Middle-earth: Shadow of War
PC, Xbox One, PS4
October 10, 2017
For starters, I would have never envisioned playing Pokémon with Middle-earth orcs, but here I am in Middle-earth: Shadow of War, doing exactly just that. On my horizon is the fortress of Kavláan, an orc with sense of humour, whom I must defeat with my own army of equally humourous orcs.
I might admire Kavláan for his humour and his dressing sense, but I’ll have to take him down because his fortress is of interest to me. I can also make him surrender and make him my body guard, which I probably should. Him surrendering means his humiliation amongst his orc peers *snarl*. During my quest to reach Kavláan, I interrogated measly orcs, who told me that Kavláan is weak to poison and ranged shots, and is immune to attacks by beasts. I build my army in a way that exploit Kavláan’s weaknesses. Now, the time to attack has come, and who would have known, I succeed, so gloriously that Kavláan has no choice but to join the ranks of my bodyguards.
Is the very essence of Middle-earth: Shadow of War a.k.a. The Nemesis system.
The nemesis system made the first game, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor what it was. A thoroughly enjoyable game, with a battle system that made sense and was challenging, a nemesis system that worked as it should, and a story to support, and, enhance all these gameplay element. On the contrary, Shadow of War has all the elements: a massive open world, lots of things to discover, hunt, conquer, a great fighting mechanic; but, what it lacks is the one element that puts it all together i.e. a good story.
That is not to say that Shadow of War is a bad game. It isn’t. Let’s get that out of the way first. The thing is, Monolith Studios went way above their heads over the success of Shadow of Mordor, and they kind of ended up messing Shadow of War. This is something, how an artist makes a solid sleep hit debut album, and then, screws up the follow up. They let the expectations take them away from the vision at hand. A bigger world, more enemies, just, more things, but, a lack in the overall enjoyment in the holistic sense.
The nemesis system though, works undeniably well. It doesn’t shy away from its core purpose, which is, tracking down orcs, learning about their strengths and weaknesses, planning an attack and winning or losing the battle. The nemesis system in Shadow of War is deeper. There are new types of enemies, with new abilities and traits. Orcs are much smarter than before. For example, if you abuse an exploit, the orc will adapt to it and counter it the next time you use the same tactic. This makes it important to plan your fight before you approach the enemy. That is what the game is all about, preparation.
The major addition to the nemesis missions is the introduction of forts. To take over a region, you are required to capture the fort of that particular region. You surely cannot take down the fort by yourself. You will need to muster up your own army of bodyguards, captains and warchiefs. This means, you will have to put yourself right in the middle of the nemesis system, and move up the ranks. Building your army, in the bigger picture, has a clear purpose, that being, to take on the main enemy in the game, Sauron.
The lion’s share of enjoyable gameplay in Shadow of War comes in the process of plotting against an overload of a fort. You’ll have to take on his bodyguard’s one by one. You can either kill them, or you can make them a part of your army. Having done so, you’ll have to set up an ambush and voila, its wartime. The fortress wars are the grandest in scale, and are absolutely spectacular to witness and be a part of.
There have been other improvements in Shadow of War too. Notably, in the way you distribute skill points. There are two protagonists in the game – Talion and Celebrimbor, both acting as one character. You skill tree now gets new set of skills, like double jumps, ally summons and a spectral glaive. You can customise each of these abilities to match your play style.
Another addition, well, who would have known, are microtransactions. The game disposes loot boxes, which in order to open, you need to dish out Mirian, Shadow of War’s in-game currency. You can find Mirian around the realms of the game’s world, and you can also purchase them using real world money. These chests have experience points, gear, followers and training orders. Still, one can’t help but feel how unnecessary these chests are. Yet, the game tried hard to constantly remind you of these chests and the awards they unlock.
The story in Shadow of War is the Achilles heel of the game. To be honest, it is utter nonsense. It is heavily populated with exposition and fillers. The plot and character progression is overblown in every sense. I couldn’t help but feel how the writers completely discredited that players of this game had a mind of their open to forming opinions. So what if the story was bad, it could have been told in a much, erm, better way. But it wasn’t, and that’s what completely put me off. Adding to that, the protagonist is strong on his values throughout the game, but in the ending, he completely banishes them in a blink without much explanation. To put it bluntly, it made me feel cheated about why I even rooted for this guy.
Summing up, Shadow of War ends up being that follow up to a debut that’s cause was lost in the midst of high expectations. A lot of new features and mechanisms have been added. They work well too. But all of it is pulled down heavily by a storyline that takes no consideration of the gamer’s intelligence. That, in my honest opinion, is the biggest crime. Shadow of War still has its fun moments all around, but it gets impossible to indulge into those moments when you have a story like that driving the game forward.
This game was reviewed on a PC running GeForce GTX 1080. The Steam code was provided by the publisher’s arm in India.