Shadow of War is upon us and with that comes many hours of jumping into the fantasy, lore-filled world of Middle-Earth. Three years ago, Shadow of Mordor received critical acclaim for its nemesis system, combat and world. Monolith have taken another stab at it to see if lightning could indeed strike twice.
The game is set between the events of J. R. R Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books and features many nods to the much-loved film franchise. Talion and Celebrimbor are back to fighting orcs and calling them dorks. The ranger Talion’s story is far from over with him still being hell bent on revenge and justice for the death of his wife and child. Celebrimbor and Talion share the ranger’s body and allows the former to continue on with his legacy and quest for his own redemption. They forge a new Ring of Power with the hopes to dominate the opposition and switch them to their side so they can go against the dark lord Sauron.
Another return from the original game is the Nemesis System which has been changed and expanded upon providing greater depth of strategies to think about when building your army. This system is something I wish was implemented in more games but not just as a carbon copy, it has so much potential to truly add quality to more great experiences.
Each named Orc Captain has their unique personalities, behaviours and appearances to them that assist in the truly magnificent world building. These Orc’s have seen things, they remember that one time when you humiliated them in front of their friends and they will definitely remind you of that one time they broke your sword and killed you.
The Nemesis system can create a ton of varying scenarios throughout your adventure into Mordor, betrayal’s, ambushes and saviour moments being amongst some of my favourites. Mid-fight against the enemy one of my dominated Captain’s stabbed me in the back and let out a shriek of laughter, making me very annoyed at the time and as such I killed him. Afterwards however, I couldn’t help but be impressed that events like this can occur and be personal to each player.
I cannot even count on two hands the amount of ambushes I was subjected to in my 40+ hour experience. The one that stands out the most to me was not even just an ambush towards me, let me paint the picture for you. You decide to go after some captain’s thinking this will be an easy jump in, dominate and get out, WRONG! The mission I jumped into itself was an ambush scenario in which one captain was going to try and kill another captain, simple. As it commences you see captain number one strolling along with the second one sneaking along behind him when out of nowhere, a third appears with the hopes to attack the second.
Seeing my opportunity, I take out my bow and shoot a stack of grog containers causing an explosion which forces the three to go at it in some battle royale. I let them get each others health down a little before I look to advance towards them and as I do, I get ambushed by another Captain who rushes up behind me whilst I’m on the top of a building and asks me if I heard an explosion. Now I’m just sat in my chair absolutely dumbfounded and proceed to fight this cheeky orc. Throughout this whole ordeal and for many hours afterwards I couldn’t wipe this stupid grin off my face.
The third scenario occurred when I was at my lowest, seemingly no hope left, time running out and death seemingly imminent. An Orc Captain tore through my three last chance moments and seeks to put an end to the fight, as he looks to strike me down, one of my dominated captains jumps in to save the day and kill my opponent, so I rewarded him by making him an Overlord.
Much like people, Orc’s of course have their own strengths and weaknesses and you can find out what these are for your target by gaining intel on them. Intel can be obtained by either interrogating a worm or finding it just lying about on a table awaiting your eyes. This can of course instil this rinse and repeat, grindy feeling but I find it balanced by both the charm and thought put into the system, it isn’t difficult to gain Intel at all as its pretty widespread and easily accessible.
If you feel up to the challenge and/or want some better loot then send a captain a death threat via a worm, this makes your victim aware that you are on the way and allows them to prepare. Their power level increases which makes them deadlier and will also increase the quality of the loot dropped once they are eliminated.
The enemies have a class system which is split into two sections, Base classes and Advanced classes, the latter of which can be obtained once an Orc reaches a certain level and will grant them new abilities. The classes are diverse and provide different benefits to them and downfalls for you. One ability that I feared coming up against was No Chance, which basically means if you get knocked down and they go for the kill you do not get a Last Chance situation you just get cut to black, I survived this only once thanks to a Saviour Moment. Do your research, learn how to kill your enemy with more efficiency and how better to strategize going against the tougher opponents.
Nemesis Missions allow captains to go against their fellow or not so fellow captains in a bid to rise through the ranks. Upon a successful outing their rank increases and the loser usually dies. These missions also afford you the opportunity to interfere whichever way you want, with the goal to kill or dominate. There are so many ways to interact with the enemy that you can play how you want, without feeling like your grinding the same type of encounter. Basically what I am trying to tell you is that the Nemesis System is damn good.
Combat is oh so satisfying, combining your knowledge of the enemy and then implementing your strategy to kill them is rewarding, like you’ve accomplished something even though you are just exploiting their weakness and taking the easy road. You have many different ways to slice and dice and cut your opponent, Sword, Dagger, Bow, Brutalize, Stealth, Execution, Beast and so much more methods are at your disposal. If you have a foe that’s terrified of Morgai flies then drop a bunch on them and watch them scream, maybe they’re easy to kill with poison then spike their grog and see what happens.
The hack and slash combat is for the most part solid and responsive, landing your blows is usually a given against the un-named masses and against most captains provided they don’t have specific perks to block attacks. When brawling with a group and there’s some space between them your character closes the gap to hit a strike when your switching targets. My issue with the combat comes when there is literally so many enemies and even allies around you at once that trying to navigate the field becomes one big tap A constantly quest to try and get into a decent position.
Siege Missions are by far one of my favourite things to do in a game, ever. Like it says on the tin you take your amassed army for that region and look to take over the fortress in that area. These missions begin with a small cutscene to set the scene before you go rushing in to conquer anything in your way. Capture the numerous points of interest throughout the fortress, defeating its defending captains and warchiefs before making it to the keep and challenging the overlord. Slay the overlord and you have a nice new place to call home and have the freedom to chose one of your followers to become overlord.
On the flip side you are then expected to defend your home from the attackers. When defending, the objective is to hold back the enemy forces and slay each warchief whilst also staying alive. Death to you means they win and they reclaim what was theirs. These Siege Missions, particularly the defensive side is what made up the entirety of the fourth act of the game and did get stale after having to defend the same fortresses at least three of four times for each one.
The open-world is stunning and provides numerous breath-taking views and moments that make you stop and appreciate the game. When you zoom in and take a closer look at the textures there is room for improvement but at a glance it isn’t something entirely noticeable as you focus on the fighting or traversing rather than how detailed one specific texture is.
The variety of looks for all the orcs in the game truly astounded me, you may get some that look more or less the same but the majority of captains and above that I came across had their own unique looks that fit their class and backstory.
Not only does the game have the look that makes you go, yeah this is Lord of the Rings, but the sound design works perfectly with the visuals, every aspect has been accounted for. Weapons, abilities and beasts have their specific sound effects that make them stand out among the others. The ambient music is subtle and creates this atmosphere of fantasy and despair. Battling enemies is when the music picks up mostly with war drums and deep chanting that motivates you. When you encounter captains, a tune will play that sometimes features the name of that captain being chanted in a war cry.
Voice acting in Shadow of War is a key factor in delivering an immersive experience that makes you feel like you are in Middle-Earth. Once again, it’s all about variety and there are so many voices I came across in-game. Some of the Orc’s seemed a bit too human for my liking, one or two with a posh accent but on the whole, brilliant acting that made me feel invested in my followers and even enemies.
GAME DESIGN & INNOVATION: 9.5/10
The Shadow of Mordor formula has been taken, replicated and enhanced in this sequel. The Nemesis System’s evolution provides a genuinely fun and varied experience for all players. The open-world is fleshed out and feels true to the source material and the sound design delivers a more immersive Middle-Earth.
OVERALL: 8.7/10 – GREAT
Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin.
(Disclaimer: CONQUEST received a review copy of Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, however this does not in any way affect the scoring of a game or our thoughts on the game itself. We believe in total honesty and being transparent with you.)