What is one to do when the Dark Lord reigns, wielding the One Ring? Make a bootleg ring of power of course. However instead of outsourcing the job to a Chinese sweatshop, our hero Talion is fortunate enough to have Celebrimbor at his disposal, the creator of Middle Earth’s rings of power, and his ghost buddy/persona/stand depending on your preferred pop culture reference.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War follows the events of Shadow of Mordor and is set somewhere between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, however isn’t canon to the series. It begins with Celebrimbor and Talion forging a new ring of power in Mount Doom, only for Talion to almost immediately forfeit it to a giant evil spider lady, Shelob, and not the kind that you’d want as a monster waifu. The quest to destroy Sauron for good gets a little more complicated, as Talion finds himself caught up in Mordor’s siege on Minas Ithil, the last bastion of the kingdom of Gondor in the land. For hardcore Tolkien fiends, this probably shits on a triggering amount of established lore, however for a mediumcore fan like myself, the Middle-earth Shadows series stands as one of my favourite romps in the LOTR universe.
The most Iconic feature of Shadow of Mordor which I was pleased to see make a return was the nemesis system. Simply put, it randomly generates a number of Captains for Saurons army, each with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses, that exist throughout the map. Players can gather intel on them, target them at special event missions, and even send death threats to them, increasing the value of the gear they drop upon death. As well as this, any low level enemies that manage to kill the player are promoted to captains, and any captains that kill the player are promoted and become even stronger. This sets out a very organic system that will see the player having long standing rivals, and the opportunity for vengeance. This mechanic is by far my favourite part of the game, for adding additional incentives as well as a little bit more depth to the world, except for when the captains make you sit through an excessively lengthy monologue in the middle of combat.
Not a lot has changed about the combat in the game besides a few new abilities here and there, and in fact it seems to be a requirement for games published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment to have the exact same combat system. Mash square, occasionally press triangle to counter when prompted, and once an enemy is knocked down hold R2 for a finishing move unless you want to be wailing on them for hours (The Batman games, Mad Max, Shadow of Mordor). It’s not an inherently bad combat system and it manages to bring a nice flow to combat, but it’s the kind of lazy copy paste job that can make the game tedious at times.
Luckily the map is something that has gotten a lot more love since the last game. Whereas the world in Shadow of Mordor felt like the entire thing took place in a big empty field most of the time, Shadow of War has quite literally a much more 3 dimensional environment. Sprawling cities full of towers and buildings compliment the movement system quite nicely, and the climbing and commuting has a really nice flow to it, transitioning almost seamlessly into combat.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War is one of those sequels that does build upon its predecessor, however it is a bit of a bare minimum. It’s Shadow of Mordor with a new set of clothes and a couple new party tricks, which if you’re like me isn’t the most terrible thing, because I enjoyed Shadow of Mordor. It has enough uniqueness to set itself apart from your typical open world game, but it’s nothing revolutionary. Regardless, Shadow of War is a great way to fulfill the Middle-earth power fantasy that one gets when rewatching the Battle of Helm’s Deep scene from the Two Towers. (Am I the only one who does that?)
Also published on Medium.