Middle Earth: Shadow Of War Review
Size matters – that is a fact that is well known. Middle Earth: Shadow of War takes this motto to heart and doesn’t just run with it but rather, gets on a plane and sees the world with it. The big world, the very big world indeed.
The game throws you straight into the action when the first thing you see is a small orc that you must stealth kill. There is no messing around with slow tutorials here, the game starts as soon as it loads up and that is probably a good thing. The game is split up into acts and it took us almost seventeen hours to finish the first one. There is so much to do in an area that it is very easy to get side tracked with. There are all manner of collectables to find in the world and encounters to intervene in.
Once you have finished the first act you are all settled in and know for sure what this game is about. But then it flips everything on its head by opening up the actual world and giving you a glimpse of what you have in store. And what you have in store is hours upon hours of gameplay. The world is vast and fairly varied meaning that the game keeps you driven to find the collectables that are scattered about the map just in case you see something new or stumble across an encounter.
There is of course a problem with having a world this big with so much to do in it. That problem is that it is very easy to drift away from the story and lose track of what is actually going on with the plot. The developers have done a fairly good job of sticking with Tolkien’s lore and the story is actually a fascinating one if you can remember what it is in among all of the orc murder that you will be doing.
Murdering orcs is really what this game is all about. The combat system is slick and intuitive. It is a counter based system so just like in the Batman Arkham games, you can flow from enemy to enemy with strikes. Your options of what to do in combat are varied and become more so as you unlock different skills on the expansive skill tree.
The skill tree is an interesting one having different overall skills that can be upgraded and then each unlock in this individual tree has its own specific upgrades as well. The problem with this system is that it can sometimes feels as if you are wasting points by unlocking skills only so you can get to the next one in the tree. Skills points are gained by leveling up and completing certain tasks and encounters. It is helpful to look at the rewards of missions just to see if you can get an extra skill point from completing it.
Now lets get down to it. One of the main features of the game is the nemesis system. This is the system that organises how the orc hierarchy works in the world. If an orc captain kills you then he will be promoted. If you kill one then they will be replaced. In among all of the captain slaying that you will be doing there is also infighting amongst the orcs. This means that more die at the hands of their ‘brothers’ in arms. This system makes the game personal to you. You will have your own grudges and vendettas going on – your top captains could well be different from that of someone else.
As in the previous game you can dominate instead of killing orcs. This means that some you will interrogate for information on captains while others will fight along side you. Later on in the game you gain the ability to recruit captains to your army and watch it grow. You can then send these allies of to go kill an enemy or spy on them. Once you have built your army you can start trying to take large citadels and then hold them. These will act as the base of operations for your orcs in a region.
This part of the game is a double edged sword. It is fun watching your army grow and taking over regions from Sauron’s forces. But it is also a grind. It takes time to see your army grow to a decent size and soul crushing to see tough members of your army die. The biggest problem with this grind is that it feels somehow artificial, as if it has been extended on purpose to add hours to the gameplay.
There is however a way that this grind can be circumnavigated. Loot boxes are available to purchase and these boxes can contain powerful, high level orcs to add to your army. This means if you haven’t got the hours to put into the game you can throw money at it instead. This almost seems to be a theme with the later parts of the game. The store front is far too in your face, as it is right in front of you every time you pause the game. You can also get a 3% XP boost just by signing up for the Warner Brothers newsletter. The marketing is real in this game.
On a more positive note however, the orcs are fantastically designed. They all look neat, grotesque and individual. Each one has their own personal visual quirks which makes them far more interesting than the generic enemies we often see in games. They also have their own personalities. Some will taunt you, others will give you a little bit of cheek. They act and react differently, all having their own strengths and weaknesses. These can be found out by interrogating worms; orcs who are willing to talk about their overlords. One of the funniest encounters we had with an orc commander was when we were ambushed after poisoning a barrel of grog. An orc called and the poisoner appeared and berated us on how bad we were at poisoning, telling us how he would have done it better.
Middle Earth: Shadow of War is a fantastic RPG that fans of the genre should dive right into. There is so much to do that it almost becomes overwhelming and is definitely distracting. Our main gripe is the way that the second half of the game seems to do little but encourage you to invest in loot boxes and the game goes to a lot of effort to push you in the direction of micro transactions. If you have the will power to resist these urges and the hours to invest in the game then this is a fantastic game that takes Tolkien’s world and expands on it in a true to source way.
Middle Earth: Shadow of War is available to download from the Xbox Store and will cost you £54.99.
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