Written by  :  Kennyannydenny (43224)
Written on  :  Nov 21, 2017
Platform  :  Xbox One
Rating  :  3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars

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Summary

Does Shadow of War live up to the reputation of its predecessor?

The Good

First off, let me say that I was a huge fan of the predecessor: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. As a big Lord of the Rings fan I was really excited to see such a free-roaming action adventure game in the LotR setting. Unfortunately, neither game is canon, so none of this 'actually' happened in the LotR franchise story.

The game is free-roaming, which for me, is a big plus. LotR already knows several previous great games, but not much are free-roaming, and that mixes really well with the Nemesis system.

The combat systems are mostly the same as in Shadow of Mordor, and the Nemesis system is back. That is the most shining part of the whole game. Tracking an Orc Captain to meet him, only to find out he has vault breaker, a flaming sword and rides a Caragor. Really exciting. As the Nemesis system selects random weapons, backgrounds and skills for enemy Captains, players must always learn to adapt quickly to the situations. So most fights require a different approach in order to survive. Domination is also in this game, and still works as it should. Controlling Captains is really fun, especially when you let them infiltrate the position of Warchief. It's really fun to kill all Warchiefs of a fortress, let them gain the trust of the Overlord and replace the Warchiefs, only to have them all turn on their master during the attack on the fortress.

During Act two you'll unlock the ability to assault and conquer Sauron's fortresses. Every region has one varying in difficulty. Preparing for the fight by dominating Orc Captains is a fun and challenging thing to do. Upgrading your army will help a lot. The first time you play such a battle, it'll feel huge compared to other Shadow of War battles. The big army behind you, all those NPC's fighting at your side, having artillery, infantry, possibly cavalry, side by side with as much as 6 captains (depending on which level you are), It's a great feeling and experience. It will get less after a few fortresses as you'll likely buy the same, 'best' upgrades, but they'll still be very fun to do.

Shadow of War features the same awesome beasts as its predecessor, including Caragors, Graugs and Ghûls, but with a new addition: Drakes. You can mount and fly a Drake, spitting out fireballs and breathing fire. How cool is that?! Shadow of War also features elemental versions of the Graug, with for example Graugs being able to do fire damage or poison damage. A great way to expand upon the rideable beasts that were already out there.

The game does feature collectibles, like lost artifacts, Ithildin, and Shelob memories, expanding upon the background story. These can easily been skipped if you do not like collectibles, but may grant you stronger items and other useful things if you do.

Just like Shadow of Mordor, Shadow of War also has a small online portion in the game. If you do not like that, it can all be skipped, but you avenge your fellow players in Online Vendettas just like before. Another player died by the hand of a Captain and you must kill the Captain in their world to avenge them. Personally I really like to do these as they offer the best of the Nemesis system, in combination with rewarding the player with Vendetta chests containing loot, and avenging other players just gives a nice feeling. During the second act you also unlock the ability to play Online Conquest. In this you attack another player's fortress with all the upgrades they bought, and all their Captains against you. So some may be very hard to conquer. But it does give a new challenge to players, and allows you to keep conquering fortresses even after you've done them all in your save. On the defenders side, you will not actively participate or watch, but you will get a message if you're Captains succeeded in defending. The plus side is that you cannot lose anything as a defender. It's not that a really strong player could wipe your Captains or destroy your walls.

Unlike Shadow of Mordor where you played on two maps, you now have five maps at your disposal: Minas Ithil/Minas Morgul, Cirith Ungol, Núrnen, Seregost and Gorgoroth, each having different environmental aspects. Ranging from human city of Minals Ithil, to the Orc invested pits of Cirith Ungol, forests in Núrnen and a snowy landscape in Seregost. Each area feels different, and that's a very nice touch.

The Bad

The game does has its flaws. The story is... flat. You again play as Talion, a Ranger from the north who survived something most people wouldn't, thanks to the wraith of Celebrimbor, a Ñoldorin prince who forged the Rings of Power for Sauron during the Second Age, when he disguised himself as the Elven lord Annatar.

Needless to say, the background story is great. But then comes the story of Shadow of War. The main campaign starts with the fall of the human city of Minas Ithil, later known as Minas Morgul after Sauron gave the fortress to the Witch-King of Angmar. You work together with a couple of human captains, whose names you quickly forget after two missions, as only Idril and Baranor are two characters who you'll recognize.

Gameplay wise Shadow of War lacks on several points. The walking/climbing system is something we know from its predecessor and also the Assassin's Creed series. This handles well most of the time, but especially whilst wraith sprinting he tend to bump into the tiniest of things you would normally vault over, breaking the sprint and slowing you down. As the game has a lot of those small rocks, sacks, etc, it's really annoying to use on some maps.

As vaulting over things and climbing is on the same button, you often find yourself hanging on to things you didn't want. When climbing a tower you end up going above the side opening, instead of in it (as pulling up a ridge is also the same button), only to press B and find out Talion does not grab the ledge when he falls past it.

The game has the same random Captain encounters as Shadow of Mordor, which can be counted as a good or bad thing, depending on what you like. It does give a great sense of things happening around you, even when you're not part of it, but can be annoying at times. You will quickly find yourself in a dire situation after starting the game and hunting down a few Captains, as often when you're fighting a Captain, another jumps in. And if you're unlucky, another, with you ending up having to fight 3 captains at the same time. If one of them is Cursed, or has Vault Breaker, or does poison or fire damage, you can quickly be overrun, die, resulting in failure of the mission, the Captain that killed you gaining levels, and advancing time, sometimes ending other timed side objectives you wanted to do.

The only downside of Online Vendettas is that most people die during the same things, so killing a Captain in the enemy fortress or attacking an enemy outpost. In Cirith Ungol I played around 10 Online Vendettas right after each other and found out that at least 7 of the 10 took place in the enemy fortress. So I had to get in to the same fortress, doing something like killing 10 archers, or destroying 3 enemy towers, and then kill the Captain. Community actions are the cause of this, but the game could mix up the locations more. So if you already avenged three people by killing Captains in the fortress, it would be nice of the game to select someone who died elsewhere on the map, instead of again someone who died in the fortress.

This might be a bit nitpicking, but Shelob is a character who deserves a mention here. During the main quest you discover Shelob (yes, the giant spider from Lord of the Rings), but in a human form. In canon sources she has not yet been defined what she is exactly, aside from being spawn of Ungoliant and having the form of a giant spider. The developers decided it was time to mark her as a Maiar, and transform her into a woman. It does not break the Shadow of War storyline, nor that is completely contradict LotR lore completely, but it just doesn't feel correct. That feeling may well be completely personal though.

Last but not least, the game features Microtransactions. Yes some things may be bought with ingame cash, but in my opinion, microtransactions are never a good thing, and as such, must be mentioned here. It does not break the story, it's not pay to win, but you can get better followers and items by buying these packs, potentially making Online Conquest a lot harder for other players when the fortress is stuffed with Legendary and Epic followers.

The Bottom Line

So, to answer the title: "Does Shadow of War live up to the reputation of its predecessor?". In my opinion, no. There hasn't been changed enough to create the same great feeling you had when first playing Shadow of Mordor. Does this make the game bad, boring, or not worth it? Not at all.

Long story short, Shadow of War is a great game. It deserves at least one playthrough and you'll enjoy it too, especially the great Nemesis system and the world you're exploring deserve praise. The story isn't strong, but not bad either. Combat hasn't changed much from Shadow of Mordor but is still exiting and feels correct, although if you don't like QTE's, thus pressing Y or B on the exact right moment, you're in for a bit of a downer when not playing stealthy.

Conquering fortresses is a lot of fun and avenging other players online feels rewarding in my honest opinion. The game has enough of side quests and things to keep you occupied for a long while and the main quest will give you a sense of how Celebrimbor really is (a "the ends justify the means" guy) and the broken heart Talion carries with him. How he goes from avenging his family in Shadow of Mordor, to feeling for the people of Minas Ithil and trying to help/save them.

Even with many new additions of characters, beasts, etc, the game still breathes LotR. The game has so many references to things not actually found in-game, it's really a shame that both games are not canon.

Try it, especially if you haven't played Shadow of Mordor, the game will pleasantly surprise you!