It had been a while since I played Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, so I was a little rusty as I picked up the pad to play the sequel, Middle-earth: Shadow of War. Still, the thing I remembered best was the combat mechanics, largely thanks to it being the same as before and the same as the Batman: Arkham games. That said, the more varied enemies meant there were still plenty of new threats to deal with, lurking around every corner.
This demo centred around a small part of the map called Ghâshgôr, and I embarked on a quest to hunt an Orc from the series’ Nemesis system. It’s back in full force and is just as compelling as ever, allowing for gathering intel on their weaknesses, strengths, and other information about that particular Orc by influencing others to spill the beans, so to speak.
That’s not to say that Talion hasn’t learned some new tricks since the last game. For starters, he can now pull off a double jump, further boosting his already superior movement ability. He can also destroy monuments to demoralise associated tribes of Orcs which feature in each of the game’s regions, as well as gain valuable experience. While this was only ever briefly touched on, it seems to be an important new feature that will become far more significant in the full game.
My preferred tactic of “let everyone else sort the problem for me” might not have been the most spectacular, but it got the job done when it came to dispatching the Caragors in order to find Fûbar the Painted – the Orc I had chosen to hunt down. Boosting this particular tactic, you can assign a follower that you can summon by holding a single button. Naturally I went for the biggest chap on my roster and let him loose, setting my own sights on Fûbar.
After a brief encounter on top of a building, I had him in my grasp. There’s a new option here where you can shame an Orc, reducing his level in the process. My best guess is that it helps for keeping higher level Orcs in check, meaning the next time you encounter them that they’ll be easier to take down. Perhaps there’s an underlying use for it in the long run, but it wasn’t immediately obvious.
One standout moment that could only have happened during my game time was that as soon as I had shamed my target, another key Orc from higher up Sauron’s corporate food-chain decided to greet me shortly after with a swing of his club. It was always a great moment when this happened in Shadow of Mordor, so I was glad to see it return and to see Talion get slugged round the face in surprise.
I could have pursued Fûbar, but I instead wanted to explore some other parts of the game. I decided to take on a story mission where a necromancer was trying to revive a Balrog. It took a fair bit of time to do so, in which I re-learned just how valuable Talion’s archery skills can be for taking down acolytes.
Upon reaching the bottom of the pit, the acolytes had finished reviving a fearsome Balrog and set it loose to fight a Carnán, with Talion intervening to support the Carnán by firing arrows on the Balrog’s back and dodging incoming attacks.
Boss battles were Shadow of Mordor’s biggest flop, so the team at Monolith went back to the drawing board to make these encounters more interesting. The result of this is that you can ride the Carnán and fight monster to monster. While this particular fight was very QTE heavy and ended with the Balrog running away, there’s hope that other boss battles will be more interesting, more perilous and requiring real skill to accomplish.
With a little over a month to go before Middle-earth: Shadow of War’s release, there’s a lot to like about the new features introduced in the sequel to what was a surprisingly competent and popular game. It’s at least reassuring that the core gameplay is as fun as ever, even if the publisher has made some very worrying and questionable decisions as of late.