Shadow of War, the sequel to 2014’s surprisingly-brilliant Shadow of Mordor, is a dense, brutal, and well-produced adventure that fans and newcomers will love. Between hunting down and murdering orcs, building your very-own army, and enjoying a new story in the Lord of the Rings universe, there’s a lot to enjoy with this open-world action adventure.
The story picks up after the event of the first game (don’t worry if you haven’t played it, there’s a quick catch-up montage to fill you in), where Talion, still fused with elf lord Celebrimbor, crafts his own ring of power. After it falls into the wrong hands, Talion gets a glimpse of a grim future and sets out to foil Sauron’s maniacal plans by taking out his armies and working his way into Mordor. It’s an epic and somewhat familiar story to what we’ve seen in the Lord of the Rings lore before, but there are some enjoyable cameos from notable characters from the LotR world too.
While there’s an incredible amount of main objectives and side-quests to do in Middle-earth, the majority of your time will be spent going toe-to-toe with orcs, using Shadow of War‘s Batman Arkham-inspired combat system to block, counter, and cut enemies down to size. The combat is incredibly satisfying, making the protagonist Talion look like a unrelenting badass, but is still challenging enough thanks to the game throwing a mix of tougher enemies and orcs with certain immunities into the mix.
This is where Shadow of War really stands tall, as each orc platoon has its own captain, with his own personality, strengths, and weaknesses. Most missions require you to hunt down orc captains in order to weaken Sauron’s army to complete a quest. Finding a lower-rank orc to interrogate for information on his captain, harks back to the eavesdropping process of early Assassin’s Creed games. Working out who the orc captain is, where he is, and how to kill him, is a fun and surprisingly dynamic process that doesn’t wear out its welcome throughout Shadow of War‘s duration.
If however you don’t manage to kill the captain or are killed yourself, this is where Shadow of War‘s much-talked about Nemesis system comes into play. Orc captains will remember you from your past fight, making snarky comments about your failure to finish the job, and how they’ve been promoted since the last time you met. Little details such as name changes, new armour, added strengths, and even missing limbs add a whole element of immersion to who you’re actually fighting.
Then there’s the Siege missions, which task you with defending or storming an enemy stronghold. This is where you put your army and skills to the test against tougher and more unpredictable enemies and beasts. It’s a culmination of the best bits of the Shadow games, and gives reminders of the big battle sequences from the Lord of the Rings games old (The Two Towers and Return of the King, particularly).
Of course, loot is important too, and throughout your campaign, you’ll upgrade your weapons and armour from notable orcs you’ve killed, along with upgrading and evolving your elven powers, such as improving your speed or Elven Rage, which sees you go full bezerk for a limited period of time.
Graphically, Shadow of War holds up fantastically, showing a breathtakingly vibrant world, but it’s real gems are in the production value and attention to details of the orcs you encounter. Every orc captain genuinely feels like a well-rounded character, with their own backstories and motivations, until you chop their heads off, of course.
Shadow of War is big, bold, and brutal in its design and execution, making one of the most well-rounded experiences of 2017, albeit with a few hiccups due to its scale. But it’s nothing that will detract you from enjoying the brilliant adventure Monolith Productions have crafted.
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