Middle-earth: Shadow Of War was developed by Monolith studios and was published by Warner Brothers Interactive, it is available now on PlayStation 4, PC and Xbox One.
Middle-earth: Shadow Of War continues the story of Talion as he tries to take back Mordor. The story is pretty good with some highs and also some lows, however this game doesn't shine for the main story; it shines for the stories that are created via the in-game nemesis system. The traditional story is quite a good one, with lore that stays true to The Lord of the Rings. The basic premise for the story is that you are Talion, you have a person living inside you who is known as a wraith, you cannot die, the main city of Mordor is taken over, and now you must build a huge army to take the city back. Still with me? Okay!
So I spoke earlier of the nemesis system, which revolutionised the way we thought of open-world games back when Middle-earth: Shadow Of Mordor released. I'm glad to say that this system returns with major improvements that will again revolutionise the way we think about open-world games. Let me briefly explain how the nemesis system works to give you a general idea. Each area of the game world will have a fortress, inside this fortress is a hierarchy, each one will have an overlord, warchiefs and some captains. Here comes the great part, if you are in the open world and die to the hand of a random orc, chances are he will be promoted to a captain. It is even possible for a random orc to become an overlord.
As I started the game I died at the hands of a random orc. I then reached level 20, took out some captains and warchiefs, started a siege, only to find out when I got to the overlord room, that he was in fact the very same orc that killed me at level one. He taunted me and boasted about how killing me allowed him to rise in the ranks to become overlord, and how he would finally kill me once and for all.
The new improvements are there to allow you to build an army, you do this by assigning orcs to fight, train, and guard you with their life. All of these mechanics fit well together and create a wonderful feeling of immersion. This isn't all of the new improvements, however I feel these were the most noteworthy.
Another huge new mechanic in this title is the siege mechanic. Since this game is about building an army, you have to have a moment that leaves you in awe when there is a huge battle scene. For Shadow Of War it's the siege mechanic, you assign a few captains from your hierarchy to follow you into war in an attempt to kill the overlord and take over the fortress that he runs. You do this by selecting special abilities for your captains such as the ability to blow up walls faster or being able to take beasts into the battle with them. All of these abilities may seem small, but can make the difference in the entire siege. After you have selected the captains that you are taking into battle with you, you then have to storm the fortress and capture some points. While this involves some combat, I caught myself staring in awe as I looked at all the destruction around me. After capturing all of the points you then have to go and face the overlord in a battle, these battles are tough as you don't have any soldiers with you in the fight and the overlord usually does.
The combat in this title is similar to the combat in the Batman Arkham games, where it's rhythm based and one mistake may cost you the entire battle. Luckily you have a skill tree in the game where you can purchase upgrades similar to the Arkham combat upgrades, including stunning people, taking enemies down in one hit when you have a good combo built up and there are even critical strikes. I love this style of combat and it fits in well here.
The upgrade skill tree does have some nice variation however the only skill chain that stood out was the category that let you purchase points, to mount beasts like dragons. There are other unique skills here as well like the ability to slow time while midair, allowing you to shoot an arrow at your adversary.
Let's talk about the elephant in the room: loot boxes have made their way into the single-player portion of this game. While this is new to gamers, in this instance, yes you can gain followers from a loot box however you can also acquire followers by playing the game. So therefore the people who are complaining about "pay to win" making its way into AAA games, it just isn't true. Sure it's frustrating that people can spend real money and acquire some good followers, but you can do the exact same thing without spending money by playing the game. The game even gives you 500 gold for free, yes you could say that this is an attempt to get you addicted to their loot boxes, but again you can earn this currency by playing online sieges.
This title does have an online component to it, albeit one that isn't as interesting as its single-player counterpart. The online mode works like this; online vendetta works by having you avenge a friend's death, so if my friend died by the hand of an orc a mission will appear in my game world that will allow me to battle the orc that took him down. This mode is fun however it doesn't feel as good as it does when you do it in single player as you don't have any back story there. You don't have the element that made it so good when you do it in single player. When you avenge your own death in single player, you have have a feeling of accomplishment, as you probably leveled up and trained to take down the orc that killed you, when you were a lower level. This creates a sort of bond between you and that orc that killed you, it just isn't there in the online component as you don't know anything about the orc.
The other type of online mode is online sieges, these are basically sieges from single player except you are playing against orcs that have been selected by other players, this was fun however on these missions you don’t have a sense of fear as any orcs that die in the battle will still be alive in single player. This was a missed opportunity to create tension when going into these battles, instead you can just send your greatest orcs into battle and if they die it doesn't matter. If you win the battle in a certain time you can earn gold (this is the game’s paid currency) if you don't manage to beat it in a certain time but still beat it you still earn silver (the in-game free currency earned through gameplay only) it's great that you can earn the currency but the times are pretty tough.
The art style is gorgeous, it's very similar to the previous game in the series except it looks even better. This title offers some beautiful environments, character design and overall looks. The standout moments are when you do a siege and you see destruction everywhere the art immerses you into the action and helps you to imagine you are there.
The audio was truly superb, with a standout score that feels like it's ripped straight from The Lord Of The Rings. From the incredible voice acting that helps with immersion, to the music that makes you feel like a true god when you are storming a fortress. Even the elegant music that plays when you are wondering around the open world, the music here is incredible and I can't praise it enough.
Middle-earth: Shadow Of War is a huge improvement over the original, the nemesis system is improved even more here and this game is accessible to newcomers of the series. If you enjoy open world games or even just The Lord Of The Rings then you need to pick this game up.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War (Reviewed on Xbox One)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
Middle-earth Shadow of War adds a lot to the already great formula, with the addition of sieges and the great additions to the nemesis system this is a game of the year contender for sure.