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Middle-earth: Shadow Of War Through The Eyes Of A Newcomer

Die and try again.

Shadow of Mordor was a game that completely passed me by. I’m sure I meant to play it at some point, but the end of 2014 was all about Destiny for me and not a lot else, so sitting down to play Shadow of War was something of a step into the unknown for me. Certainly I know about the game and its Batman-like combat system or the Nemesis system, but actually picking up the pad to play is another matter entirely.

So yes, let’s start with the combat, which is the same kind of fluid fighting style that sees you flit back and forth from one enemy to the next, interspersed with blocks, dodges, quick ranged attacks and more. At its best, it’s fast and exhilarating as you seamlessly build up a huge combo and continually dish out damage. Whenever you’re on the verge of dying or being overwhelmed, it’s great to be able to call on Wraith Stun to get you out of trouble with a burst of light that stuns your opponents, for example.

Of course, then you have the more stealth oriented side to Talion, represented in part by the spirit of the elf Celebrimbor who shares his body. You’re now imbued with a looping double jump that dramatically improves getting around, while there’s Shadow Strike from the first game, which lets you teleport to and knock down an enemy, not just letting you cut a path through the enemy, but move quickly through the world.

However, I struggled when it then came to applying these fighting techniques to the tougher enemies of the game’s Nemesis system, especially when also trying to contend with the regular grunts or multiple named Orc characters. In particular, I never really got the hang of remembering to drain enemies for their health in the middle of combat, and generally ended up slumping to my knees as a consequence.

Dying is kind of the point though. It’s rare that a game straight up asks you to fail in order to have a better experience, and yet those are the foundations upon which Shadow of War and it’s predecessor are built. You have an overarching view of the enemy disposition, able to interrogate Orcs in order to find out more about particular captains or lieutenants, so that you can try and hunt them down and turn them to your side.

It’s more complex than that if you like, as you let yourself be killed by certain nemeses so that they rise through the ranks, except you know and can exploit a weakness making them easier to defeat or turn when they’re a much more powerful character. Alternatively, simply fight them to the death or use the new shame ability to lower their rank with a defeat to you.

One of the rather odd things about these games is that you effectively raise and lead your own Orc army, and that means that you can often call upon your underlings to join you in battle. Not only that, but they can come to your rescue by surprise, with a huge club coming to slap an enemy around the chops just as they’re about to try and finish you, or simply heading into a fortress assault and fighting against the enemy’s named characters for control of various key points.

You get to create your own story within the game because of this, and that’s something rather powerful. However, at the same time, its difficult to get a sense for if I’d actually care about the various Orcs and Trolls I encounter. I mean, Ar-Beka the Gorger, my Marauder Beastmaster, will forever be my hero for saving me, but I’d forgotten his name two minutes later as so many named characters popped up on both sides in my first battle.

There’s an impressive density to the world that’s been created here, even as Monolith Productions have vastly broadened the scope. While it might take time to trudge from one end of a region to another – you’ll be better off finding a Caragor or something even bigger and bending it to your will to ride around in style – there’s just so much to do and stumble upon. You might have set a mission objective half a mile away, but between here and there, you’ll bump into a band of Orcs fighting a Caragor, find a camp in which a surprise named Orc pops up to confound you with his tricky attacks, and eventually get to your mission once you force yourself to focus and ignore the distractions.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War is taking what made Shadow of Mordor a surprise hit and pushing out in all directions. It’s full to the brim of political machinations, huge sweeping sieges, smaller and more intimate battles, and relationships that will hopefully grow and stick with you over time. The game is out in just over a week on 10th October, so it won’t be long now to see if Monolith have succeeded.

One Comment
  1. Nate
    Since: Apr 2010

    I finished the first game but despite the new nemesis concept, found it mostly a fairly standard AC style open map romp. Fun enough, but slightly soulless and lacking in any real excitement. It’s hard to put my finger on why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, but my hope is this one is a bit deeper, which is potentially sounds to be.

    Comment posted on 27/09/2017 at 17:12.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War
  • Developer:Monolith Productions
  • Publisher:Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
  • Platforms:PS4, XBO, PC
  • Release Date:10/10/17
16 hours ago