If you haven’t experienced Shadow of Mordor yet (which you really should consider doing), you play as Talion, a captain of Gondor who serves at the Black gate. The Black Gate is attacked by Sauron’s forces and in the process, Talion along with his wife and son are ritually sacrificed by 3 Black Numenoren Captains as a way to Summon the Elf Lord Celebrimbor, Forger of the ring of power. However, this fails and Celebrimbor is bound to Talion preventing Talion for dying with his family. From that point the end game is to avenge Talion’s family and stop Sauron’s captains.
Shadow of War (S.O.W) brings us Monoliths’ follow up to Shadow of Mordor (S.O.M) and the return of the games heroes Talion and the Wraith Elf Lord Celebrimbor. The game picks up where we left off with Shadow of Mordor. After defeating Sauron’s Captains, Talion and Celebrimbor have travelled to Mt. Doom to forge a new Ring of Power free from Sauron’s corruption. However, immediately after they forge the ring Celebrimbor is abducted by a very sexy Shelob, well until she turns back into a giant spider anyway. Talion agrees to exchange Celebrimbor for the ring.
Shelob then uses the ring to see into the future and points Talion in the direction of Minas Ithil as the city is under attack from Sauron’s forces and from then, it’s time to once again foil Sauron’s plans.
With any game sequel, we are all hoping for it to be better than its predecessor. Now I thought S.O.M was an amazingly fun game built for any Lord of the Rings fan so S.O.W didn’t need to improve much for me to want to play again. Even if Monolith had just given me a new story and a new enemy to defeat I would have still parted with my money to unleash the rage yet again.
Both games are RPG actions games. You have the free roaming aspect like Assassins Creed and Witcher but with a button bash hit streak based combat system like Devil May Cry and God of War. For me, the game has a perfect balance of stealth and bull in a china shop style fighting, you basically need to use stealth to gain a tactical advantage when going in to battle or to thin the herd but ultimately you will be forced to dive into a massive ruckus! This is where the game excels and if you’ve had a bad day this game is perfect for releasing some rage without the risk of being arrested. The most satisfying thing about the game is the brutal way that Talion can dispose of orcs and Uruks with his finishing moves. Some of the kills are devastating decapitations and amputations but are completed with a graceful finesse.
The general fight engine and gameplay is easy to pick up and fairly simplistic. With regards to combat, you build your hit streak to unlock abilities such as instant kills or moves that will hit multiple foes in one hit among others. This makes the game great to pick up and play on and off. By that, I mean if you stopped playing for a week or so, you pick up where you left off and wouldn’t have any trouble remembering the controls and what abilities do what.
What I like most about this game is how you fight. At times it can feel like you are choreographing a dance whilst slicing and dicing your foes. In order to excel in combat, you need to think 3 moves ahead so you can build up your hit streak to unlock your deadly attacks, ground your enemies and use your surroundings to your advantage. This means you can fight in a seamless sequence without getting hit when surrounded and slaughter many foes in the process. You can end up being surrounded by 20 to 30 enemies at once so you need to be able tee up every hit so you can thin the crowd. It might just be me and I might be wrong, but I’m sure in S.O.W there appears to be no hard rule of how and when you can unlock the use of your instant kill attacks. I found this quite frustrating to be honest because it felt like you were hacking away at enemies for ages before your hit streak turned red and you could unleash hell.
You have 3 weapons at your disposal; a sword, a dagger/morgul blade and a bow. I found the Bow to be the most fun and possibly the most influential weapon at your disposal. You use it to affect the environment such as exploding fire pits, releasing beasts from cages and destroying nests housing flies or spiders. You can have hours of fun with the bow just by being a menace to orcs to be honest. You can blow up the camp fires surrounded by orcs or shadow strike archers from huge distances. Shadow strikes with the bow are great for not only instantly killing enemies from great distances without detection but they also move you to a high position within a camp to survey your surroundings to plan your attack.
Now let’s talk about the infamous Nemesis System. Throughout Mordor, the Orcs and Uruks are led by Captains and Warlords. Obviously, these guys are much tougher than the usual enemies you come across. All of them have different strengths or weaknesses and present varying degrees of difficulty. Within the game you can view them all laid out like a chess board in the army screen. When you enter the area of the map, the ‘chess board’ will be shadowy figures until you reveal their identities and in turn revealing their strengths/weaknesses to enable you to plan your attack against them. You reveal the captains/warlords by interrogating enemies highlighted throughout the game gaining the intel required.
Like most sequels of games, with a new title comes some new features. S.O.W builds on the success that S.O.M produced. The skills ladder is similar to that of S.O.M, in which you unlock new skills to assist you in battle. What is different this time round is that with each skill you unlock there are 3 additional options for you to select to suit your fighting style. For example, when you unlock ground execution, you can then unlock 1 of 3 different additional skills when using that execution. You can choose either a brutal melee, counter kill, or another one which I can’t remember which probably means it was useless! The more in-depth skills ladder can be both a good and bad feature as it gives you the option to pick skills that suit your style of how you approach the game, but on the other hand some of them are only helpful in certain scenarios so you are constantly pausing the games and sometimes mid fight to change which skill you have selected which would lead to some faffing about if you ask me.
Second is the Weapon/Armour upgrades. In S.O.W you can obtain higher level weapons by defeating captains and then complete specific tasks in order to upgrade them. This is a great new feature.
Not only does is it give you a collectible element to the game it also gives you the options pick which weapons to use to suite your fighting style. You can also attach gems to the weapons which give them bonus attributes. This is almost the same as S.O.M but what is unique in this title is that the armor effects Talion’s appearance. I found it a bit silly that in S.O.M you got new armor when you completed the game but in movie sequences Talion looked exactly the same, not the case this time round which satisfies my OCD towards continuity. There are Rare weapons and armor, but these items are so rare they are practically impossible to find; there comes a point in the game were enhanced weapons and armor become pointless as your abilities are more important than the enhancements the rare items give you.
Thirdly, New Beasties! You have the same beasts that appeared in the previous title such as Gruags, Caragors, Ghouls to name a few. But S.O.W brings us DRAGONS!!………..well Drakes to be more specific (either way they are mini dragons). Once you have painstakingly beaten down the Drake enough to control it, you can then hop on the back of the beast and wreak havoc below. This is loads of fun once you’re on the back of the Drake, but disappointing it’s way too difficult and time consuming in the early stages of the game to gain control of the Drakes.
Lastly, the inclusion of ‘Battles’ is where you can lose yourself in the game and spend hours completely ignoring the story. Building on the nemesis system, when you defeat a captain, rather than slicing him in two or removing his head from his shoulders, you can control the captain and make him join your army. Now you could do this in S.O.M but rather than just controlling captains to help you take out a warlord or other captains, you can now send your captains to lead our army into battle to take over strongholds.
This is where you start to ignore the story based missions and become obsessed with defeating captains and bringing them into your army.
There are more maps to explore, bigger areas, and more side missions to do than there was in S.O.M. If you felt the first game was short then this is great but having more areas means more captains, and more captains means more side missions. After spending a good 10 hours chasing captains, building my army, freeing captured Gondorian soldiers, beast hunting, and completing memory sequences, by the time a came to a main story mission I’d forgotten what the story was all about. Don’t get me wrong it’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s just I started think this game could go on forever.
This game is epic, simple as that! I can’t find many faults with it to be honest other than there is too much to do but then that’s the usual argument with most games nowadays ( Skyrim or Destiny anyone?) and isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The controls are simple, the fighting is awesome, the story is easy to follow and great for any LOTR fans.
Now, I haven’t touched on this element of the game previously but if I had one major criticism of this game it would be the Market place. Why do game developers now insist on putting market places into games where you can pay yet more money to purchase extra items and trick you into thinking that by buying the items it makes the gaming experience better. It doesn’t make it better it cheapens it for me. Maybe I’m old fashioned but if you’re just buying ‘the cool’ stuff then where is the achievement, where is the development of your skill to the game? Rant over!
Ultimately, this game is so much fun and has a great story. If you like Action/RPG/Fighting games and you’re a fan of LOTR I thoroughly recommend you get this game. It was one of the games of 2017 for me. So in the words of Gandalf, “run you fools!” to the shop or go online and pick up a copy of this game now.