J.R.R. Tolkien is perhaps best known for creating and introducing us to the world of Middle-Earth and memorable, flawed yet shockingly relatable characters such as Gandalf, Aragorn, Frodo and more. Hell, Tolkien even went so far as to create his own elvish language, Quenya. When you’re watching Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit movies and listen to the elves talk in their own tongue, that is an actual language they’re using invented by Tolkien!
When Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor came out a few years back the gaming community was taken aback at how in depth, realistic and visually superb the platform was and applauded its story; the Nemesis System, a one-of-a-kind gaming engine that almost is like a second AI in the game, was a masterpiece in of itself.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War takes place a short time after Shadow of Mordor; Talion, a Ranger from Gondor, still shares his body with the spirit of Celebrimbor, a legendary elven smith from the Second Age and maker of the Rings of Power (setting the events of The Lord of the Rings in motion). Both Talion and Celebrimbor forge a new Ring of Power in order to challenge and defeat Sauron once and for all and it is up to you to create a new, submissive army of orcs, trolls and uruks to challenge and wage war against Sauron.
Immediately we are thrown into the middle of Tolkien’s world of Middle-Earth; like Shadow of Mordor, the game stays true to Tolkien’s legendarium and even expands on what the movies only hinted at. We finally get to see how Mordor becomes what it is in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The amount of attention to detail and visuals are breathtaking and even more so on the enhanced Xbox One S and Playstation 4 Pro consoles when utilizing the 4K visuals.
Shadow of War enhances its Nemesis System from its previous version; it seems more fluid and finite. It’s always cool to meet up with an orc captain you just defeated and see how they have changed physically and now, even emotionally; they can become crazy and even fearful/hateful towards you, which in turn can make them even more dangerous and harder to defeat again since they will remember your moves from their last encounter with you.
A new feature, which was only touched on in the previous title, are followers. You can now create an orc army of your own in an attempt to challenge Sauron’s in Mordor. There are fortresses throughout the different regions that you can assault and make as your own and then, with the orc followers you have turned to your side, you can station them there to make sure your fortress doesn’t fall, because it can be attacked later on without you being there. However a twist to this is online play; other players can challenge you and attack your fortress, so you need to make sure that you have upgraded your fortress’s defenses and have your best orc followers there to defend it.
Unlike the previous title, the story seems a little hollow; the developers did hear the fan feedback and made a terrific title, however it seems like they skimped out a little on the narrative and drive of the main story line and traded it for the RPG aspect of the game. While I am all for RPG elements of a game, I also like to be enthralled by an engaging story.
Another element that seems to have fans outraged are the microtransactions; if you want to get a leg up on the game and succeed at a better pace in both the story and online portion you’ll have to spend actual currency to get epic and legendary loot items (gear, fortress upgrades and orc followers); however if you don’t want to do that, you’ll have to spend an ungodly amount of time gathering in-game currency in order to buy loot crates. But idea of getting more and better items easier and faster for the game using actual currency is enticing (I’ve already spent like $15). But if you’re a realist like me, you’ll understand that this is a way to get a good return on what was spent to make the game; sure, you’d think sales should be enough to cover such a thing but fans should also understand that if they want a bigger and better title for next time from the developers this is how it’s done these days. So in short, you either spend more time gathering in-game currency, spend your own money or just don’t do it at all. It’s that simple.
Shadow of War doesn’t disappoint; it’s bigger, badder with epic fights and larger than life, seemingly unstoppable foes (I mean come on, you fight a damn Balrog!). It does have its flaws, however tiny they may be, annoyingly noticeable, the many pros certainly outweigh the cons. Shadow of War certainly has a lot of potential and for once, the game lived up to the amount of hype and advertising that was done to promote it. We can only wonder what kind of DLC will be released in the coming year.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is available now for Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC.