Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor released in 2014 to a great reception that praised its gameplay for a number of different reasons. There was a great open world on offer that reacted and responded to the orcs you killed, and the opportunity to play stealthily or all out guns blazing was another big plus. Now three years later, we are journeying back to Mordor with Middle Earth: Shadow of War. Essentially the game is more of the same, but it has made some big improvements where it matters.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War: Xbox One [Reviewed], PS4, PC
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Warner Bros. Entertainment
Release Date: 10 October 2017
Price: £54.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
The main storyline follows Talion and Celebrimbor once again, but this time they have created a ring of power in order to try and bring down Sauron. After a coming together with Shelob, a spider type creature that Lord of the Rings fans will be familiar with, and a showdown with the Witch-king, the city of Minas Morgul becomes lost. In order to regain it, you must travel around Mordor taking down orc captains, warchiefs and overlords, overpowering fortresses and, ultimately, defeat the Witch-king himself. This plot almost gets lost in the vast side quests and other stories that you pick up along the way, which is a positive in that the game offers you so much, but slightly negative in that the main storyline cannot stand out enough from these side stories.
It feels like there is almost an endless amount of things to do in this open world, and you are pretty much free to play through whichever part of it you like in whatever order. Some quests are locked behind certain other ones, but mostly you are in control of what you do next, which is nice in a world as big as this. You have the Gondor quests, which come about after trying to save Minas Morgul, you have quests for Shelob, Eltariel, Carnan and Bruz, all of whom you will meet on your journey. Completing any of these earns you XP as well as items or gems, both of which will come in very useful. On top of these quests, you have collectibles to find too, which are well worth getting as they can grant you skill points and items when you find a certain amount in each area. Gondorian artefacts and Shelob’s memories are just two of the things you’ll need to keep an eye out for but just serve as another reason to explore every inch of Mordor.
One does not simply walk into Mordor though, as there will be orcs at literally every turn you take. Most of these can be taken down easily, the ones you bump into as you wander around, but if you want to take control of Mordor, you’ll need to face some of the higher ranked orcs. Starting with captains and leading up to overlords, these special orcs must be scouted out for their location and how they might be defeated and worms can be used to find out their weaknesses. If you manage to overpower them, you have multiple options, where you can recruit them to fight for you instead, shame them to drop their level or simply fight them to the death. Every orc you meet can potentially become a captain if they kill you, so the scope for fighting and refighting captains is huge, and essentially endless, which is an impressive feat to achieve in a game.
This is also where the new upgraded nemesis system comes into play. Every captain you encounter will probe you with an opening remark, and lots of these will reference things you’ve already done in the game. If you killed a captain’s blood brother, don’t think they’ll let you forget it; they might ambush you and want revenge. If you shame a captain, they won’t be too happy next time you face them, no doubt mentioning how much you’ve embarrassed them. If you send an orc captain to kill another one, then don’t be surprised to hear the enemy orc badmouthing the one you converted. It feels like everything you do in the game is remembered for as long as you play it; a presumed dead orc from long ago can even come back to ambush you in the future. This is really impressive though as it feels like every life you take has an impact on the world around you, even if it’s just an impact on the orcs themselves.
The orcs you do recruit via the improved Nemesis System can be helpful in a number of ways. Orcs could serve as your bodyguard, ready to jump in when you get in a tight spot, they could be a spy for a higher up orc, stabbing them in the back at the crucial moment to give you the upper hand, or you can even send them to fight their fellow captains. There are numerous options and you are free to do whatever you want with any orc you find, and the variety of skills, levels, bonuses and weaknesses means you can plan the perfect attack either against an orc or with your fellow ones. Overthrowing an overlord orc is a big deal too, as it not only gives you control of the fortress but means you can jump into an online mode where you and your orcs can go head to head with another orc fortress in the world somewhere. Make sure you have high levelled orcs to fight with, as well as siege upgrades such as caragors to ride, graugs to help you out or even a drake to shoot some fire because those can be the difference between a win and a loss.
You will also need a decent sword to help you out, but equipment is easy to find in Mordor luckily. Killing higher ranked captains will earn you better items to equip, such as swords, daggers and bow and arrow, as well as cloaks, armour and even different rings. Each of these themselves can also be upgraded by completing certain tasks offered to you, such as stealth killing so many orcs, and so even your best weapon has the opportunity to get even better. Equipping runes to your equipment also gives it an extra boost, and the runes themselves can even be upgraded, so make sure you save up some money to do so. Money is earned by completing quests or picked up from fallen orcs and can be used in this way, to purchase siege upgrades for your fortress assaults or to purchase war chests in-game that reward you with new orc captains, equipment and so on. You can also sink real money into this, but it can be almost completely ignored and simply bought with in-game money if you wish to buy some.
The world itself is interesting enough to explore, but obviously it looks a bit down and dreary due to Mordor’s setting. Some of the places do seem to get a little repetitive, and it does get tiring running endlessly through orcs rather than open land. The movement does feel smooth though, as does climbing and freerunning, but you’d be forgiven sometimes for thinking you’re actually playing an Assassin’s Creed game. Not that this is a bad thing, but the niggly bits like running up places you didn’t want to and jumping off when you didn’t press anything also make an appearance like they did in Assassin’s Creed, which is mildly annoying especially if you are playing for a while.
As an open world though, Mordor works great. The offer of stealth means you can sneak around killing orcs here and there, but if you decide to go on an all-out killing spree, you can do that too. There is just so much to do, and for nearly all of the time you’ll be playing, the game won’t feel repetitive. I spent I don’t know how many hours in the first area simply killing captains and getting them to consequently kill each other, and it’s fun just to do this. You don’t have to be progressing anywhere, and the game never forces you to do that either. If you want to ride a drake round burning people to the ground, you can do that to your heart’s content, and I thoroughly recommend it.
Middle Earth: Shadow of War offers much of what its predecessor did but in a far improved way such as the vastly superior Nemesis System which will have you building relationships or creating foes that remember every encounter. The way any orc can potentially be a captain is astounding, and you have the freedom to pick and choose what you want to do in the world and how you want to do it. Ok, the world itself may look a little dull, the main storyline may sometimes take a back seat and Talion has a little problem with running and climbing at time, but overall the game is a must play for anyone with an interest in open worlds, because you won’t be disappointed with what’s on offer here.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War£54.99
- Big open world with huge amount of quests
- Endless opportunity for taking down orc captains
- Freedom to do what you want, when you want
- Good choice of weapons with scope to improve them all
- Greatly improved Nemesis System
- Climbing and running an issue at times
- Main story sometimes feels like it takes a back seat