I’ve been so excited for this game, I haven’t left my house since it came out (I’m partially kidding). Let’s just jump right into this one because there’s a shite ton to cover.
What You Need to Know
Middle-earth: Shadow of War takes place after Shadow of Mordor. Talion and his Elf partner Celebrimbor are still bound together and continue their quest to fight Sauron. This involves building up your army, but to a scale we’ve never seen in this series.
The core of Middle-earth‘s gameplay has remained untouched, such as the Arkham styled combat, the sneaking, side quests, dominating enemy forces. However, there is a bevy of new things that differentiate this one from Shadow of Mordor, and I will attempt to break them all down as best as I can.
Firstly, as you’ve probably seen, the game is more RPG like. Once you level up Talion, you’ll immediately notice what I mean. The skill tree from Shadow of Mordor didn’t make the cut, and now it has been vastly expanded to supplement each of Talion’s different base abilities. Take a look for yourselves…
This changes the core gameplay because you can augment his core abilities with different attributes. For example, Talion’s Cleansing Light special attack can be augmented to turn into a fire smash or poison smash (elements are new and very important as well.) You just unlocked Shadow Strike? Upgrade it with the ability to chain kills at the cost of Elven Focus (it’s pretty awesome).
Talion’s equipment can be changed and each slot can be equipped with different leveled gear, similar to the runes from the previous entry. At higher rarities, gear will have challenges that you must complete in order to unlock the gear’s full potential. Gear drops from killing captains and other activities. Each individual gear can be augmented with gems that boost the gears stats. There are 3 different types of gems; red warrior gems, green health gems, or white wealth gems. Combine 3 gems to create a stronger gem, then combine 3 stronger gems to create an even stronger gem. It’s a whole new level of customization, and it gives you a deeper ability to create Talion in your image.
Remember the Nemesis system? It’s back, and it’s f^&*ing deeper than a hole going to China. Essentially it works the same but with new additions such as Orc blood brothers (kill one, and the brother will show up for revenge) and they will even ambush you. Captains will show up if they find out you’re gaining intel on them, or they will travel across many regions just to chase you down. Some will cheat death, and others can’t be dominated. It’s pretty expansive as to what they did, and each new addition must be kept in mind when preparing to fight a captain. Not to mention each captain has their own buffs, which can range from slightly broken to extremely broken such as the ability to summon beasts to their aid mid fight making your encounter rougher than it already is.
Speaking of regions, the game is divided into 5 playable regions. Each region offers a variety of quests, collectible items such as Gondorian artifacts, Ithildin, Shelob memories, outposts, Haedir (which act as view points you must synchronize), and a ton of other stuff. The main draw in each region is the fortress, which is a new challenge. Fortresses must be captured, by Talion. In order to challenge the fortress and defeat the Overlord who controls it, you must build up your army.
Fortresses are assigned a power level, and in order to challenge it you must build up your orc following by dominating/killing war chiefs and/recruiting captains. Warchiefs directly influence the power level of the fortress so if you kill or dominate one, you will lower the power level of the fortress, and disable one of the fortress’s defenses. For example, I killed a Warchief, and it disabled the siege beast defenses that would’ve rained fire on my homies. Upon dominating a captain or war chief you assign him into a position of power in your army, which can then be augmented with different abilities such as Mounted Cavalry, Defender soldiers, and other neat abilities. The actual battle takes place in the form of a domination match. You charge the gates, capture points with your army then challenge the Overlord. If you win, then you have captured the fortress and must assign an Overlord. After some time, Sauron or the Nazgûl will challenge your fortress which means you must come to defend it.
Their is online integration in the game such as completing vendettas and you can challenge other players fortresses. You can play in friendly or ranked, but participating in ranked matches will put you at risk of losing your army upon being challenged.
I was insanely hyped for this game, and I’ve enjoyed mostly every second of it.
The new additions very much compliment the base game, and makes you feel like you get more bang for your buck. I love the new skill tree because it makes you feel like you have direct control over your abilities, and you turn into a complete badass. The new armor system is pretty cool as well not only offering new cosmetic looks, but offering stat bonuses as well.
I will say nothing made me as hype as the first time I challenged a fortress. Seeing all your Orc soldiers come together to siege a fortress is such an amazing feeling, and makes it feel like you are actually building an army compared to building up a gang of followers like in Shadow of Mordor. I got goosebumps as Celembrimbor raised his sword and yelled “Charge!” Watching my soldiers bust through the front gates, climb over walls, and storm the fortress gave me a strong sense of satisfaction.
Caragors and Graugs have made a return, but all eyes are on the new additions such as Drakes and siege beasts. Siege beasts are artillery mounted Graugs while Drakes take to the sky to rain fire. It’s amazing. Trust me.
The Nemesis additions are actually really cool, and they spice up the normal encounters. I was in a mission where I had to kill a captain, and while I was planning my assault, another captain ambushed me and killed me. I found that captain afterwards, and returned the favor. In another instance, I dominated a captain. I did not know he had a blood brother bond, so when I killed his brother, I lost his allegiance, and he turned on me. There are so many different combos of what could happen, and there’s no way to be fully prepared. I loved every second of it.
My problem lies much deeper, and you probably will know what I’m going to say. In the game there are micro transactions. You can purchase loot chests to get better gear, followers, XP boosts, and even training orders which are consumables you can apply to your followers. The currency used to purchase them is known as gold, but to be honest I did not even pay attention to it. I did not feel pressured to buy them, however, the game feels like it was made to be more grindy to gear you to purchase said loot chests.
The concern for this lies in the endgame. Once you have captured every fortress, you must defend them all from Sauron’s forces. You put your best soldiers at the helm of the fortress, but if they do not match your power level when you start the end game, you will get demolished. If you’re like me and did not think to level up your dudes, then you will have to go back and upgrade your soldiers. However, if you have the money you can purchase the crates to get better geared soldier to cut that grind down significantly (I’m not endorsing them by the way), which is where my problem lies.
Other than that, I have had a blast playing this. It was worth the wait, but unfortunately the shadow of micro transactions has tainted a lot of fans’ views on title. Let me know how you feel in the comments below or on Twitter.