Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Middle Earth: Shadow of War

‘Shadow of War’, the newest game to be released from Monolith, is the long-awaited sequel to ‘Shadow of Mordor’ that was widely known as game of the year for 2014, using its much lauded nemesis system which faces you off against hierarchies of randomly generated enemies who all have completely different personalities and traits. You play as Talion/Celebrimbor once again, still undying and trying to take the fight to Sauron and save Middle Earth from complete domination.

So first let’s focus on how the nemesis system has been improved and expanded upon since the first game.  There are many more types of Uruks/orcs in the pool which the system pulls from to generate enemy captains and warchiefs which leads to some entertaining scenarios for talion to overcome. I think it’s easy to say that it’s probably the main selling point of the game, but the problem with so much focus being put on it is that potentially other areas might not have been updated quite as much, meaning that they won’t feel particularly new. Unfortunately for ‘Shadow of War’, this worry happens to ring true more than once.

The story in the game is what you might expect from a ‘Lord of the Rings’ franchise, which should be a good thing as it means that it’s familiar to the player and feels like a sequel. However, it’s probably the weakest area of the game, as it just feels so secondary to everything else. There are still many throwbacks to ‘Lord of the Rings’ films (which would be a disappointment if there wasn’t, frankly), and many recognisable characters, such as Gollum and the newly introduced spider queen Shelob, make an appearance at some point. If you’re a fan of the original books or the films then their inclusion is something that you will definitely enjoy.

The problem is that, for a game with over 50 hours of content, there aren’t really any surprises, and the story just feels so standard. The gameplay mechanics haven’t changed much from the first game, with fighting style still very much the same with a few new extra moves added in. I’m not saying it’s a bad fighting system, because it does the job it’s supposed to, but when you consider how long the game is you’re likely to find it getting repetitive pretty fast.

One thing that has changed, however, is that a new loot system has been added – orc captains in the hierarchy of the nemesis system will drop loot based on a rarity scale going from common to legendary. These weapons and armour have various attributes attached to them which can mix up the gameplay a little bit, and if you are the kind of person who hoards loot (yep, me too) then you will certainly enjoy this new inclusion.

The gameplay loop throughout has changed as now, instead of just trying to take the war chiefs out like in the previous game, you are now raising an army in various openwork locations to conquer nemesis strongholds to take for yourself. This can lead to some excellent situations as orcs can come from different tribes, meaning that they have different abilities, and sometimes they can have different traits such as ‘blood brothers’. Once you have raised your army and captured a stronghold you must then place an orc in charge for defence and occasionally you’ll have to jump into the action.
As great as it sounds, it’s just too complex. It’s a lot more confusing than it needs to be, and the intense focus on strategy means that you’re spending most of your time navigating various menus which, in my opinion, isn’t all that fun. The menus themselves can be quite slow as they’re not all that intuitive, and so you might find yourself getting somewhat bored – there are six strongholds in total and so micro-managing all of them can take ages, plus the levels of management needed increases quite dramatically towards the end of the game if you’re trying to get a true ending. It just gets a bit ridiculous if I’m honest.

The other issue I had was with the loot box and microtransactions situation. This has been in the news of late and ‘Shadow of War’ certainly brings the anger about - the game feels like the difficulty is inflated to make you buy loot boxes that contain orcs and weapons and so on.  It is possible to finish it without spending your money, but I can’t promise that it’s going to be fun.

The minute to minute gameplay of fighting orcs and building relationships with certain captains who won't just die is still as enjoyable as the first game, but you are sometimes so bogged down in the strategic part of the game that you may begin to miss out on all the fun. It’s a great game for the first five hours or so, but sadly it’s this repetition and overuse of strategy that leads me to give it an average.


Hannah Read

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