Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor in 2014 was a pleasant surprise in an otherwise lacklustre year for video games. It came out at a time where most new IPs that were said to promise next generation features had become a victim of their own hype. With Shadow of War, developer Monolith Productions aims to build upon the Nemesis system introduced in the original.
The story follows Talion and Celebrimbor, who aim to forge a brand new ring of power in order to match Sauron’s forces. Right after, they find themselves abducted by Shelob (who is now a goth lady), who takes the ring but guides Talion by giving him visions. After gaining it back, Talion is able to recruit Orcs and build an army of his own. Along the way, you meet famous characters from the LOTR universe including Golem and the Witch King.
The storytelling in general is extremely disjointed. Its divided into missions, which belong to several different categories or arcs. They are often disconnected from one another, and the order in which they unlock lacks any direction. As a result, the story itself lacks a sense of purpose or focus which is at complete odds from the otherwise story driven nature of the mission themselves. It feels like they had several different characters to work with along with multiple storylines, but instead of aiming for cohesion, they just jumbled it all together and assigned rewards to help you level up. The voice acting is far from the best performances by the same actors in other games
I would advise just not caring about the story and going along with whatever mission the game throws at you. Each region is littered with towers, side missions, vendetta missions, collectables and Orc captains to hunt so you will never run out of things to do.
Combat remains largely the same but Talion has an extended arsenal. Players must combine attacks with counters and executions in order to survive an assault by groups of enemies. They can use stealth and utilize the environment, such as disturbing a bee nest or dropping meat to attract animals, instead of getting into fights. Instead killing enemies, you can also turn them to your side as it helps dealing with the sheer number of foes on screen.
You can unlock skills belonging to several categories that suit your playing style, as well as upgrade that skill with one specific bonus effect. Shadow of War adapts well to your style of play and rewards you for focusing on what you are good at, instead of spreading your skill points across all categories.
Just like in the previous game, you will spend a lot of time hunting Orcs with their own strengths, weaknesses and resistances. You must find the right intel and use it to your advantage in order to gain the upper hand. They also have special abilities such as withstanding a killing blow, and the system leads to several dynamic encounters with Orcs that have bested you, including some cases where they come back from the dead in order to get their revenge.
The Nemesis system has been expanded to let you command an army of your own. You must find information on captains, gain enough levels to finally be able to turn them to your side and then complete a siege mission to capture the fort in that region. The sheer number of ways the system lets you manipulate these Orcs is a delight. As an example, you can set up Orcs to spy on their seniors or betray them when the time is right. Your Orcs will often have to prove themselves in the pits in order to rise up the ranks or gain access to key positions beside the commanders.
Once you’ve captured a stronghold, you can set up your own defences as well as unlock special abilities for the Orcs stationed there. Plus, you can even raid forts set up by other players, adding a competitive touch to Shadow of War which encourages players to get better.
The game is very gear focused, which let you equip swords, daggers, bows and pieces of armor belonging to different rarities. As expected, the higher rarity items have several special effects that greatly help in dispatching large groups of foes.
Shadow of War expands upon the original in meaningful ways, but does not solve many of its problems. The combat and nemesis system are a blast, but the story and characters are below par. Nevertheless if you enjoyed Shadow of Mordor, this is a worthy sequel to 2014’s surprise hit.