle to find a game with combat that has more depth and variety, at least in recent years.
While combat and exploration are standout elements of the game, the truly exciting prospect was always the Nemesis System, and it’s back with a vengeance. Every playthrough is different in terms of the enemies you encounter and the abilities they possess. It’s unique. You can play alongside a friend in the same room and have entirely different experiences in the same areas. This was something introduced in Shadow of Mordor, but in comparison, Shadow of War’s is vastly improved in all areas. Let me take a few moments to tell you a story, a story of betrayal and redemption. A story of Az-Rans and Ur-Lasu.
Az-Rans was a good Olog. Standing about fifteen feet tall and wielding a giant mace, not many stood in his way. His might and ferocity matched only by his Blood Brother, Ur-Lasu the Olog. An equally terrifying physical specimen, although he left much of the talking to Az-Rans. While I met Az-Rans early in my travels, I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Ur-Lasu until much later. After joining my forces and being my right hand Olog, Az-Rans accompanied me on many assaults on Sauron’s Fortresses. The first to enter the fray and the last to leave, he was a general any leader would be proud of. That was until the faithful day I bumped into his Blood Brother.
Unbeknownst to me at the time of my encounter, I had encountered my general’s brother. I attempted to enslave Ur-Lasu to join my cause, much to the dismay of his brother. Az-Rans interfered and betrayed me, stabbing me in the back and somehow fighting back the oppression I had placed on his mind with the ring. He fled, escaping with his Blood Brother never to be seen again…or so I thought. Later down the line, I encountered them both again, except this time I left with two additional Olog’s to join my forces. Many more hours passed as I left them defending my Forts whilst I was spreading the good word of the Bright Lord directly into the minds of Sauron’s lackeys. With past events but a distant memory, I continued my journey.
Twas then that Az-Rans once again proved even Olog’s can be honorable and noble creatures. During an unexpected ambush with an enemy, Captain Az-Rans interfered as I was about to be struck down. Saving my life, but at a cost. From that day forward Ur-Lasu did not have a brother, and he reminds me of that nearly every time we enter battle.
Note: Certain details were omitted and names were changed to protect the identity of those involved in this tragedy.
This was but a single experience between two Blood Brothers. I have dominated over 50 different enemies, convincing them to join my cause. And the vast majority had some involvement with other characters, the main story, or the little stories I found myself immersed in along the way. The Nemesis System is a crowning achievement on an already fantastic game and one I hope to see improve in the years to come.
Shadow of War’s biggest selling point was made clear very early in the marketing strategy. Big armies, big forts, big fights. While I initially thought much of the footage was scripted, it turns out a lot of it is naturally occurring. As you explore Mordor, you can Dominate enemies to join your armies. Almost all of the enemies you encounter can be Dominated, providing that perfect catch ’em all mechanic that keeps you yearning for more every step of the way. From the very first to the very last, every enemy I dominated felt satisfying and worthwhile.
Whilst the vast majority of Shadow of War is nothing but adrenaline fueled excitement, there are some drawbacks. The UI when attempting to manage troops and fortresses is incredible slow and overly cumbersome. The management of your army becomes increasingly difficult and frustrating the more enemies you Dominate. This alone doesn’t impact the game in the earlier stages but towards the latter part, and especially the end-game, it becomes a serious hinderence.
Once the main campaign is complete, in which there’s only a few Fortress fights, the real battle begins. There is tons of endgame content, promising endless hours of gameplay. Improving your armies, taking down Sauron’s forces and defending your Fortresses from attack, leveling up your equipment, completing challenges, collecting Legendary sets, this one is all about bang for your buck.
Despite stiff competition from the likes of Lord of the Rings Online, The Battle For Middle-earth and War In The North, Middle-earth: Shadow of War takes its rightful place on the throne as the greatest Lord of the Rings videogame in history.