Tolkien’s Middle-earth revisited
Three years after the critically-acclaimed Shadow of Mordor, Monolith Productions is back with another epic game set in Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Middle-earth: Shadow of War continues the story of Talion, a Gondorian Ranger, who’s bonded with the Elf Lord wraith Celebrimbor. Together they set out to avenge the death of their loved ones at the hands of Sauron and his Orc army.
Shadow of War contains an original story set in five huge open-world locations within Middle-earth. The innovative Nemesis System—which lets you forge your own personal Orc army—returns with numerous enhancements. There are new Orc types to recruit, new traits they can possess, and stunning new large-scale fortress assaults. It’s an ambitious title that fans of Tolkien’s high-fantasy literature or The Lord of the Rings movies are sure enjoy. Let’s take a closer look at what Shadow of War has to offer.
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One
First things first let’s take a quick look at the different versions of Shadow of War that are available. The Standard Edition, which gives you the full game experience, is available on PS4, Xbox One, and Xbox One Digital Download. Next is the Silver Edition (Xbox One Digital Download) that offers the base game and the following:
- a Silver War Chest
- Two expansion packs: Slaughter Tribe Nemesis and Outlaw Tribe Nemesis
Your next step up is the Shadow of War Gold Edition, available on PS4 and Xbox One. This version also gives you the main game, plus the following bonuses and DLC:
- a Gold War Chest
- Four expansion packs: Slaughter Tribe Nemesis, Outlaw Tribe Nemesis, The Blade of Galadriel Story, and the Desolation of Mordor Story
To be more specific, War Chests give you Orc followers, with Silver giving you two and Gold offering three. Your chances of obtaining rarer, stronger Orcs also increases with a Gold War Chest.
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. If you buy the base Xbox One version and later want the DLC, an Expansion Pass is also available.
Mithril Edition and Xbox One bundles
For the ultimate Middle-earth: Shadow of War fan there’s the Mithril Edition for PS4 and Xbox One. It comes with all kinds of goodies like a premium case, Magnetic Ring of Power, and an exclusive Steelcase. As well, you get a 15-inch Balrog versus Drake statue, exclusive lithographs, cloth map of Mordor, and tribes sticker pack. It really is a gargantuan package!
For Xbox fans, there are two Xbox One S Middle-earth: Shadow of War Bundles available. The difference is the hard drive size, one comes with a 500GB drive while the other a beefier 1TB drive. These are excellent bundles for new Xbox gamers or those looking to upgrade their original Xbox One consoles.
Venture back to Middle-earth
Like the first Middle-earth game, Shadow of War is non-canon and takes risks with the source material. That means characters might be different than you remember, or are located in areas that don’t jive with official sources. At the same time you can tell Monolith has deep respect for the history of lore of this storied land. For reference, Shadow of War takes place between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
This time the story revolves around Shelob, The Shadow Spider, who has stolen Talion’s newly forge Ring of Power. The ring is special as it was created inside Mt. Doom to be free of Sauron’s corruption. Naturally, the ring soon becomes a highly coveted prize for those seeking the power to control Middle-earth. To avoid spoilers I’ll simply state that the story is excellent, containing nice twists and turns and mouth-watering set pieces.
Gameplay gets even better
Monolith has taken the superb gameplay from the original has improved upon it in many ways. It takes the mobility of Assassin’s Creed, mixes in free-flowing combat like Batman: Arkham, and the wealth of abilities and loot like Diablo. Toss in some Dishonored stealth mechanics and you have a very robust set of gameplay tools at your disposal.
My only wish is that Shadow of War‘s menus were a bit easier to navigate. There are 33 skills, each one with 2-3 sub-skills for total of over 120 to choose from. These range from the ability to slow time and shoot arrows in the air, to mounting beasts like Caragors. This results in near-endless gameplay options. Do you go full-on stealth or all-out assault? Opt for up-close melee combat or long-range arrow attacks? Use your mystical wraith powers or charge in riding on a dragon or a 30-ft tall Graug? With all these different skills to unlock and manage the menu can be quite daunting. The good news is you earn skill points at a fast rate, so deciding what skills to upgrade becomes an easier decision.
Nemesis System is back
What sets Shadow of War apart from other open-world games is how emergent all the action feels. This is a direct result of Monolith’s Nemesis System that not only returns, but has been enhanced in several ways.
For the uninitiated, the Nemesis System creates procedurally generated Orcs that “remember” all your interactions with them. If you defeat an Orc and humiliate him (versus killing him), odds are he’ll re-emerge later on with bloodthirsty intentions. What’s incredible is the Orc’s dialogue will reflect your unique history, and he might spot a fresh battle scar from your last encounter.
Moreover, it’s possible to recruit Orcs over to your side to bolster your army. Orcs can be used for brute force assaults or can be sent into enemy territory to disrupt from the inside out. And there’s a whole hierarchy of Orcs to disrupt too—namely Captains, Warchiefs, and Overlords. By recruiting or killing the low-level Captains you’ll make life easier for yourself when targeting the powerful Warchiefs. There are so many facets and nuances to the Nemesis System it would take another whole article just to explain them all.
New in Shadow of War are fortress assaults that replicate the scale of massive battles like Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith. The Nemesis System comes into play big time here as you select Orc captains to lead the charge. You can even select specific armies to accompany your captain, like orcs riding on Caragors or a running orc bomb squad. Your goal during fortress assaults is to defeat the ultra-powerful Overlord Orc that controls it.
To add a social element to Shadow of War you can also battle your friend’s fortresses online. You can choose from two match types: friendly and ranked. The former has no penalty to losing and in the latter you risk losing your Orc followers permanently. Fortress sieges in the single-player and online modes are pretty exciting—easily one of the game’s best new features.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War is an excellent title that delivers on all fronts. I particularly enjoyed the Nemesis system expansion, and the dark story fits well into Tolkien’s brutal, war-hungry universe. The game particularly shines on PS4 Pro and Xbox One X with nice enhancements like 4K graphics and better effects.
+ Bleak, but excellent story
+ Top tier graphics
+ Enhanced Nemesis System
+ Huge open world spaces to explore
– Menus are a bit cumbersome to navigate
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5
Overall Rating: 4.4/5 (88%)
Get Middle-earth: Shadow of War for PS4
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