Middle Earth Shadow of War Aksel Lielmanis

Middle-earth: Shadow of War comes to Toronto

To celebrate the launch of Middle-earth: Shadow of War, WB Games brought their Orcs out to Toronto. Joining them on stage was Aksel Lielmanis from WB Entertainment Canada, who kicked things off with some opening remarks. Also in attendance was Monolith’s Andy Salisbury who discussed how his team enhanced every aspect of the original.

I’m sure by now we’ve all heard what a success 2014’s Shadow of Mordor was for Monolith. Winner of over 50 industry awards, and millions of copies sold worldwide. Creating the follow-up to this enormous title, while keeping it faithful to Tolkien’s revered world, undoubtedly was a huge undertaking. From what I’ve played so far though, the developer really stepped up to the task.

Middle-earth Shadow of War poster4K gaming on Xbox One X

Amazingly enough, this was my fourth time playing Shadow of War pre-launch. WB Games has showcased the game at numerous events before including E3 2017, Fan Expo, and the recent Xbox Showcase. Usually when a developer gives media/fans so many opportunities to play its game, it signals confidence in the product. From what I’ve played, the high level of confidence is fully warranted.

At the event numerous game stations were set-up with an Xbox One X build running on an LG 4K TV. While I don’t know the exact TV model, the image was impressively crisp―easily among the best graphics I’ve ever seen. From the beginning, SoW has been marketed as “plays better on Xbox One X,” and it’s easy to see why. The game’s graphics get a big boost when played on a 4K TV and Xbox One X. Considering how detailed games like Forza 7 and AC Origins also look on Microsoft’s new console, the potential seems huge.

Middle-earth shadow of war launch

Taking on missions

I was told the Shadow of War demo we were playing as a “near-retail version” and lasted about 20 minutes. However, nobody called me off the game station and I was able to put in a good 45 minutes. The extra time was welcome, too, since there were dozens of missions available to play over a huge map area.

The mission I took on involved rescuing nine Gondorians that had been captured by the Uruk. It took place in a dark corridor-filled Uruk fortress, which was great since I often prefer the stealth approach. Using your Wraith vision you’re able to see through walls, with red silhouettes indicating enemies while blue are friendlies. Being able to see enemy types and their locations before engaging is just of your many Wraith powers.

Middle-earth Shadow of War OrcsFluid combat

Most of Talion’s Wraith powers were unlocked in the demo, including my favourite: the Lethal Shadow Strike. This lets you teleport straight to an enemy and perform a deadly finisher. A variation of the move enables you to warp an enemy to your current location for a lethal blow. Using these abilities I was able to stealthily take down numerous enemies standing watch over the Gondorians.

There’s a limit to how many times you can perform Shadow Strikes (and other moves), determined by how many Elf arrows you have. So, after running out, I had no choice but to engage using regular hand-to-hand combat. Just like the original game, I found the combat to be super smooth and very fluid. Dodge-rolling and parrying can be done with relative ease, and Talion’s sword swings are fast and furious. I also love how simple it is to combine sword attacks and Wraith abilities into fearsome combos. Even if you’re new to the series, learning the ropes takes no time at all.

Of course, it’s possible to find Elf arrows scattered around the environment, which instantly tops up your reserve. In this particular mission the arrows were in abundant supply, meaning I was able to near-continuously chain lethal Wraith strikes. One thing I love about this game is just how powerful you feel at all times during combat.

Shadow of War event Toronto

Nemesis 2.0 system

For the final battle of this mission I got to see some of the improvements made to the Nemesis system. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the system asks you to make choices about how you interact with Sauron’s henchmen. Naturally you can kills Orcs if you’d like, but you’re also given options to befriend or recruit them. Allied Orcs will help you in battle, acting as non-playable teammates that fight alongside you.

Middle-earth Shadow of War Xbox One

There are also options that lie somewhere between killing and befriending, such as shaming your opponent. They’ll remember being embarrassed and can come back later to hunt you down, so decisions need to be made carefully. I still need a lot more time to fully understand the nuances of the new Nemesis system works, but it does feel like your actions have tangible consequences.

The incredible event space

Special mention has to go to WB Games for all the attention and care that went into this launch event. They transformed Toronto’s Longboat Hall on Queen Street West into a fantasy gaming space truly befitting of Lord of the Rings. There were medieval-style candles, a castle throne, pieces of armour, and of course the two not-so-scary (and more so funny) Orcs milling about. It was also really funny following WB Games’ Orcs on Twitter as they discovered what Toronto life was all about:

Middle-earth Shadow of War Gold Edition

Get more with the Gold Edition

Overall, I had a total blast playing Middle-earth: Shadow of War at the event. Everything from the gameplay, to the graphics, to the Nemesis system seems improved. I really am looking forward to playing a lot more of the game in the weeks to come.

If you’re thinking about picking up the game it’s important know there are two editions available. In addition to the standard edition on PS4 and Xbox One, a Gold Edition featuring extra DLC is another option. Also available on PS4 and Xbox One, the Gold Edition features the following extras:

  • a Gold War Chest
  • 4 expansion packs: Slaughter Tribe Nemesis, Outlaw Tribe Nemesis, The Blade of Galadriel Story, and the Desolation of Mordor Story

War Chests provide Orc Followers of varying rarity to help you forge a strong army. Gold War Chests have a higher chance of containing Followers of epic and legendary rarity. They can also contain Training Orders to level up and customize Orc Followers.

As for the four expansion packs, they come in two types: Nemesis and Story types. Nemesis Expansions give you a new Orc Tribe featuring new Followers, enemies, missions, weapons, abilities, and more. On the other hand, Story Expansions introduce a new campaign, complete with a new playable character, abilities, missions, and enemies.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War launches October 10, 2017, on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

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