It’s usually hard to top WBIE’s slate at #E3, but this year the company brought Middle-earth: Shadow of War, LEGOs, LEGOs and more.. LEGOs. Yeah, not the usual level of greatness veteran attendees are used to (Witcher, Arkham, Injustice, etc.). But there’s a good reason why: Shadow of War was enough, despite my tempered expectations for The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings related title. Monolith Productions’ previous entry, Shadow of Mordor, won many critical accolades, had great buzz from fans, but didn’t hold much longevity. Its weaknesses become more apparent the deeper players went into the game. For me, assigning mindless Orcs to various rolls — through Domination — became more of a task than a thrill for me. I’m proud to tell you that same issue has now transitioned to arguably its best feature.
In Shadow of War (out on multi-consoles this October 10th), Monolith seems to have the writing down pat. It’s certainly no Tolkien, but Orcs show far more jazz, personality, charisma, and deceit; monologues pre- and post-battle contain plenty of awesome, laugh-out-loud moments. With a new, far more immersive D&D-style tactical menu, you’ll care more about Orc roles and the kingdom hierarchy system than imagined. I watched, as one lower-tier orc, Pug, rose to fame through the ranks to constantly become my own little personal nightmare.
There was no stopping this menacing uprise. When my Ranger eventually got his revenge in a third attempt to siege — thanks to scaling the fortress on the top of a chariot-worn Caragor — decapitating Lt. Pug after a lengthy brawl (before eventually falling to my own death at the hands of a Pug comrade), it became a story within the story. That’s the beauty of the new antagonist personalities; it feels like everything you do in Middle- earth: Shadow of War is reactionary and purposeful.
Further, Talion’s Assassin’s Creed-meets-Arkham embodied movement and combat is a lot smoother (a double jump is added), the Nemesis system carries a more extensive focus, and MeSoW‘s gorgeous 4K visuals might be worthy of a purchase alone (Orcs are now sized at scale; yeah, you’ll want to assign one of them Brock Lesnar types as a bodyguard). It’s more of the same, revitalized, expanded and fully-realized — great for someone like me who couldn’t get through the first game.
Another plus: Orcs are no longer just stage hounds. Some will remember the day you took them away from their cherished warchief (or “Pug”), and turn on you the second you slip. In addition to more tactical practice in Shadow of War, there’s more use of environmental aids, like hanging lumber, Morgai flies’ nests, and poisonous spiders, just to name a few. Best of all, your new army — when ready for war — appears fully cast, as things finally shift towards the epically-scaled battles we ever so cherished from Lord of the Rings. 4.75/5 Bibles.