Long before Frodo and the Fellowship set out to destroy the One Ring, there was a ranger named Talion who sought to attack the Dark Lord in a much more direct manner. Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment is the sequel to 2014 Shadow of Mordor and is a vast improvement over it’s predecessor. Leaning less on a hack and slash method in favor of role playing, War has become that rare video game: a sequel that is not only better, but does not change the things that made the first game good.
Talion is still sharing his body with the Elf Lord Celebrimbor. Their plan to destroy Sauron is to create a ring that he has no control over. All proceeds according to plan until an unexpected guest stops them in their tracks. Shelob, the giant spider, has her own plans for the ring and the ranger. Probably one of the biggest shocks is how Shelob is portrayed. Gone is the spider, replaced by an seductive and alluring woman. There seems to be a suggestion that she is a goddess of some sort. Talion must follow her orders, starting with attacking Minas Ithil. This is where the game truly starts and the open world opens up.
One of the best developments is the side missions that can be accomplished instead of the main story. I got a message that another player had been killed and the option to avenge his death. I accepted and was whisked away to fight enemies at his fortress. A short victory later and I was rewarded with a loot box. There has been much controversy over the inclusion of micro transactions and loot boxes, but I never ran into a situation where buying something was necessity. A lot of grinding, but never something that made me reach for my wallet.
The “Nemisis” system is back, and little to no changes were made to this great feature. The best feature is recruiting difference races to your cause. You will have your own army in little to no time. There are charcters who are introduced, who become a bigger part of the story later. An example was after I had killed an ordinary orc. Hours later, literally, that orc was stitched back together and had become much tougher. This tweak to a minor character was a great example of using characters created for this game. War is filled with moments like this, paying respect to the world J.R.R Tolkien created, while creating their own identity. Talion is on his surface a bad guy, but the road that has taken him here makes you wonder how you would react to his situation.
The game controls well. There was a only a short period of time in which I learned the controls, and after that I was slicing through the Orc Horde. The camera zooms in when you are about to shoot your bow, and the world looks gorgeous. Of all of the technical aspects, one that was most impressive was the sound. A ghostly whisper comes out of your controller when you are near something of interest. I will admit it took me by surprise, but it very useful in finding hidden things. There was no reworking the system that was put in place for Mordor. The developers saw what people like and built on to those features. A welcome change from some sequels that totally change from game to game.
There was nothing I didn’t like about War. The story is very interesting, the controls are great, and the world looks and sounds like Middle-Earth. Going to another player’s game is also a it of fun. If you were a fan of either the game, movies, or books, War. New players may be a bit confused, but they will adapt as time goes on. Don’t be put off by horror stories of micro transactions, step into the battle against Sauron for control of Middle Earth.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is available now on Xbox, PS4, PC, and a mobile version.