When I first started playing Middle-earth: Shadow of War, I was a little skeptical. There have been a few lackluster reviews on this sequel to the 2014 Lord of the Rings action hit, Shadow of Mordor, as of late and — hey — maybe this would turn out another over-hyped bust. But after fully delving into the story of Talion and Celebrimbor, SoW wound up one of the best games I’ve played in a long while. But do read the rest.
Shadows of War takes place after the events of The Hobbit and before LOTR. Set completely in the lands of Mordor, your objective is to overthrow Sauron by converting his own army of Orcs into your own personal death squad. The lands of Mordor are massive this time around. There are currently five different areas to unlock, each spanning a huge open world environment with its own climate. You will fight in the streets of Minas Ithil (aka Minas Morgul) to the snowy peaks of Seregost. You must survive the forests of Nurnen. Even the very heart of Mordor itself, Gorgoroth, is present and waiting for you in all its horror.
Talion has two objectives this time around: 1.) Raise an army to destroy Sauron, 2.) Save as many Gondorians as he can from the fall of Minas Ithil. In each of the lands of Mordor Talion must rescue soldiers, convert and slay captains, and, finally, take over the area fortress through storming and slaying the current overlord. How you go about this is all up to you, as the open world becomes completely open in Act Two — when the game really starts.
Now that the introduction is out of the way, let’s talk about gameplay. The only way to play this game is on Nemesis mode. If you play on Normal or Easy, you’ll fly through as an unstoppable warrior released from the gates of hell to drop death and destruction as a one man army; I started the game on the Normal level and flew through the first act. Orcs fell to my blade by the dozens and hundreds. No captain could defeat me, I was a living god of the battlefield. I also became bored very quickly. All that changed switching to the Nemesis difficulty.
Looking at my first Army tab under Nemesis I found my first target, an Uruk named Shaak. He was my level, and had a weakness to poison. Equipped with a poison blade, I decided to convert Shaak Diesel into one of my minions — hell, even my bodyguard. We went out and slew and converted more captains. I died a bunch of times, I killed a bunch of them; just a typical day around Mordor. Then I went to fight a war chief. Right as I’m about to cut off his head, my loyal bodyguard ambushes me, claiming he no longer works for me, and kills me. What a asshat Shaak Attack!
So what do I do? I hunt down The Big Aristotle. We fight and he runs away. I hunt him again, this time killing him with poison. But that wasn’t the end. A while later, Shaak-Fu reappears. The poison hadn’t killed him after all; it just transformed him. Now he’s immune to poison and a lot stronger — sorta like the same famous Hall of Fame giant with the similar name. He kills me — and then just for fun, HE SNAPS MY SWORD! Coming back from the dead, I now have a personal vendetta against Shaak Daddy. I hunt him down and I am merciless, killing him with an execution that cuts off one of his arms and one of his legs. My sword that he snapped, I get back and it’s now even stronger. But that’s not the end of the Shaak Saga…
The relentless Orc returned again, this time with a peg leg and arm. He killed me a bunch of times. I killed him even more. Arrows, beast attacks, executions. He just kept.. coming… back! Then during an assault on an enemy camp, Shaak attacked me again. I managed to get him down to almost zero health, and I was the same. Wounded and almost dead, your protag was able to perform an execution, this time cutting off Shakk’s skull and ending our rivalry once and for all. Thing is, I didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment, more-so empty.. as if a part of my game was gone that I would never get back. This is where Shadows of War shines, in your ability to create your own story and your own enemies. This experience alone makes this game worth playing.
If my description of the Nemesis system isn’t enough to make you give this Middle-earth sequel a go, then I don’t know what will. While the game does have faults — such as micro transactions and controls that can be somewhat sloppy — my overall experience has been a most positive one. And, R.I.P. Shaak; I’ll never forget you, buddy. 4.5/5 Bibles.