After 3 years away from Mordor, it’s time to return with Monolith’s Shadow Of War. We join Talon and Celebrimbor as they once again try to free Mordor from the growing darkness of Sauron. While 2014’s Shadow Of Mordor introduced us to these characters it only scratched the surface of Sauron’s army of orcs. Now in Shadow Of War everything is bigger, more action-packed and polished but feels more like a remake than a sequel, almost redesigned the way it should’ve been done in the first place. Does it make for a great experience though?
Shadow Of War sees the return of Talon, the human ranger, and Celebrimbor, the ring-maker now wraith who, since the start of Shadow Of Mordor, have been bound together as the undying Bright Lord. The pair return for a second attempt at crushing Sauron’s armies. We begin this tale in mount doom as the Bright Lord forges a new ring of power one that will give him the power that he pretty much had in the first game but while crafting this ring Celebrimbor is whisked away by a mysterious shadow leaving Talon to chase after him. Talon stumbles into the spider’s nest, The great spider/human Shelob who has taken the wraith and wishes to exchange him for the new ring. After a little resistance Talon agrees and hands over the ring. Shelob then gives Talon a vision, the last human city of Mordor, Minas Ithil is under siege and will soon be taken. The Bright Lord races off to help protect the city while trying to retrieve the Palantir an ancient seers stone (The one from the movie). This is where the first act of Shadow Of War takes place as humanity struggles to fight back against the orcs. Once you finish the saga of Minas Ithil you begin Act 2 where the Bright Lord must build up an army and take back Mordor from Sauron’s forces, this part of the story is mostly geared towards the new siege system as you must retake Mordor in order to defeat Sauron. While there are story elements they mostly involve you killing or dominating orcs.
Shadow Of War centers around your interactions with orcs, just like the first game did but rather than just creating nemesis’ you can now gain strong allies. Unlike the Orcs in Shadow Of Mordor, now Orcs who are dominated retain their personalities, this allows them to spy on the enemy or actually betray you by taking prisoners or killing your men. This adds a whole new dynamic to the nemesis system, you will still generate lots of enemies but some might become your best friends later on, well until they stab you in the back. This part of the game has always been its best aspect and this installment has only improved upon it. Players can now build relationships with orcs who will help you fight to conquer Mordor, becoming your bodyguards or assault leaders and assist you on your quest for power. The nemesis systems proves to be entertaining and surprising as orcs can range from mute savages to guitar wielding bards, there is nothing quite like stumbling onto a singing Orc.
Along with this system the game has introduced leveling, not just for Talon but also for the Orcs. With each level you gain a skill point and can only gain experience from completing missions and killing captains, this system allows for progression and makes you feel powerful quickly. Similar to the last game Orcs have strengths and weakness that you can exploit to either kill them or dominate them. The Orcs gain more strengths and fewer weaknesses depending on their level, a higher level Orc will be harder to one shot kill and will have many abilities to counter your own. This comes into effect when you reach the second act of the game and gain the ability to dominate your enemies when dominating you take over an Orc and force them to serve you but you can’t recruit an Orc who’s level exceeds your own but for this, they have introduced shaming. When shaming an enemy that is too powerful you will lower their level and force them to run away, giving you another chance to dominate them later.
Many changes have been made to the games skill tree and equipment, first of all, you can actually swap your equipment now. While in Mordor you simply completed challenges to improve your sword, dagger, and bow you will now receive equipment from enemies you kill. These weapons all have different abilities and different states that will strengthen you in combat but you aren’t just restricted to weapons, as you can equip different armors, cloaks, and rings of powers which like the weapons will strengthen you in their respected areas. You can also empower your equipment with gems, each gem has a different property which changes depending on the item you equip so choose wisely. The skill tree has also had a makeover, there are six sections in the skill tree including, combat, stealth, ranged, wraith, beast control and story. It looks neater and means you also have additional skills that will change the way your abilities work. While this keeps your abilities interesting by changing the effects, it does seem a little over the top. The options are endless and by the time you unlock the main abilities you don’t really need anything else to win your fights. It is a new system, one that will take you time to sort through.
The pacing of the game is very confused. You start off in a city where you must kill orcs, find collectibles and partake in story missions all of these tasks will be familiar for gamers who have played Shadow Of Mordor.You must work your way through these story missions in order to progress while being instructed on how to best approach enemies and navigate your abilities. This is great for new gamers and can be seen as a way of refreshing players on how to play, the only problem is that it takes a number of story missions before you see any new content, which feels like wasted time. The game sold itself on the new siege mechanics yet it takes half the game before you arrive at it. This decision forces player to race through the game to get to the good parts, while this could encourage players to get invested in the game it feels disappointing and actually reveals the weaker qualities of the game, such as clunky movement, unimaginative narratives, and disappointing endgame events.
There are many different types of beasts in middle earth and we got but a glimpse of these in Mordor but War has given us a much more interesting beast experience. The two main beasts that have crossed over are the Caragor’s, basically demon hounds and Graug’s ravenous golems, both creatures made for interesting interactions in the previous installment but felt more like an addition rather than a style of play. Shadow Of War has improved upon them and given you a little extra in the form of Drakes. These beasts make you feel epic to ride as you fly around the world reining fire down upon your enemies. This adds a whole new element to the game as you can look down upon your enemies and burn them to death. They have also added a storyline where you must battle a Balrog using the various types of beasts, which is mostly fun but really gives you a chance to dive into the beasts.
Shadow Of War is an enjoyable gaming experience that delivers on its new gameplay features but suffers from bad pacing and clunky gameplay. This aside, the game is a lot of fun and will give players hours of enjoyment as they search the lands for new nemesis or even compete with other players by storming their strongholds online. The gameplay is the main feature of this game while some will thrill in the LOTR’s lore and story most will settle for killing Orcs in the wilderness or storming into war against an enemy Overlord. This system is on point and deserves recognition for the diverse options that are available, that said the game relies too heavily on this system and has nothing much else to show for itself. Shadow Of War is an improvement on the original but has its share of problems, some of these have sadly carried over. The game is best enjoyed through your own interactions with Orcs no two players will find themselves against the same enemies, for this reason, you should buy this game. However, if you are expecting an epic campaign this probably isn’t the right game for you.