Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was a surprise hit of the year back in 2014. The game was developed by Monolith Productions who were relatively unknown back then and not only they managed to knock it out of park in term of the execution, they were also the first to present a Nemesis system in their game which is basically what it sounds – a system that lets enemies remember you actions and then take revenge once they get a chance to strike back.
Nemesis system was arguably one of the most revolutionary technology back in 2014 and even 3 years later, it remains as one of the most ambitious with the release of Shadow of War. The newly updated Nemesis system now counts for not only foes but allies as well and these all work together to create dynamic combat encounters that help avoid the usual repetitive approach to combat design for most of the action heavy games. The result is that Shadow of War is an iterative sequel that tries to plays to the strength of the original game which was its Nemesis system, but in this process, it also manages to stick with the same flaws especially when it comes to the basics of the combat system.
The one aspect of the game that seems to have lost in the transition to a bigger and more ambitious open world is the story. While the original Shadow of Mordor didn’t exactly provide a stellar story either, it felt more concise compared to whatever Shadow of War offers here. The opening felt like an insult to the Tolkien universe with the way the developers have opted to represent the Shelob spider in female form. It never felt right to me but even if we somehow overlook this detail, the rest of the narrative doesn’t really offer much to expand on the Tolkien universe in a meaningful way. At best, you can enjoy the monsters and the world of Mordor coming to life while turning your head away from the story bits. It is not that bad to be honest since the actual game ends up being overwhelming fun with a lot of content to offer.
Shadow of War starts off from the ending of the first game. It begins as Talion searches for spirit of the elf lord Celebrimbor who has been captured by Shelob the spider. The version of Shelob here is entirely different from the one in the Tolkien Middle-earth universe and she can be seen taking the form of a female here. Shelob demands that Talion grants her the ring of power which he forged along with the elf lord Celebrimbor in the fires of the mount doom. Talion is forced to do so resulting in him infusing back with Celebrimbor but at the cost of Shelob holding the ring of power that was constructed to fight the dark lord Sauron. Shelob sends Talion to Minas Ithil which is under siege in order to retrieve Palantir so that she can try to take over the dark lord Sauron.
Shadow of War is more open world focused now with towers that unlock new areas and content for you as you manage to free them from the evil of Sauron. You will slowly uncover more of the world map in Shadow of War but this often comes at the expense of a system which never stops feeling clunky to me. The animations for climbing and jumping around on building has this weird detached feel to it. The same applies to the combat where priority is given to the attacks instead of properly executing an animation. As I said earlier, this is something that the developers basically decided to keep the same from the original game and as a sequel, I would have loved to see an improvement here which unfortunately isn’t the case.
The combat itself works like in the Batman Arkham games with a rhythmic button mashing that will occasionally require you to execute a stun strike or counter attack and then proceed with more button mashing. It was a fun concept when it was introduced in the first Batman game and even the original Shadow of Mordor didn’t really benefit much from it. Although judging from the huge swarm of orcs that you slay especially when a Captain is involved, I can understand why the developers have opted to keep the same system intact here.
Speaking of the Nemesis system, it is arguably the best part of the game. Now you can gain allies among the enemies as you slay more of the Captains. You can still interrogate to find these Captains but if you fail to kill them, they can become your nemesis. Helping the ones in need will end up with them creating an alliance with you and they can come to you aid during battles. This system keeps the game from becoming repetitive as you roam around the open world, you will forge many friends and make equally as many enemies. Sometimes I was amazed at how accurate this experience was for me and some of the encounters can prove to be really tough especially if your Nemesis is power leveled and you are not prepared for his encounter. You do get some nifty gear in this case though so it is not a bad deal for the most part.
The online multiplayer portion of the game lets your invade and conquer the other player’s fortress. You can also try to attempt the Vendetta missions which are fun little distractions that let you slay the Nemesis that killed your friend online. Just like you can conquer other fortress, you will also have to defend yours from such an attack. There are two type of settings for an invasion: friendly and ranked. You can lose your followers and orcs if you go for ranked so make sure to be well prepared in this case.
I should also clarify that the controversy surrounding the loot boxes is a little overblown because if you manage to do most of the side content and atleast some of the minor online missions, you will end up with more than enough gear to get the true ending of the game. While the better ranked Orcs are acquired through loot boxes, they can also be found through normal means so they are not strictly locked behind a paywall here. Of course, since they are randomized, it doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to get them. Although if you are well prepared, you will be able to go through the end-game sieges easily so that you can survive to see the true ending.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Middle-earth: Shadow of War is an action role-playing game developed by Monolith Productions and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
Shadow of War has taken the Nemesis system from the first game and attempted to expand it by adding allies into the mix. It creates an interesting dynamic that works really well with the combat of the game and even though the story is rather weak, the gameplay and the Nemesis system still offer a fun experience.