In case you didn’t read my review of Shadow of Mordor (link at bottom) or if you’re unfamiliar with the basic game play of this series, I’ll give a friendly introduction. These games take place in the... Read All Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is a sequel to Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. In a way it’s cool, because I felt like the game play was much more fun and addictive than I expected. Unfortunately, enough time passed and I became bored with it. It’s still a great game and I highly recommend it, but in the end I feel “blah” about it. I guess I burned out on it. I’ll let you know about game play mechanics, what I liked, and what I didn’t like along with problems I ran into.
In case you didn’t read my review of Shadow of Mordor (link at bottom) or if you’re unfamiliar with the basic game play of this series, I’ll give a friendly introduction. These games take place in the world of Lord of the Rings (Middle-Earth, of course!). I’d say it occurs some time between about the end of the Hobbit movie trilogy and the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, before the ring of power was destroyed. There are two main characters, Tilion, and Celebrimbor. Tilion was killed along with his family, but he was “banished from death.” I think this is explained eventually or at least that he could actually have been relieved of his “curse” at anytime (no spoilers!). Celebrimbor is an elf, well when we see him he’s actually a wraith, but he’s not a ring wraith (or nazgul). He was the one who forged the rings, including the ring of power. However, events occurred, which will be revealed throughout Shadow of Mordor.
Talion’s ultimate goal is to defeat Sauron, but he can’t compete against Sauron’s army of orcs. So, he gains the ability to recruit them by “branding” them, which basically means he takes control of their will and they become his soldiers. I was disappointed with a DLC character that would not use this and a second who could not, because branding is one of my favorite parts of the game. Branding an orc replenishes Talion’s health. Usually when this happens, it’s head explodes and with the right skill upgrade, you can make it so that nearby orcs flee in terror at the sight of this.
Skills are pretty self-explanatory. You get skill points that you can allot to different abilities. There are many abilities you can purchase with skill points. The main ones also have upgrades to them, which you can also with skill points, but you can only have one of these enabled at a time. An example of them is the one I just mentioned regarding head explosion. Eventually, you may run into a point where you have no use for them. At that point, I thought the only thing I could do was to buy the upgrades I didn't want, even if I didn't enable them, but there will come a time where there are a few skills you can keep spending points on. The one I always used was the final health skill, it gives a certain percentage of health you get back from killing an orc. This seemed to go on for a very long time, I never reached a point where I could no longer invest in it as it's increase was very small.
There are regular orcs that can get promoted to be captains, war chiefs, and in Shadow of War, overlords. Whenever you get killed, orcs level up. If a regular orc kills you, it’s very likely to get promoted to captain. Orcs have internal feuds, they get promoted by betraying a war chief. Each captain has a set of different attributes. These can be something like a fear of fire, enraged by poison, and immune to arrows, but there are very many more attributes. You won’t know these at first, you’ll have to gather intel to find out. You can see captains strengths, but you’ll need intel to reveal their weaknesses. Usually you get this by branding an orc that looks green in wraith sense. However, you can also find intel on a board or table.
Wraith sense is a second kind of vision. It’s similar to night vision. You can see the shape and colors of orcs and other objects you can interact with. I used wraith vision a lot, there’s no limitation to it. It’s extremely helpful, because with normal vision, you can’t see the orcs for the structures and terrain, to put it one way. I relied on this so much that I was very disappointed that I wasn't able to use this with the second DLC character.
A difference in Shadow of War is that there are regions and fortresses within those regions. Your goal is to conquer and defend each region, so you have to build up your army. There are missions where you take on a fortress and try to conquer it and then others where you have to defend your fortress.
You can get new gear by killing captains. Each piece of gear will have a random quality and attributes, just like you’d find in a Diablo game. You can upgrade them, too, but I think you can only do this a couple of times. Particularly, you can upgrade them by completing challenges. For instance, one piece of gear might tell you to kill 10 enemies with a bow. I didn’t upgrade all of my gear, because not all of the challenges were appealing to me or I thought they were more challenging that what I wanted to do. Also, there are sets of legendary gear and when you have more than one equipped, you get a bonus.
Speaking of Diablo and gear, there are also gems you can put in slots in every piece of gear. Each piece has one slot. There are three different colored gems that have a different attribute depending on what it’s slotted in. You can combine gems to create a better one, which is great, because you’re often finding gems and it takes a while to get the final ones.
Here lies an issue I have, though. There’s a currency in the game called mirian. At first, I felt like I had plenty. You get this by completing quests, destroying unwanted gear, or killing orcs that are white in wraith sense. Perhaps the most useful thing you can do with it is upgrading your orcs and fortresses. You can buy training orders with it, so you can level up your orcs, give them certain weapons, or other attributes. My main issue is that after you’ve completed the story and other quests, even though you can still do a lot of things, it’s hard to earn enough mirian to keep up with what I wanted. I wanted serious defenses on my fortresses, but I had to grind quite a bit just to afford them. Then it seemed as though those defenses really weren’t worth it (my entrance was always breached quickly).
There are online quests. You can send an orc into an online fighting pit or you can try to conquer an online region’s fortress. I didn’t do these, but I did take on online vendettas, which are for captains that have killed another player. If you decide to take on the mission, you’re apparently transported to another player’s world and are put into a captain’s fort. Drawing out the captain is the same as drawing out a war chief in the offline part, you have to do something specific. One example is to kill 10 archers, or kill 10 enemies without raising the alarm. Once the alarm is rung, a whole lot more orcs spawn, which can quickly and constantly be overwhelming, so you want to avoid that. You can see an icon over the head of an orc running for the alarm.
I think at least two other captains will appear, so you’ll have to find those green orcs in wraith sense to get intel about them, since you're in another world. If you brand and recruit any captain, they’ll be transported to your world and you can place them wherever you like. If you recruit the target captain instead of killing him, your mission is still a success and you will be rewarded. However, killing a captain gives a piece of gear, recruiting does not. You’ll still get gear as a reward for the mission anyway. There’s always a chest with some gear for you at the end, plus you’ll earn points towards a better chest, which will include free training orders (those upgrades I mentioned).
Stealth is a major part of the game and knowing that, I didn’t think I’d enjoy the games as much as I did. It’s why I’ve mostly avoided the Assassin’s Creed games, because stealth isn’t my thing, but I enjoyed it so much in this series that I’m thinking of trying Assassin’s Creed again. I forgot to also mention (though I mentioned in my Shadow of Mordor review), the combat is great. I used my Xbox One controller that I bought specifically for PC gaming, but you can also play with the keyboard and mouse. Combat is just like the Batman: Arkham series (they’re both Warner Bros games, so I think this shouldn’t be a surprise). You attack with X and counter with Y. Other buttons have other functions, some have combos. I really love this combat style, so I was glad to see it here. I guess my anti-stealth thinking was a bit of a contradiction, because I loved those Batman games, but you had to be stealthy in them, too.
Branding orcs is fun and useful, but there are a couple of limitations to it. You cannot recruit a captain that’s a higher level than you are. The best way to do this, without having to level up, is to shame the captain, which will reduce his level and he will run away. You can then find him later and try to recruit him again. You can also decide to “fight to the death.” The icon above an orc’s head will turn green when he’s “broken." You can only brand broken creatures. Some orcs, however, have a trait that makes them unable to be recruited, in which case you may as well just kill them.
If you’ve finished the main story, make sure you continue to do the remaining quests. What I mean, specifically, is make sure you control every region. This will show another cinematic, which explains Talion’s true fate. This is very relevant in the first DLC. I think if you didn’t see that “true fate” cinematic, then the story in the first DLC will be confusing as it’s a continuation of that.
The DLC allows you to play as two different characters, but they have their own little main story quest and don't do everything that was available to Talion. So, they're kind of like smaller, more limited versions of the main game. This didn’t bother me so much, but their abilities (or lack thereof) did. The first character you can play as is an elf that refuses to brand orcs. She makes up for this, though, by meeting orcs that are actually friendly towards her, one of which is obsessed with elves. While I thought that getting around her vow to not brand was greatly done, I was not at all a fan of her healing ability. That’s because, in order to heal, you have to hold the Y button and then you’ll heal over time (though it seemed to happen rather quickly). The problem with this is when you’re trying to heal and still being attacked by orcs, which gets interrupted if you get hit, plus you can’t counter while doing this either. So, if you’re close to dying, you pretty much have to run away far enough so that you can do it. Running away is really a key tip for these games, there’s no shame in it. It may be better to run away than let an orc level up by killing you. Anyway, her healing ability was frustrating. I did finish this DLC’s story, but I didn’t do everything I could have done. By that time I had grown tired of the game and was ready to move on.
Healing is part of the reason I barely even played the second character DLC. He’s a mortal human and the only way he can heal is by using potions and he has a limited amount he can carry at a time. I think you start out with three, but can upgrade later. This is a problem, because you can often run out of them, even though dead orcs sometimes drop them. He also doesn’t have wraith sense. Also, instead of double jumping, he uses a parachute, which is kind of annoying since the other characters could fall at any height with no fall damage. I got surrounded by orcs and the captains had shields, which made it harder to fight them, especially since some of them had immunity to acrobatics, which means you can’t jump over them and hit them in the back like regular orcs with shields. I had a body guard, but this was not a challenge I was interested in. Because of all of this, I gave up on the last DLC and thus the game.
I ran into other problems. I had a problem where my controller was disconnecting. It seemed like if I moved slightly it would disconnect, but I’ve been using my controller for the last few games I’ve played and it’s never had this problem. It’s a USB controller and I thought maybe I just need a new USB cable. Someone on the Internet suggested using Big Picture view in Steam, which I don’t like, but using it seemed to have resolved the issue. Another problem is that the game crashes sometimes. It’s not obvious, it’s just that it looks like it’s taking forever to load and loading times were pretty non-existent for me, possibly because I’m running off of a NVMe SSD now. But, when I noticed these long load times, I just went to Task Manager and stopped the game. This didn’t happen too frequently, but enough to be annoying.
I gave Shadow of Mordor an outstanding review, but I can’t do the same for Shadow of War. This game is in a lot of ways better than the first. It improves on many things and I think there’s plenty to do in it’s open world. However, even though the game play was addictive at first, it got old after a while. I still strongly recommend both games, but this second one had some setbacks I didn’t experience with the first. It reminds me of programming, the more features you add, the easier it is to create more bugs.
Let me know what you think about all this. Have you played these games? What did you think about them or do they look like something you’d be interested in? (I'm glad I proofread this multiple times!)
My Shadow of Mordor review: https://cheerfulghost.com/GregoPeck/posts/4670/a-spoiler-free-review-of-middle-earth-shadow-of-mordor