One does not simply walk into Mordor. One bounds in, mounted on a Caragor with your own army of Orcs behind you! Welcome to the fun that will be my Middle Earth Shadow of War review that will not contain any more Lord of the Rings puns… honest.

The guys at Monolith have returned with a much meatier edition than the original, award winning Shadow of Mordor that I really enjoyed. The end of the game was a bit poor but overall it really was an entertaining experience that left me happy to go back and smash some more Orcs to bits!

This time we get more RPG elements to the game with the addition of different gear types, levelling up, with a nice skill-tree system. Plus, you can build your own army and unleash it around the lands as you take on Sauron! Do these elements really work or are they just a Tolkien gesture (sorry)? Find out in the details of my review below.

But first middle earth fans, I’d like to know your thoughts on this…

Review Side Quest

“If you had to build an army… name some video game characters you’d include!”

Now, I’ve already picked Kratos for mine so hands off. Other than that have some fun in the Disqus Comments at the end gamers, I look forward to some ideas.

How does it play?

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MGL Gold Gameplay Award – The nemesis system and open world gameplay keep you coming back for more in this exceptionally fun adventure.

As a traditional action-combat gamer, I do like the classic simplicity of the combat in Shadow of War. Getting into countless fights with Orcs, Uruks and even giant Dragons called Drakes is the main focus of the game. And all of it is a lot of fun.

Using the fight system as in the previous game and the Batman Arkham series you have a few buttons to use in the classic location, rather than shoulder button combat. Attack, counter and stun are your main tools in combat and it’s all about timing and building that combo to do special takedowns and other moves.

The rest of the gameplay has so much going for it too. The smaller, open sandboxes make for tight spaces with lots of enemies. Plus, getting around the map is fluid with key fast travel points that are unlocked as you find and “purify” a tower known as a Haedir. Once they are free of Sauron’s influence you use them as you please to get around which is quite handy.

But if you don’t movement is fluid as you run, climb and bound in wrath form around the maps. There are a decent number of locations too, all with lots to get involved with and impressive to explore.

The big gameplay element is taking back parts of Mordor with your own army. This is where they full on addictiveness of the gameplay hits you and it won’t let go!

Orcs will be Orcs

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There has been some debate about the treatment of forcing Orcs to serve you in Shadow of War, the “S” word Jeff Goldblum doesn’t like being brought into it. But, in fairness this is what these creatures are bred for, to serve their dark master in combat. You simply flip this and have them serve you, the Bright Lord in combat.

When taking on the hierarchy of the Orc ranks you can recruit any Orc of a lower or equal level to you. This opens up later in the game but becomes the main feature as you use this to build an army. When an enemy is higher level than you, you have to decide whether to shame them, and therefore reduce their level, or just kill them in combat.

There are plenty of enemies to fight and when you are killed (although you can’t truly die, more later) this makes the Orc that killed you stronger. This is the foundations of the Nemesis system (again, more later!).

Once you have enough army members you can storm as stronghold and make it your own. This can be done in one round or a few depending on the place, but it’s always great to do it first time. Once you take over the location is yours and you allocate your team a Warchief position.

It’s the main feature but it’s also my favourite too, it’s fun and addictive and more than enough to keep coming back to the game for.

Presentation and Graphics

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MGL Silver Presentation Award – Everything here is very well put together, especially on 4K machines. It’s not genre defining but its still a great looking title.

Overall Shadow of War looks really impressive, even on standard machines. The locations are full of variety with a mixture of the very cold; extremely hot and more green locations full of plants and life. The enemies all look suitably ugly and rather mean looking two with plenty of variety going on between the Orcs.

Your main character, Talion the ranger who only lives because he is bound with the Wraith of Celebrimbor, looks good as do most things close up. During gameplay it can all get a bit too much at times and the game gets a little too much for itself. There is some pop in and graphical errors here and there, plus the camera can get a bit awkward at times which can be annoying.

Overall though, it’s a very nice experience if not a spectacular one in comparison to others in the sames genre.

Sound wise, we have some really good Lord of the Rings style soundtrack to listen to and some really well done voice acting. The relationship between Celebrimbor and Talion is well performed with Troy Baker once again standing out. The supporting cast are great too, it’s a shame there isn’t more for them to do overall.

Main Features

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MGL Silver Features Award – So much to enjoy, it’s really deep but once again the campaign and ending let the game down. Plenty of enjoyment to be had here though.

You are Talion as mentioned before, and the game begins to weave its story right away as you and your wrath Celebrimbor construct a new ring of power. One untainted by Sauron, and capable of defeating him.

As this begins you are lead to the lair of Shelob, the giant spider we all love from the films. I mean, who doesn’t love the thought of a giant spider? In the game however, she takes on the form of a woman to communicate with Talion, which is a bit odd but then, Talion himself is a dead man being kept alive by another dead man’s ghost…

I think we should just continue suspending disbelief here gamers since it works!

From here the ring is lost as Shelob takes it and makes you do her bidding. From here you start your journey to get the ring back, build your army and take over Mordor. Simple enough job to do of course.

Death becomes him

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The cleverest element of this series is how it turns the ability to die and retry part of the game. In fact, the main feature of the games addictive quality.

There is a lot of combat in Shadow of War and will die at times. The first part of this is the cool last chance system that sees you time a QTE button press to save yourself from a deadly blow. If this does not work you die…

But being already dead its not such an issue as you recover and return some time later. However, the result sees the Orc that killed you rise the ranks, even grunts can become epic bosses to vanquish. It was unique in the first game, by moving it forward and integrating the army element it’s even more impressive in Shadow of War.

The nemesis system is genius, so much I’m shocked there aren’t a load of clones out there! It’s fantastic and really makes the standard open world mechanics much more varied as a result.

Personally speaking I love it, and I even made an Uruk that killed my twice a key member of my army and then my bodyguard who saved my life. Yet, another betrayed me and I needed to hunt him down. Unique stories like this are what this system creates and it’s a work of genius.

Distractions

There is a lot to do in your map outside of the general combat and story. Side quests are everywhere to find, there are strongholds to take and boss level enemies to kill or recruit.

Taking on big enemies yields loot in the form better gear. This can be your main sword or your bow being better for taking down enemies from distance. Traditional levels of gear apply with legendary and epic versions dropping from big victories.

The rpg elements are great too as you level and develop a nicely full skill tree. It’s simple but has enough depth and does force your choices as each upgrade has 3 sub-abilities but you can only use one.

With all the activities, online links too to avenge others deaths and secrets to find it really is a meaty game. It’s just a shame the distractions are once again better than the campaign. The story is ok and has some decent moments, but in others (particularly the conclusion!) it’s the same as the original in it’s oddly standard mission structure.

Considering the creativity of the Nemesis system you’d expect more. It’s not bad by any stretch but compared to the other things to do it’s the least compelling element to the game.

Should I play this?

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In terms of open world gameplay and downright enjoyment, yes I do think most people would love this game. So many things are good and personally speaking I love it. It’s addictive and he gameplay really will keep you coming back again and again.

However, the campaign again lets the overall package down, particularly in the ending moment. There’s so much that’s good yet so many, arguably easier things to get right just don’t work. It’s a great game however, and one you’ll easily get lost in for hours of orc smashing fun.

Gamers who should…

Fans of open world gaming with smaller sandboxes will enjoy this one. If you like lots of brutal combat too it’s right up your street. Plenty for action RPG fans to enjoy too.

Gamers who probably shouldn’t…

If you come for story over gameplay you will be wise to wait for this one until it’s cheaper. It’s not quiet a fully untold Middle Earth story as a set of events to justify the cool gameplay. It’s enough and has its moments, but this is a game best at its addictive action.

Similar games…

There is of course the original bit it’s most like the Batman Arkham games with the ability to kill and no unnecessary Batmobile gameplay!

The GoodThe BadThe Bugs
Great combatThe campaign is a let downSome pop in
Nemesis SystemCamera issues
Building an army and going to war
Soundtrack and some performances

About This Middle Earth Shadow of War Review

Game Reviewed: Middle Earth Shadow of War, standard edition provided by publisher.
Review Format: PS4
PEGI Rating: 18

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