Middle-earth: Shadow of War
Monolith/Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
2014’s Shadow of Mordor was quite an impressive game. In fact, it was so good that although there were some rather repetitive aspects to it, the overall package was nothing short of a modern action RPG masterpiece. It introduced the brilliant combination of Assassin’s Creed-style parkouring and adventure, Batman’s Arkham-esque combat mechanics, and these were all wrapped up in the timeless Tolkien IP. Its novel (at the time) Nemesis system was the icing on the proverbial cake, and gave the game an epic feeling that just about everybody who played it remembers to this day.
In this regard, the developers of sequels to award-winning games often try to out-do their previous efforts, and Monolith is no different in attempting this. Middle-earth: Shadow of War has hit the video gaming masses with lots of sound and fury—but how does it stack up about the first game? Does it ellicit the same giddy feelings that we all got when we figured out how to dodge roll, block and counter, and slash our way through legions of filthy orcs?
Shadow of War takes place right after the closing events of Shadow of Mordor, and both games are set in-between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Both explain the origins of Sauron, as well as the tragic tale of the ranger Talion and why he is on his do-or-die quest. Well, actually, Talion can’t quite die because he’s been co-habituated by the wraith-elf Celebrimbor, who also bestows upon him many magical abilities.
The beginning of Shadow of War describes how the two reluctant cohabitants eventually decide to forge a new ring of power, which is completely separate from the influence of Sauron as well as the One Ring. Almost immediately thereafter, the Spider Queen known as Shelob appears and captures Celebrimbor, essentially rendering Talion mortal again. In a Faustian deal, Talion agrees to embark on a mission for Shelob in return for setting Celebrimbor free. But of course there’s a catch—Talion must also give up their newly forged ring of power.
Oh yeah, and the Spider Queen transforms into a raven-haired, pale woman, wearing a skimpy outfit.
I’m not a Tolkienian geek by any measure—at least not a hardcore one—but to me this was quite jarring. Monolith also to take other such…er…liberties with other aspects of the Tolkien brand in Shadow of War. Monolith seemed to favor delivering entertainment over strictly adhering to Tolkienian canon here, so if you play the game with that in mind (as I did) you’ll enjoy it much more. Granted you’re not one of those Tolkien nitpickers.
From your shady deal with Shelob, you travel to the beautifully-rendered, high-walled city of Minas Ithil, which is under siege by the forces of evil. This is where the proper game starts, and you can unleash Talion, along with his newly reunited chum Celebrimbor, upon the legions of dastardly and dim-witted orcs, and their larger oleg brethren.
As I began to engage in Shadow of War’s combat system, I realized that it was very similar to Shadow of Mordor’s, only more refined. Talion also has more skills at his disposal than in the first game, but he must earn them by gaining experience. Shadow of War’s movement system has also been overhauled and feels much more fluid this time around, although you can still get hung up on objects from time to time.
In this regard, Shadow of War sometimes feels like an enhanced version of its predecessor. You’ll even travel to many of the same locations, including the picturesque green valleys of Nurnen and the scarred badlands of Gorgoroth. And once you earn the Dominate ability, you can force orcs and olegs alike into subservience and servitude, just like in the first game. However, everything is done on a much larger and more epic scale this time around, so I’m not complaining at all.
For example, you’ll engage in massive fortress battles within each of Shadow of War’s main five regions. You can do things such as scaling a castle’s walls, or hire some orc infiltrators to unlock its door and sneak in. You can conduct siege warfare on fortresses from the rear on a grand scale, or fight alongside your army’s ranks on the frontlines. The choices you make are all yours to decide, and all have their concomitant ramifications. Each fortress siege reminded me of the epic battle for Helm’s Deep in the movies, and I truly felt as though I was taking part in world-shaping conflicts that had serious ramifications for the future of Middle Earth.
The Nemesis system is also unsurprisingly back in action. What is surprising, however, is how well that it has been enhanced. Now, not only will orc chieftains remember your actions, but even allies will recall whether or not you have treated them fairly. Each orc’s personality also seem much more distinct as well, and Monolith has laid the humor on thick in this latest installment of the franchise. I can’t tell you how many times I laughed out loud (and was noticed by others while doing so) while listening to some of the orcs’ silly banter—I almost feel as though Shadow of War should add “Comedy” to its list of genres.
Shadow of War is an excellent follow-up to one of the finest action RPGs in recent history. Although they didn’t exactly re-invent the wheel this time around, the sequel managed to improve on virtually every aspect of the first game, and add its own unique features and charm into the mix as well. If you like fluid, intuitive combat, an epic storyline, and gorgeous visuals, try out Shadow of War for yourself.
Shadow of War features great graphics that make its high fantasy gameplay truly shine. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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