Middle-Earth: Shadow Of War Review – Taking It To The Orcs
In 2014, the team at Monolith blew our socks off with a wholly original adventure game set in the world of Lord of the Rings, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. While some indicate that the game's just an off-shoot of Assassin's Creed with Orcs, they didn't really play the title fully to understand it. Those players that did truly understand what makes something like this so magical – especially after we've seen a few LOTR games in the past that didn't quite live up to their exciting premise.
I'm happy to report that Shadow of War not only follows suit, but surpasses with improved elements over the original game. While there are some story moments that may come across as a bit iffy (we can already see hardcore fans now getting mad about Shelob's transformation), War has more than enough to make up for it, including compelling gameplay and a number of missions that dig deeper into the lore of Tolkien's legacy. Monolith has outdone itself in nearly every degree.
First off, let's talk about the range of the story. The general tale itself doesn't have too much to offer, especially as things wind down in the last third or so. But it makes up for this with the depth of its characters. Not only do we learn more about what's happening with Talion, but also the Orcs themselves.
The Nemesis system, which made a lot of waves with the original release, is back and better than ever here, and you actually learn quite a bit about the foes you go up against. Some might see it as overkill, but it provides an overwhelming amount of context that helps you understand your enemies better. And you'll also come across a few Orcs that will help you along as well, creating some of the better moments in the game via sieges.
The Gameplay Will Draw You In
The sieges are outstanding. You'll set yourself up for an epic battle as you attempt to overtake strongholds, then face tough decisions, like possibly overturning an enemy by tuning in to their weak spot, or keeping a close eye on your secondary warriors so they don't die on you – and you'll have to make these choices a lot. The scope of these battles is incredible, and it makes building up an army all the better. You'll want to jump in with new fellow soldiers just to see what they provide.
As for gameplay, it's superb. The combat system hasn't changed too much from the original, nor did it need to. Being able to strike down Orcs in succession is cool, but you're not invincible, as you can easily lose your way if you become surrounded – and you will become surrounded. Spectral abilities are pretty cool, but it helps to keep on your toes and remember that you're still human, despite taking dives off of towers without gaining a scratch.
What's more, getting around with the game's mechanics has never been better. We had no trouble maneuvering around this large complex world, even when it came to reaching new heights. Sure, the controls do mimic Assassin's Creed slightly, but there are some cool touches, like those high dives where, if you're prepared, you can walk away in one piece.prevnext
Plenty To Do And Enjoy
And the game improves over time, as you'll be able to clean up on loot over the course of your adventure. Cleaning up on Orcs rewards you with some precious loot, which, in turn, you can use to purchase upgrades. There are new abilities you can unlock as well, improving your skill when in action. Throw in some great secondary missions and the ability to just tear apart an Orc squad because you feel like it, and you have a Shadow sequel loaded with replayability. We're still digging and finding stuff.
There are those that complain about loot boxes, which are available within the game, but the truth is you can get through a good portion of Shadow of War without spending an extra dime. We had no trouble unlocking and gaining new goods through these, and chances are you won't either. Don't let it bug you.
Besides, there are too many fun moments you just can't miss in the game. Fighting a Balrog? Yep. Riding a dragon and reigning hell down on Orcs? You bet. Even holding a conversation with one of your Orc buddies has more meaning than we could've expected. It just all ties together into an amazing experience. But all that seems moot if the presentation isn't on the ball. Fortunately, it is.prevnext
Amazing In 4K, Or Normal
Shadow of War looks absolutely stunning on a 4K display, with a well drawn-out world that you can explore however you see fit. Monolith is to be commended on its world, not to mention its character design. The Orcs actually appear to have a great deal of definition, instead of just leaning on a typical design. It's really spectacular. There are minor bits of slowdown, mainly within Photo Mode, but overall, this is a showcase piece for the likes of the Xbox One S. And that's not even counting what the X can do.
The audio is great, too. The music within the game fits into the themes of the Lord of the Rings series, and the sound effects are quite convincing, especially when it comes to sword battles and carving an Orc like a stuck pig. Oh, and the voiceovers? Brilliant. Even without the inclusion of AAA list talent like Kumail Nanjiani (who has one of the better characters we've seen in a game this year), it's remarkable work, especially when it comes to the Orcs. And, yes, that Assassin's Creed hidden conversation is a hoot.
Shadow of War just goes to show what happens if you take a formula that worked so well and improve upon it. It may not be for everyone, especially for those that don't like being ganged up on by Orcs, and it has very minor setbacks that keep it from perfection. But don't let the blemishes fool you – this is the definitive Lord of the Rings gaming experience you've been waiting for.
Now…let's hunt some Orc!
RATING: Four and a half stars out of five.
Disclaimer: A review code was provided by the publisher.prev