With the surprising success of the brilliant Shadow Of Mordor in 2014, my favourite game of that year, it came as no surprise that there would be a sequel. Following on from the events of the original game, Shadow Of War takes place with Talion once again perusing The Dark Lord with the help of Celebrimbor, the Wraith who has connected itself to Talion and the newly crafted ring of power. This game is huge in scale and loaded with content especially compared to Shadow Of Mordor and one of its stand out features is the fantastic Nemesis system. It has evolved so much from the first game and it’s a brilliantly dynamic system that makes every enemy not only unique throughout but also a threat to Tailon, no matter their ranking.
The difference here though is that the Nemesis system works both ways with not only enemy Orcs and Uruks getting promoted, but now the player can devise their own army utilising the Nemesis system as a recruiting tool. It’s a very clever and original system and Monolith should be proud of how it works within the game. Mordor laid the foundations for utilising it and now Shadow Of War extends the possibilities of it, and it works brilliantly. It adds a dynamic to the game that isn’t seen in anything else at present and it’s what truly makes Shadow Of War stand out from other games of a similar style.
I want to address the reported pay wall associated with Shadow Of War and it’s micotransactions, and from my experience with this game, those concerns seem to have been needlessly exaggerated by the media. I have made my feelings known in the past about how I feel about extra game content being tied to these paid microtransactions but not once did I ever feel the need to purchase the loot chests on offer, with in game currency or real money. I’m not saying I agree with them because I don’t, but there are so many opportunities to level up not only the skills tree but the gear too and if you play the game how it is intended then there really isn’t any need to put your hand in your pocket to purchase anything else.
Do I agree with them even being in the game? No, but they’re not intrusive so they can easily be ignored. Shadow Of War is so big and full of so many different things to do outside of the main story that you will level everything up quite quickly without even realising. The skill tree and gear system is definitely more RPG than the first game and it’s something that adds real depth to the levelling up system in general. There is always a new piece of gear or a new skill that you’ll end up collecting and gems can be added to everything to boost their power too. It’s a deep system that is really simple to get to grips with, so even players who don’t normally play RPG style games won’t feel too bogged down with it.
The game world itself is pretty large, but it’s broken down in to different regions, a lot like how The Witcher 3 is laid out and while it doesn’t quite compare in size to Witcher 3 it’s still pretty big and it has massive areas to explore. Each region has numerous outposts and a fortress with the main Overlord overseeing everything and the primary aim is to take down the Overlord and promote your own recruited Uruk in to the role. This is done by planning a siege and successfully battling through them comes down to how efficiently you level up your army. Apart from the main story, the siege sections play a huge part in Shadow Of War and they are another one of the stand out features in my opinion, with every one playing out differently, I found them to be incredibly addictive especially as they gave me the opportunity of recruiting more powerful Warchiefs to my armies, which is what makes it so addictive.
It’s such a great addition to the overall game and the Sieges are so popular that the community have asked for it to be part of an endless endgame for it, so Monolith will be adding that option as free DLC for everyone soon. The main story itself is a little bit of a mishmash and a little weak compared to Shadow Of Mordor and while its not anything revolutionary, it’s engaging none the less and I found myself rooting for Talion more as the story progressed. The narrative isn’t the strongest I’ve experienced in a game but it’s still enjoyable, well written and holds everything together well.
There is no other way to describe the gameplay in Shadow Of War other than it is simply brilliant, with smooth movement and a simple yet fantastic and wonderfully satisfying combat system. The feeling of fighting hordes of Orcs and Uruks, in seamless combinations ending with brutal executions is absolutely fantastic. The feeling of unlimited power never got tiresome or boring despite the combat having a slightly repetitive nature but there is no other game around at present that offers such satisfying combat. Shadow Of Mordor was hailed as being a mixture of Assassins Creed and the Batman Arkham series for its free running/climbing and fighting mechanics respectively but Shadow Of War easily outshines both of those franchises in these areas.
Overall the gameplay has been finely tuned since the last game and it really shows here, with hardly any problems with unresponsive movement or collision issues, Shadow Of War really is a joy to play and with so many skills to unlock, there is always something new to use to expand the gameplay even more. Even riding beasts, whether on the ground or in the air feels great, with the only minor criticism being that when riding a Caragor, there where instances where I would accidentally climb up a building when I didn’t need or want to because of their style of movement, which felt a little fiddly but it’s such a small criticism in what is otherwise fantastic and addictive gameplay.
Visually Shadow Of War is a good looking game, but it’s a little rough around the edges. As it’s utilising a new game engine, the developers are able to do things on a bigger scale within the game world that wasn’t possible with Shadow Of Mordor but it comes at a price, mainly on base current generation consoles. While I appreciate that this game is of a much larger scale than the previous one, Shadow Of War seems to suffer some awful textures in certain areas, particularly on the floors and on walls of buildings. It’s slightly disappointing that it looks this way, especially when you consider other games like The Witcher 3 for example which is not only bigger, but is over two years old doesn’t suffer with this problem and still looks tremendous even now.
The lighting and overall look of the game though are pretty good and the detail on the characters look great also, especially the attention to detail on the Orcs, Uruks and Overlords. So while the textures are disappointing the overall look of the game is decent. On the flip side to the poor textures though, anyone who will be purchasing an Xbox One X in November and who already own this game will be pleased to know that the enhanced improvements for this game on the X look simply fantastic and are as close to PC high end specs that you will get on any console, and the texture issues seen in this regular Xbox One version are massively improved.
The performance of Shadow Of War is pretty stable throughout and despite a lot going on on screen at times, especially in Siege Battles, I rarely noticed any dips in frame rate, even on the busiest of battles. Animations are smooth and look and feel great, although I still have an issue with Talion’s strange running animation that has carried over from the previous game. It almost looks like his feet aren’t properly attached to the ground when he’s running and looks a little unnatural, but again it’s just a very small criticism that I would of hoped would of been tweaked from Shadow Of Mordor.
Character performances and voice acting from all of the characters are again on point for this game. They are all very likeable and while Talion himself is very stone faced and always very serious, the chemistry that he has with Celebrimbor as well as some other characters is well balanced. Some familiar well liked characters return like Ratbag, who is again annoying but fairly humorous at the same time and there are some new ones added in including the brilliant Bruz, a quirky one line specialist Uruk who plays a big part later in the game. The Orcs and Uruks all have their own unique personalities and some are pretty amusing, like Uruks that serenade you before trying to plough your head in to the floor or some that speak in rhyme. Each and every one of them are unique and again, this is down to the brilliant mechanics of the Nemesis system.
There was a lot of controversy surrounding the microtransactions within the game before its release and what impact they will have on the overall experience. The ones tied to this game certainly aren’t needed if you play the game how it should be played. If you just want to play through it quickly however, you will struggle later on in the game because of the levels that are needed and those extra charges might sound appealing to get to a higher level, but it would be a real shame if the game was played that way as there is so much fun to be had by playing it to its fullest while levelling everything up in the process.
So I encourage people to play this fun filled Action RPG the way it should be played and not buy in to the microtransactions that may seem appealing on the surface but I assure you they will only spoil the experience. Shadow Of War is a brilliant game and a worthy sequel to Shadow Of Mordor. It gets off to a little bit of a slow start, and it can feel a little hollow for the first couple of hours, but once Act 2 begins, the game really starts to build some fantastic momentum. It’s a massive game with absolutely loads of content and will keep players very busy for a long time. Before the extra DLC is even considered, the value for money in the base game alone is fantastic and even after the main story has ended you will definitely want to jump back in to the game and complete all the other side missions, challenges and hunting for collectibles that you may have missed along the way.