How does Middle-earth: Shadow of War shape up against Shadow of Mordor?

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies came out three years ago now, so it’s been a while between drinks even for films set in Tolkien’s universe. Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor released that same year to wide critical acclaim. Most felt as though it was a Middle-earth video game that appealed to a broad spectrum of players, and one that filled a void left by a lack of halfway-decent video game interpretations of Tolkien’s work.

Now, Monolith are back with a sequel to their beloved first game. Middle-earth: Shadow of War once again follows Talion/Celebrimbor on their quest through Middle-earth. It features a roster of characters that LotR fans will recognise, and a bunch of familiar locations to boot. There are five main destinations that each look and feel unique, although the enemies within don’t vary too much.

Nothing about SoW feels new – it just feels like there’s more of it. That’s by no means a bad thing, as brilliant as SoM was, but if you were coming into this expecting something game-changing then you might be disappointed. The series’ biggest drawcard is its nemesis system, which of course returns for the sequel, and it’s largely the same as the original. Your deaths resonate throughout the universe of SoM; if an uruk-hai (an orc) kills you, there’s every chance it could be promoted to a Captain, and he’ll remember you if you ever cross his path again. The system is unique to the Middle-earth games, and yet one can’t help but wonder if it would be better applied elsewhere.

The one let-down of Middle-earth: Shadow of War is its story. It’s forgettable, and you never really feel as though you’re contributing to the greater good. Sure, each of the orcs you encounter are animated, and fully-voiced, and the interactions are fun, but the fact that they feel irrelevant in the grand scheme of things is a little disappointing.

If you can live without a story, Shadow of War is genuinely fun. When you’re not running around killing orcs, you should be recruiting them to your cause in order to take down fortresses. Or, otherwise, meddling in the affairs of others at your own peril. Thanks largely in part to the nemesis system, the world is very much alive, with the orcs having battles and power struggles of their own to deal with. There’s also a kind of asynchronous multiplayer that lets you download your mates fortresses and try to take them down.

The combat remains the same as the first game, with Batman: Arkham-inspired combos your best bet at winning battles and overpowering enemies. Levelling up after defeating enemies will grant you ability points to spend in the discipline of your choice, which then opens up even more ways to kill orcs. You can also loot more powerful weapons and armour from captains you’ve defeated, which makes a lot of the game about finding the best item sets. Best of all, the game still looks amazing, with beautifully rendered cutscenes and menacing orcs and other enemies. Even the environment looks confronting enough to not want to simply walk in.

You’ll notice playing SoW that you fall into a pattern. Find a castle, find out all the info you can on the captains, kill the captains (and whatever else gets in your way), then take on the bigger bads. If you’re into routines and loot, then Shadow of War is the game for you.

Realistically, we can say whatever we want about Shadow of War, and you’ll still go out and buy it. The nemesis system is really too good to forfeit, and despite the game’s lack of really gripping story, it’s the first proper consumable LotR media we’ve had in a while. It’s too precious to miss.

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