Middle-earth: Shadow of War Review: High Fantasy at Its Finest

It is time to return to Mordor, Shackers. These Orcs aren't going to murder themselves. Shadow of War is nearly here. Our review.

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Shadow of Mordor came out almost three years ago. It was an interesting take on the Lord of the Rings universe. The combat was stellar, the story engaging and, of course, the Nemesis system was created. The game tried new things in the world of third person story adventures, even if the system fell short of what was originally promised. Shadow of War improves on every aspect of the series’ original concepts, while at the same time expanding upon it. It’s high fantasy at its finest.

Welcome Back To Middle-earth

For those who haven’t played Shadow of Mordor, the sequel does a great job of explaining the events that lead up to the second game via cutscenes from the start of your adventure. The story is set around a Gondor Ranger named Talion, who watches his family being murdered by the Orcs of Sauron. When the tortured spirt of Celebrimbor (who helped create some of Sauron’s Rings of Power) happens to latch on to Talion during his passing through the Wraith World, they fuse together and set out to destroy Sauron and his forces. The first game left off with Celebrimbor forging a new ring of power to rival Sauron’s, and this is exactly where the events of Shadow of War begin. 

There is a ton of stuff here for fans of the Lord of the Rings novels. It’s clear the developers at Monolith are fans of the books and movies and they dive deep into the lore of the LOTR universe. The game takes many liberties with characters, like Shelob, who is the major baddy for the majority of the game. Instead of her being a giant spider, she transforms into a woman during your interactions with her. Some fans may not like this, but as a huge fan of her character both in the novels and the History of Middle-earth series, I was happy to see her time in the limelight. After all, she is a spawn of an ancient god, and could speak the common tongue, so why not expand on this idea? It is liberties like this that make Shadow of War fun and expand the game's universe overall. 

It was also interesting to see iconic locations in the world, such as Minas Morgul, before it fell in the hands of Mordor. Shadow of War is an epic adventure that pulls heavily from Tolkien’s mythos. It improves on the franchise’s story and gameplay even if it’s not official Tolkien lore. The writing is also excellent, especially for Celebrimbor, who talks a lot like Gandalf does in the Lord of Rings books. Hearing him worry about an enemy to say, “This is beyond the skill of Celebrimbor…” is flat out awesome. A lot the of the writing may go unnoticed by gamers who have not read the books, but for others it’s just icing on the cake. The whole story is fun, epic and is bursting with Lord of the Rings flair. 

Nothing is Beyond the Skill of Celebrimbor

Combat will be familiar if you have played Shadow of Mordor or the Batman Arkham series. The game borrows heavily from Batman Arkham’s combat design, which makes sense as WB Interactive is the publisher both series. This similarity is not a bad thing at all, as the combat is immediately familiar to returns players and genre veterans. It get insanely deep with combos, move sets, and special attacks, along with an interesting talent tree to pour points into. Mastery of these systems is rewarded handsomely as you gain a sense of  increasing power and grace while fighting. Strategy and fighting tactics are imperative to your success during the later part of the game. Simply running in and spamming attack while casually parrying won’t work. Use of proper tactics and management of all your abilties is imperative for success.

In additon to the improved combat, the game also has RPG levels of depth. Players have to manage a wide variety of items, such as armor, weapons, and gems. You can slot gems into certain items to give them extra effects, like bonus damage or life leech.

The enemy types in Shadow of Mordor have a nice amount of variety, from Orc Grunts to Giant War Trolls. Each enemy has a different way to tackle them, but the most innovative part of the game is the Nemesis system.

“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.”

Shadow of War brings numerous updates and improvements to the Nemesis system. There is a hierarchy of Orcs in each City/Hub location. Intel is gained by dominating certain Orcs found throughout the different zones, or by simply finding information scattered about the world on tables or in tents. This intel builds lore and gives insight into special enemies in the Nemesis system. For example, some enemies are frightened by fire, while others are immune to stuns. It pays off to acquire as much intel as possible, as it makes the fights much easier. You can rush into a Captain or Warlord fight without doing your homework, but the game strongly suggests you do so, as some of these fights are incredibly difficult without the proper intel. 

Shadow of War introduces an impressive Fortress and Siege mechanic for the first time. Warlords are often in charge of cities and fortresses, and eventually you must take them over. You are tasked laying seige to a city instead of simply defeating its Warlord alone. The game allows you to build an army by dominating high level Orcs to fight for you, building on the mechanic introduced in the first game. Before sieging a fortress, you desingate units, captains and infantry that will fight for you inside the walls. Players can choose to have a battalion of War Trolls or Orc Assassins with poison weapons to assist in the seige. Heavy artillery bombardments or swarms of Spinderlings (a personal favorite) can be deployed against the fortress and cause chaos in the ranks. You can ride Fire Drakes during sieges, which is also awesome. 

Shadow of War gives players the feeling of being a general in epic fights that rival the Battle For Helm’s Deep. The game rewards clever resource delegation and your choices matter greatly. In one instance, I was running around helping my army defeat captains, only to have gameplay paused to see an enemy Orc Captain dying to swarms of spiders somewhere else in the fortress. I also witnessed a high-ranking enemy orc lose his head by the hand of one of my own captains. It’s a sense of accomplishment and pride when you carry the siege as a team. The siege system is well thought out and fits perfectly into the game’s design.

It was striking how powerful the actual relationships formed with the Orcs that joined me became as the game progressed. I felt a sense sadness if they fell during a siege. In one instance, I was so upset to lose my War Troll Captain that I reloaded my last save and tried again, this time without losing him. I haven't been this attached to a character since the Mass Effect franchise. 

“But in the end it's only a passing thing, this shadow; even darkness must pass.”

If Shadow of War is guilty of anything, it’s giving you too much to do. The world is seemingly bursting with content and side objectives. In cities, you can over take towers, much like the Assassin’s Creed games. Upon taking a tower you’ll reveal hidden points of interest within the city, such as collectibles, a “memories of Shelob” mini game, and side missions featuring the fall and demise of Celebrimbor. The game gives so much to keep you occupied and, with the great combat, you'll never get tire of working through it. It’s a perfect example of a studio taking an already solid game and improving it on every front.

I highly recommend Middle-earth: Shadow of War. It’s a fantastic game with a near flawless execution.The journey is enjoyable and the characters you help and hinder throughout the game make it an memorable experience. If you’re looking for a high quality, AAA single-player game, look no further than Shadow of War. 


This review is based on a Xbox One code provided by the publisher. Shadow of War is available October 10, 2017 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

Video Production

Greg is the head of Video Production for Shacknews. If you've ever enjoyed a video on Gamerhub.tv, it was most likely edited by him. Follow him on Twitter @GregBurke85

Pros
  • Great story
  • Awesome combat
  • It's Lord of the Rings!
Cons
  • Combat and battle mechanics may be difficult for some players
  • Way too much stuff to do
From The Chatty
  • reply
    October 5, 2017 6:01 AM

    Greg Burke posted a new article, Middle-earth: Shadow of War Review: High Fantasy at Its Finest

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 6:06 AM

      how are the loot boxes handled? I've seen a lot of chatter about them so I'm surprised the review didn't touch on that subject at all.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 6:27 AM

        maybe they stripped it out for pre-release copies

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 6:34 AM

        I doubt it's running yet for reviewers.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 7:46 AM

        I did one quick tutorial with them in game. Then just ignored them after. The game gives you a ton to do. They're rewards for onliine challenges, but you honestly dont need to deal with them at all.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 8:23 AM

        Mentioned in the Gamestop review. They don't seem problematic at all, though probably unnecessary:

        Although the random loot drops only include Epic tier rewards instead of the paid currency's Legendaries, the difference in quality between the two, in practice, isn't substantially different. And after finishing the game, even with buying a dozen or so 1,200 Miran loot crates over the course of my adventure, I was still left with over 70,000 Mirian in reserve. Like so many of the other game's systems, the storefront feels less predatory and more like a cluelessly unnecessary addition.

        • reply
          October 5, 2017 8:24 AM

          Err, GameSPOT, sorry.

        • reply
          October 5, 2017 9:25 AM

          Well shit, maybe for once, a developer was telling the truth with regards to the loot boxes being completely optional in a game.

          • reply
            October 5, 2017 9:28 AM

            Seems like it. Also, the GameSpot review is the lowest on Metacritic (70/100) so if anyone was going to give them shit for the loot boxes it probably would have been them.

          • reply
            October 5, 2017 12:44 PM

            This is 100% publisher mandated. I would be surprised if the Devs are really in favor of this shit. So if they tuned the game to the point where people are having to ask why this shit I'd even in the game then good on them!

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 6:10 AM

      Man, that sounds absolutely awesome. Shadow of Mordor was fantastic and this sounds like that x10.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 8:44 AM

        It really is. I'm a HUGE Tolkien fanboy, so much so I had to give it 9/10 instead of 10/10 due to bias.

        The Writing is amazing, and there are a ton of *Wink *Wink things for LOTR fans.

        • reply
          October 5, 2017 10:48 AM

          Interesting. Eurogamer said the writing and story are embarrassingly bad.

          • reply
            October 5, 2017 11:16 AM

            I think this is due to the fact that the game goes way off course from the Official Lore. Fans judged the whole Shelob Human form cause she can't do that in the books.

            • reply
              October 5, 2017 12:11 PM

              I, uh, haven't read your review or seen much about the game but nothing about 'shelob human form' sounds like a good idea.

              • reply
                October 5, 2017 12:12 PM

                Oh, but it is.

              • reply
                October 5, 2017 1:01 PM

                Well you should read the review first. It doesnt bother me, i just enjoy seeing more of her shes really an interesting character. But the books treat her like a monster more than sentient being, which is totally is.

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 6:24 AM

      gimme gimme gimme gimmme

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 6:24 AM

      Can't wait!

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 6:34 AM

      Fuck yeah. I really really wish it was out for this weekend.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 6:50 AM

        Seriously. It seems like Bethesda is the only publisher to figure this out.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 9:00 AM

        No joke! That would be ideal considering its my long weekend..

        Games always be releasin on Monday nights... y?

        So instead of sitting at home playing ill be standing at work for 12 hours thinking about being at home playing... ugh.

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 6:46 AM

      The new applications for the nemesis system sound great. Love the idea of using it to build an army to siege castles and stuff.

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 6:48 AM

      Reviews seem overly positive:
      http://www.metacritic.com/game/playstation-4/middle-earth-shadow-of-war/critic-reviews

      There are some reviews that mention the loot boxes. No one likes it. I'm good at ignoring that kind of stuff, but a lot of people aren't. Beyond excited to dig into this game next week!

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 6:56 AM

      There are officially too many awesome games releasing this month.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 6:58 AM

        Yup.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 8:22 AM

        Yeah, and this may be just the game to tide me over until Desty 2 (PC) and Mario Odyssey come out. =]

        • reply
          October 5, 2017 8:23 AM

          Don't forget The New Colossus, which drops the same day as Destiny 2.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 8:31 AM

        Seriously.

        This game next week, South Park and Fire Emblem Warriors the next week, then Destiny 2, AssOrigins, Super Mario, and Wolfenstein 2 the one after that.

        • reply
          October 5, 2017 8:34 AM

          Wait, AssOrigins is this month? I was thinking it was November!

        • reply
          October 5, 2017 8:46 AM

          Octobers the new November

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 8:56 AM

      Im hyped! The new 1080ti and I shall feast on this delicious morsel.

      Been dabbling around with Mordor again to get me prepared for the 10th.

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 8:58 AM

      PC Gamer and Eurogamer were both fairly cool on it - they felt it was bloated with too many unnecessary features and a terrible story that goes miles off track from the source material.

      It sounds like the Nemesis system still rocks but, well, no shit.

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 9:41 AM

      This game looks fucking incredible.

      http://store.steampowered.com/app/356190/

      I just watched that entire first video. I am FUCKING PUMPED.

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 9:45 AM

      wheres the Destiny 2 review?

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 9:47 AM

      God dammit there is just too many games to play.

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 10:45 AM

      This review made me purchase the game. Thanks, Greg.

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 10:46 AM

      Eurogamer doesn't agree.

      A greatly expanded and improved action game let down by a dreadful story.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 10:59 AM

        Oh dear, we will have to retract the review.

        • reply
          October 5, 2017 11:47 AM

          Please don't LOL :) , Shacknews knows what is up, Eurogamer is wrong.

          • reply
            October 5, 2017 11:58 AM

            Are they? The story in the first one is dumb as hell. Its barely in the Lord of the Rings universe.

            • reply
              October 5, 2017 12:23 PM

              Well to me the story is the last thing I would even consider as a strong point or feature that was in the last or new game.

              Basically why bother even make the story a key feature to be concerned about in such a game when you review it. It be like saying Forza 7 sucks for the story sucks or it has none. You don't buy Forza for a good story. You could say the same thing for Diablo 3, no one cares about the story.

              Sure if both Middle-earth games also had an epic story that would be amazing! But I don't think anyone ever expected it to have one so why bother make it seem like it is a big deal if it sucks or is the same as the first one.

              In short I don't like reviews that bash a game for a feature that it really does not focus on or really should not even be criticized for. Like you said the first games story was a joke(I 100% agree) so why expect the second one to have a epic story and bash it for not having one.

              I respect Eurogamer they have good stuff but I dislike reviews that nitpick on a game feature that doesn't matter for the type of game it is.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 11:12 AM

        The reviewer must hate LOTR if that's the case

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 11:14 AM

        Eurogamer tends to review games lower than other sites on a regular basis.

        • reply
          October 5, 2017 11:25 AM

          In my experience they tend to review more niche/art house games generously and bigger games with more mass appeal stingily.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 11:22 AM

        Good, I'm buying it for an action game

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 11:27 AM

        I'm not really in this for the story. I dumped tons of hours in to the first game and all I can tell you about the story is "The Crow meets LOTR". I want to troll the fuck out of some orcs.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 11:28 AM

        Who gives a fuck about the story? The game's about kicking Orc ass just for the sake of it.

        • reply
          October 5, 2017 11:42 AM

          I do. That's kinda why I play SP campaigns.

        • reply
          October 5, 2017 11:51 AM

          The story in the first one was trash and it didn't detract from the game at all.

          • reply
            October 5, 2017 12:01 PM

            i quit about halfway through because i didn't care how it turned out. the LOTR universe should have supported a better story

            • reply
              October 5, 2017 12:17 PM

              Really? There is no "story" in LOTR other than get the ring to the volcano. It's about the journey.

              • reply
                October 5, 2017 12:19 PM

                i'm not understanding you

                • reply
                  October 5, 2017 12:22 PM

                  The game didn't need a good story to carry it. The LOTR didn't need a good story to carry it.

                  • reply
                    October 5, 2017 12:24 PM

                    Actually, I can't even remember if I finished the or not.

                  • reply
                    October 5, 2017 12:25 PM

                    that makes more sense. what do you think carries LOTR if not the story? i guess my answer would be the rich world building, but whatever it is i don't feel SoM nailed it in a way that made the game compelling after the repetitiveness started to show.

            • reply
              October 5, 2017 2:34 PM

              Me too. Don't force-feed me a ton of cutscenes for a hamfisted story if it doesn't count.

          • reply
            October 5, 2017 12:02 PM

            There was a dude. He killed Orcs. This is his story.

          • reply
            October 5, 2017 12:09 PM

            It did. That's why it got boring and repetitive so fast.

            • reply
              October 5, 2017 12:23 PM

              the gameplay got repetitive as well

          • reply
            October 5, 2017 12:21 PM

            thought it was ok, but it did fall apart by the end and the last 2 boss fights were terrible. The lead up to them was great though and having your ultimate nemesis come back was a lot of fun, but yeah story was ok.

        • reply
          October 5, 2017 11:57 AM

          A good story can keep the player motivated after game starts getting repetitive.

        • reply
          October 5, 2017 1:22 PM

          Yes, it's only based on one of the highest selling and most revered works of fiction in the history of the English language. I'm sure nobody gives a fuck about the story.

        • reply
          October 5, 2017 1:39 PM

          I got a hippy vibe when I read LotR and I know I'm not the only one, because it was a highly popular series with hippies. And so I'm kinda disappointed to see that universe consistently depicted as a grim medieval one. For example Gandolf turning into gandolf the white seems to be an allegory for an lsd trip. And then there's Tom Bombadil who is clearly a flower child.

          • reply
            October 5, 2017 1:56 PM

            The material is definitely there to do a non-combat life of a hobbit exploration game.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 11:55 AM

        To be fair, the story and setting for the first game were dreadful. I would not be surprised if the sequel was the same.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 12:01 PM

        couldn't care less about the story as the LOTR universe isn't particularly interesting to me. As long as they get the ork murdering right it'll be fun.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 1:27 PM

        I'm like 12 hours in and so far I agree with them.

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 1:47 PM

        The original was bad LOTR fanfic with a lead who has a strong claim to being the blandest protagonist in all of fiction.

        I recommended Shadow of Mordor to a friend the other day by telling him, "The story is dumb as shit LOTR fanfiction, but the game is a lot of fun anyway."

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 11:25 AM

      NICE! My body is ready \m/ :)

      LOL at "Way too much stuff to do", shhh.... I know you really think it is a 10/10 :)

      Awesome, I already have it bought for the PC and ready to go.

      Thanks for the review Greg, sounds epic.

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 11:59 AM

      Did anyone here win one of those 50k copies Nvidia was handing out through Geforce Experience? I didn't win shit!

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 12:02 PM

        it was for the old game, you didn't miss out on much

        • reply
          October 5, 2017 12:11 PM

          Oh I thought it was for the new one. Okay then!

      • reply
        October 5, 2017 1:53 PM

        yup, was old game. already had it =/

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 1:26 PM

      I think I'm going to pass for now. Too much stuff to play this holiday, but I definitely will swing back around once the DLC is out and the GOTY editions start showing up.

    • reply
      October 5, 2017 2:06 PM

      Definitely looking forward to playing this!!!!!!!!!?

    • reply
      October 7, 2017 5:42 AM

      I really want this. But when games release different packs like this, all it does is make me wait for some GOTY edition to come out. I'm not paying $100 to get the whole game. :(

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