Review: Middle Earth: Shadow of War
Publisher: Warner Bros
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (reviewed on Xbox One)
Genre: Action RPG
I eagerly returned to Middle Earth to continue the epic adventures that seemingly crafted themselves out of thin air in Shadow of Mordor. I was ready for intense stealth missions where I could systematically turn a camp of Uruk over to my side to ambush the Warchief who would be otherwise unbeatable. Most importantly, I wanted to meet my Nemesis. I wanted to know what ridiculous randomly generated enemy would become the bane of my existence as he randomly popped up to defeat me again and again in my moments of desperation. Now I’m largely disappointed because I’m a significant chunk through the game and I still don’t have one.
Skillwise I’d say I’m a fairly average gamer. I’m never going to win a pro tournament but I’m capable of finishing most games I play on a hard difficulty setting. I set Shadow of War to normal as I’ve come to learn this is a smart way to review a game and generally get an objective opinion. Play games the ‘normal’ way and go back for a challenge if the desire strikes. I don’t know if calling it easy is quite the right term but I don’t really die much in Shadow of War. I’ve been killed by Uruks twice during my playthrough. Each notable enemy introduces themselves with such bravado, pausing my game until he’s done with his spiel only to disappoint me moments lately. Even if they do manage to make good on their threats and end my life in whatever colourful way they chose none have generated a true nemesis. Merely an Uruk who seemed as surprised as I that he made the kill, who I would then defeat almost accidentally upon resurrection. I keep waiting for these stories to appear and grow but they just never do.
The same Batman style combat is used as in Shadow of Mordor which over the years I’ve gotten quite good at. Pressing Y not to die has never been as good as it is in these games and there’s a flow to the action which is very satisfying. I find that getting this wrong is probably harder than getting it right and I don’t know how much upping the difficulty would change this. Often if I miss a cue it’s because it’s off-screen or I’ll swear I hit the right button and feel robbed. For the most part, I can float through the world taking minimal damage as I unleash hell upon the Uruk armies of the dark lord.
A supposed counter for this is the way you can easily become overrun by enemies. Targeting a captain is a much more difficult affair when he’s surrounded by all his mates as the move to dominate an opponent also leaves you vulnerable to other attacks. This has caused probably all of my deaths and none of them felt good, especially after getting the captain down to a level where he could be compelled. Now I’m even more careful not to die and so it would seem, not to have a nemesis.
So I’ve accepted this, my life to be lived as a lonely human with a dead elf living inside me and my armies of loyal – if mind controlled – Uruks. I’ll wonder the lands of Middle Earth enjoying the feedback loop of taking over captain after captain and doing quests which largely consist of much the same. Everything I do seems to be ‘go here and kill this and plenty of these’ and that’s ok because, for the most part, it’s fun and satisfying. Battles can get crazy intense when you’re trying to capture a fortress and seeing your previous hard work pay off in the army around you helps add to the sense of accomplishment. Being rewarded with new items which add different perks is nice and the excitement of seeing a rare drop hasn’t gotten old just yet.
Side missions still see you facing hordes of the same enemies with story that’s crammed in as an afterthought. I like the lore of Middle Earth but it’s hard to care about any of the characters when the land is literally overrun. Individuals don’t feel like they matter in this story and despite its efforts, Shadow of War just couldn’t really get me to care about their personal plights.
Environments do their best to look different with snowy and volcanic areas setting themselves apart visually but this has no real tangible effect. Uruks are still everywhere and I still kill all of them. Areas feel like they are laid out essentially the same giving a more reskinned feel to new locations rather than a progression of world. Add to this being able to speed through any area in wraith form, which puts the world into a sort of darkness, makes for a large world which could be interesting but never gives me any reason to explore. I like the way traversal is handled in the sense that it allows you to get straight to the next mission but it once again cuts into the potential for unique stories which is promised in these games.
General movement is very solid but more specifically jumping feels great and double jumping feels double great. Being able to change direction mid-jump creates so many more paths to creep across rooftops to take out enemy archers. General parkour is accentuated by the superhuman movements completed in wraith form and aside from your usual open world ‘no, not that!’ moments, getting where you need to go is natural. Add to this the ability to ride beasts if you choose to unlock it and there are plenty of fun ways to get around just not enough reasons to use them all.
I like Shadow of War but it leaves me feeling empty with all that could be and I know I’m near the end of my playthrough. There’s still a fair amount to do but as nice as the feedback loop is I’m getting to the point where I feel done. I’ve seen everything this game has to offer and while it’s all fun and good it’s also all the same. I found it easy to lose hours to this style of play – just one more captain, one more fortress – but ultimately the feeling of being burnt out has hit me hard when there’s so little difference in all the action.
|Shadow of War is satisfying in a lot of ways. Great parkour and fun Batman style combat keep this game fresh longer than it probably should be given the lack of variety in missions. Unfortunately, the nemesis system didn't play out for me as well as it did in the first game and this led to a blander experience than what the game should offer.||3.5 3.5 ( on 5 rating)|