Title: Middle-Earth: Shadow Of War
Platform: PC, PS4, and Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Warner Bros
Release date: Out now
tl;dr:: The closest thing you’ll get to Assassin’s Creed set in Middle-Earth
Price: $60 / £60
Family Focus: Click here for more information.

The events of Shadow Of War picks up shortly after the events of Shadow of Mordor as Talion is still infused with the spirit of Celebrimbor as they travel to Mount Doom to forge a new Ring of power, free of Sauron’s corruption. Unfortunately (and somewhat obviously), things go awry as Shelob takes the elf lord captive and she will only release him if Talion hands over the new Ring. In order to save his spiritual/ghostly friend, Talion begrudgingly hands her the Ring. But not all is lost, as Shelob claims they have a common enemy in Sauron and she guides our protagonist to Minas Ithil, the last Gondorian stronghold, which is currently under attack. It’s then up to Talion and Celebrimbor to save the day. The task won’t be easy as hordes of Orcs will find a way to make their life a living hell. Thanks to Celebrimbor’s spiritual powers, Talion can recruit Orcs to fight alongside him and turn the tide to his favor in certain battle or obtain vital information.

The game’s most redeeming quality is definitely it’s unique Nemesis system. As you progress through the game, players will take on various Orc Commanders of varying levels; once they’re dead, it leaves spots open in the Orc’s army – spots which can be filled should Talion fall at the hands an Orc. The Orc (it can be a nameless fool who got lucky) that will have killed Talion will be promoted and move up the army’s rank. This will launch a Revenge mission where players can hunt down the newly promoted Orc to extract their revenge; but be warned, as Talion’s killer will have grown stronger, and might be surrounded by more nameless Orcs.

Thankfully, players can avoid death if they’re quick on the trigger, as they say. Once your health meter is depleted (duly because of off-camera archers), the nearest Orc will attempt to give Talion a final blow, at which point a button prompt will appear on screen. Pressing the button with the right timing will allow players to stave off death for a brief moment. This can be done only twice. If your health is depleted a third time, you won’t have the QTE to save your butt. Or if you’re lucky enough to enter a battle with a Gondorian army, they can save your butt if an Orc is about to deal the final blow.

Another way to delay Talion’s demise is using the counter button. When an enemy is about to attack, a button prompt will appear on top of the enemy’s head. Pressing it accordingly will have players perform a block/counter attacker, which can then let Talion launch a combo. There’s also a dodge button which insanely useless against Orc Comanders, as it allows to either dodge an incoming (very damaging), attack, or flip over the commander’s head leaving it open for a few hits.

After experiencing unique and addictive combat experiences in games like the Batman Arkham series and Sleeping Dogs, Middle-Earth: Shadow Of War’s combat feels boring, tedious and uninspired. All melee attacks are reduced to a single attack: mash the button and you’ll pull off decent combos. Holding down the attack button will have Talion release a bigger, harder hitting Glaive, which will attack enemies in Talion’s zone of comfort. This is a hugely missed opportunity as assigning the Glaive to a different button would’ve allowed players to mix and match in order to create more fun and refreshing combos. And obviously holding down the attack button leaves the player vulnerable to attacks from off camera enemies or annoying archers.

Which brings me to my next point. Unfortunately, it’s quite easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of generic enemies on screen. While Talion can easily deal with up to five to six enemies, once you get surrounded by an amount in the double digits, add one (or sometimes more) Orc Commander(s), you’re kind of screwed. No matter how quick and hard you mash the attack and counter buttons, you’ll always end up vulnerable to either the Commander or an off-screen archer. Mix that with only two opportunities to revive yourself, and it’s pretty much an insurmountable task.

Orc Commanders will obviously do way more damage than regular Orcs, but it’s sometimes baffling. For example, I was fighting a Level 11 Commander (I was level 7); my health meter was half full. He grabbed me (yeah, you can’t counter or escape that), threw me to the ground and punched three times and I was dead. This was quite overkill and frustrating because I respawned at the nearest tower and had to hunt him down again.

In order to survive, Talion will gain XP as he kills Orcs and completes missions. Killing certain nameless Orcs will drop near gear for Talion to equip in order to make him stronger and more resistant against enemy attacks. You’ll also come across Orc Commanders who will drop Rare and Epic gear for the protagonist to use; obviously, it’s some of the strongest gear in the game. To put a cherry on top of that sundae, you can also equip Gems on gear in order to give them additional perks, such as health increase or additional attack power.

Considering this is an open-world game, it does feature its fair share of side-quests; problem is, they’re all boring. Die hard fans of the Middle Earth locale might enjoy some “historical,” knowledge about Mordor by uncovering Lost Artifacts, Ithildins and Shelob’s memories; just to name a few. For gamers who just want to have fun, they’ll most likely lose interest after finding a few. Even completionists will probably give up out of simple boredom due to their simplistic and repetitve nature; go here, pick this up. Find six thingamabob to learn more about Celembrior. Unfortunately, it was so mindnumbingly boring, I couldn’t be bothered to hunt these.

Once in a new area, players can climb up the Haedir; they’re towers that allow players to scope out the area. However, it’s quite tedious. After the relatively easy climb to the top, players needs to activate the tower, but instead of having everything appear automatically, they have to roam around a reticle. The closer they are to something, the narrower the circle of the reticle gets. You’ll then be prompted to press the right joystick to discover what’s awaiting Talion.

One of the game’s questionable mechanic is the enemy A.I., mostly related to the nameless waves of Orcs you’ll fight off. I lost count on how many times I stealthed my way in plain view of certain Orc soldiers but they didn’t budge nor react, allowing me to sneak in for the kill. Thankfully, Orc Commanders are smarter and will spot you from a certain, sometimes unreasonable, distance. While Orc Commanders have weaknesses, they can also adapt to your fighting style. If, for example, you’re constantly jumping over him with the Dodge button, the enemy can at one point block every attempt of you jumping over him, requiring players to adapt their strategy.

Presentation wise, the game looks and sounds fine, but it doesn’t really look that much better than its 2014 predecessor. While I obviously didn’t play the spiffed up/upgraded version (PS4 Pro/Xbox One X) for 4K TVs, I can’t imagine the patch will fix the mediocre looking characters that feel straight out of 2014. The character models look dated and again this game does nothing to push the power of current-gen consoles. The surrounding environments look fine, but again nothing will wow players. For a sequel, I would’ve assumed Monolith would’ve want to push the visuals of the game. Audio wise, the game’s score matches the events ongoing on-screen. It won’t be embedded in your brain for the foreseeable future, but it does set the mood adequately.

On the acting side of things, the actors deliver their lines convincingly. Troy Baker does a bang up job as Talion. My only grievance with the voice acting is the annoying speeches Orc Commanders will deliver prior to battle trying to pump themselves up for battle or antagonize Talion; well the player. Not that they’re badly delivered; it’s just annoying. Every time I was just thinking to myself “Shut the fuck up and fight!”

When I jumped into Middle-Earth: Shadow Of War I was hoping that Monolith had addressed some frustrating issues from Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor, unfortunately, Shadow of War is a carbon copy of 2014’s original game. This is both a good and bad thing. I say good because the Nemesis system remains intact and it makes for an interesting and fun experience, however certain shortcomings, such as its repetitive combat and mediocre visuals will drag down the overall experience. My advice? Wait for it to be in the bargain bin and save your money.

The Good

  • Nemesis system is back!
  • Decent size map
  • Fans of the original will enjoy this

The Bad

  • QTEs
  • Dumb A.I.
  • Get repetitive/boring quick

Family Focus

Middle-Earth: Shadow Of War is rated M for Mature and PEGI 16 due to the heavy presence of blood, gore and intense violence.

This review is based on a review copy of the game provided by Xbox UK for the purposes of this review.