Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment went all out to promote its forthcoming Middle-Earth: Shadow of War this weekend, decking out a private suite with a bunch of ugly Orc faces where uneasy expo-goers went hands-on with the game. We're not sure if they were going for some level of intimidation with it, but it was definitely effective.
Over the course of my short (but sweet) demo, I was able to try out two different missions that could be selected within the open world of the game. But first, I became reacquainted with the combat controls by slaying and lopping the heads off of a few Orcs as the powerful Talion.
From there, I was able to enter one of the skirmish missions. One big change to Shadow of War is the ability to recruit Orcs within your own army. See, in a big battle for a stronghold such as this, it helps to have a few allies on your side, and you can actually convince Orcs to join your ranks and help you fight for your cause. These persuasion abilities can come in handy, as you can really get some good muscle on your side.
That said, you'll still need to keep an eye on them over the course of battle. Whether they're trying to take over a defensive point on the map or slay one of the generals that you're going up against, they're just as susceptible to damage as you are, and you may need to alter their orders if they start bleeding out. Sometimes they'll die right out, but that's just the course of battle.
Be Prepared For A Fight
The open-world level design, once again produced by the team at Monolith, is still outstanding. While the game still has a few rough edges with its engine, the environmental detail is definitely very Lord of the Rings inspired, with huge, looming castles and wide-open terrain that will easily remind you of Mordor. Granted, we didn't see too much of that without having to kill a few Orcs, but you get the idea.
As for enemy design, it's second to none. No two Orcs look alike here. Foes are decked out in a large variety of weird-looking armor and sport defining personalities -- whether they're talking up a good A-game fighting on your side, or taunting you as you prepare to head into battle.
The gameplay continues to surprise, with competent, engaging combat that reminded us of the original game, plus a few new extras, like being able to use spiritual attacks in some cases. At one point we were tasked with knocking off one of the bigger foes in the game by taking out some explosives that were strapped to its back, then attempted to gain control of it -- a decent tactic that gets you one step closer to taking over an enemy stronghold.
Middle-earth is still a rough neighborhood. You'll become surrounded sooner rather than later by Orcs, and when you're fighting one of the upper soldiers, this can be a problem, as he'll still continue to chip away at you until you're done for. You'll get a "last chance" opportunity to save your hide with a quick button tap if you're on the verge of death, but after that, you could run the risk of a "no chance" kill and be done for. (Fortunately, you can go back to the open world and try again.)prevnext
Riding A Freakin' Dragon
We had a blast with the Stronghold mission we got to play. As memorable as it was, there was also a terrific second mission where you could ride on the back of a dragon and defend another point on the map, frying any Orcs that tried to get inside. You'll fail the mission if you let too many in, so it's important to dispatch them before they can stack up their forces.
Fortunately, the dragon-riding controls are intuitive and fun. You can hover in place in case you need to take out multiple foes at once, and along with fire breath, you can also shoot out fireballs that effectively blast them to bits. There are also a few flying allies that you can free to help you along, though you don't want to take too much time doing so, as the Orcs come from three different directions and really begin to stack up.0comments
Overall, Shadow of War feels like it's shaping up to be as fun as Shadow of Mordor, with some new possibilities, mechanics, and gimmicks (like riding a freakin' dragon) that make it stand apart. The main game will have a ton more missions to take on, and plenty of Orcs to kill. That's just the way we like it.prev