Shadow Of Mordor was pretty limited on what you could do with your enemies, since you could only kill or brainwash them, and they had very little purpose if branded. This game introduces several new ways to deal with them, such as shaming them by letting them livenote This improves their eventual loot, lowers their level and affects their sanity, using them as bodyguardsnote You can handpick any of your followers to work as your bodyguard, and summon them when needed; you can also choose an animal to summon with an another button, and even exile your followers, removing their branding. While summoning was present on Mordor's DLC's, it's been massively improved upon.
Minor: ever since the trailer/alpha gameplay suddenly showed Talion without his beard, quite a few people thought he looked worse, more generic, etc. On the recent Twitter stream however, developers confirmed that he'll have it in the full game and that his appearance in the alpha gameplay wasn't representative, among other things.
The confusion over the donations regarding the Forthog Orc-Slayer DLC, a portion of which would go to Michael Forgey's family, caused an uproar among some fans, causing a Broken Base. A factually untrue tweet exacerbated the situation, so Warner Brothers and Monolith decided to abandon having the promotion and just decided to release the DLC for free instead of its initial $5 price-point, giving refunds to all who purchased it. The publisher instead donated a large sum directly to the Forgey family instead, and invited gamers to donate on their own directly themselves, while explaining the charitable donation laws and why they couldn't disclose information, explaining, "Answering that direct question itself could have triggered compliance obligations or put us in violation of cause marketing laws in some of the 241 territories in which the content was available." Donations from fans were brisk and steady.
After players set up a petition to replay them, the devs will be adding endless Shadow wars to the game for free when the first DLC becomes available.
Broken Base: The true Downer Ending of the game has divided people on if it's straight up awful, rendering everything pointless, or if it's a very fitting conclusion to the themes the game deals with, and extremely memorable.
Some of the liberties taken with the source material, like the fact that Shelob can inexplicably turn into a human woman, have not sat well with some of the fanbase.note This makes more sense when you remember that Shelob was not a real spider — rather, she was an evil spirit who took the form of a spider. Real spiders, for example, don't have stingers.
The identities of two of the Nazgul. They're Helm Hammerhand and Isildur of all people. To say this has not been taken kindly by many fans is putting things mildly, with numerous people pointing out that all nine ringwraiths first appeared over 400 and 900 years before either had even been born, respectively. note The series is in an Alternate Continuity, and this is hardly the first example of time-displacement - Gondor had lost the Black Gate, and Minas Ithil had been turned into Minas Morgal, well before the events of The Hobbit in canon, rather than recently in Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War, respectively.Word of God acknowledged this, and stated they were going by Gandalf's vague description of the Wraiths as having been "kings of men" in their former lives, and it's pretty obvious the writers simply skimmed through the books to find any old names fans might recognize.
Along with the above, while the story hangs together on its own terms it includes several things wildly at odds with the story on the page. The timeline of Mordor is extremely compressed (and moved forward) for not much reason while other event orders are either changed or would involve new powers/events being introduced Big one being the replacement of Nazgul. Sauron also is far more powerful and present in this narrative, with powers that he had (importantly) lost by the Third Age and that would have posed a huge problem in canon. He recovers extremely quickly from Isildur's finger chop such that he can physically place a Ring on the latter's corpse (a matter of a few years) and can moreover still use both his Annatar form and his dark battle armor one. Some of this was toyed with and ultimately discarded in the films and it's also at odds with Shadow of MordorWhere the Black Hand either is Sauron or is volunteering as a resurrection vessel. If Sauron could already recreate Annatar thousands of years before Talion was born, why bother?
People have noted that branding every attacker and turning them into your forts' warchiefs reduces some of the grinding, since you get several high-level orcs at your disposal; the only downside if an attacker is higher level than you, they cannot be branded.note : Fortunately, the fort missions reward a lot of XP after the first few. And since you don't lose anything if you lose, you can just let a way-too-underpowered fort to be decimated by sauron's forces and then brand the winners. It is still slow and boring, but constant rebuilding is still more exiting than sitting watching fighting pits for hours or searching for good uruks in the wild.
Ending Aversion: Fans became uneasy about the game's ending for two separate reasons: one was the alleged rumors regarding the Golden Ending being locked behind a big deal of grinding that can be bypassed by Bribing Your Way to Victory, though it has been shown that its possible to achieve the true ending without spending a single dime in it, though one has to dedicate many hours to do so. And the other one is that its a complete Downer Ending that renders the struggle virtually pointless, despite it essentially having been a Foregone Conclusion from the start.
Ensemble Darkhorse: Much like in the last game, the Orcs absolutely steal the show for their over-the-top personalities and general badassery.
Everyone from the gameplay reveal trailer, with particular mention going to Az-Larr. The official Shadow of War Youtube channel saw the positive response he received and then made a memorial video.
Possibly even more of a darkhorse, if the forums and questions during streams are any indication, is the race of Men. Many players seem interested in the idea of human characters being involved in the nemesis system.
Brûz the Chopper, the first ally you get when you regain the branding ability in the game seems to have supplanted Az-Laar's place as the olog darling of the Shadow of War community after being unveiled in the E3 2017 presentation. So much so he is affectionally referred as "Orcbro" by fans. Players have lamented that Brûz's betrayal is completely scripted, and many try to recruit him back to their army after he has been shamed.
Celebrimbor: I like him.
Ratbag returns due to being one of the most popular characters in the previous one despite his death.
Even Better Sequel: Shadow of War improves upon the widely-praised combat system and Nemesis System of Shadow of Mordor, as well as fixing many of the complaints players had about the first game (for example: the small and rather bland open world of Shadow of Mordor has been replaced with a much larger open world with more diversity in scenery). Some people have commented that Shadow of War is to Shadow of Mordor what Batman: Arkham City was to Batman: Arkham Asylum. In terms of story, Shadow of War is a deeper exploration of the themes of the first game, namely trying to fight the Dark Lord with the forces and means of darkness, making it morally complex, intricate and compelling where the first game was a more simple and basic plot, made to service new gameplay.
On the other hand, some players take issue with some of the changes this game brings to the formula, such as how it's impossible to kill off all the captains in an area and have it stay captainless (see Scrappy Mechanic below for details) and how you can only pick six pieces of equipment for Talion (sword, dagger, ranged weapon, armor, bow, rune) at a time, compared to the previous game letting the player have fifteen separate equips on the player (all runes, yes, so you can't play dress-up with Talion but still fifteen separate mechanical effects).
Evil Is Sexy: This game managed to make Shelob of all things this.
Game-Breaker: While many powers are intented to break at least something, Shadow Strike Pull makes hunting captains a breeze. You can just stand on a roof and grab every worm you see for interrogation while his buddies wonder where he went. A bodyguard or an another captain giving you more trouble than your target? Just pull them up to a rooftop that's too high for them to scale down and deal with them one by one or just strand them there. It's only downside is that arrow-proof enemies and olog-hai are immune to it.
Ho Yay; Celebrimbor disappears after forging the new ring. Talion's first reaction is to start searching for him, and he doesn't even hesitate to give away their best chance of defeating Sauron in exchange for Celebrimbor, despite CB's protests. The bridge scene feels like a messy breakup, with Celebrimbor leaving Talion for an another person.
Ratbag and Ranger. They lived together quite a while, and once the latter disappears, the former searches all around Middle-earth to find him, and hugs him once he is found. He does consider him more of a pet than anything else, though.
Iron Woobie: Talion. All he wants is being allowed release from his undeath and rejoin his loved ones in death, but he can't so long as Sauron threatens Middle-Earth. Even when he could very well allow himself to die when Celebrimbor abandons him to pursue power for his own, Talion opts to turn himself into a Ringwraith and remains locked in war with Sauron inside Mordor for many, many decades.
It Was His Sled: The Sun Rune's 9999900% chance to apply its Curse effect is a well-known detail that many in the fandom are tired of hearing about.
Narm Charm: Having a troll making a head popping noise doesn't really scream epic fantasy, but Brüz's personality is just so charming and it still underlines that there is no difference between the Bright Lord and Dark Lord.
No Yay: While the original game had certain orcs with some... over-affectionate lines directed towards Talion, this game makes it even more blatant by adding orcs with the "Obsessed" nickname, whose lines are pretty much "I Have You Now, My Pretty".
With the (somewhat) exception of the top Elves, most of the entities in Tolkien cosmology have a level of "being" beyond what they are walking around as. Sauron is the most obvious example but it also applies to Gandalf, the Balrog(s) and certainly Tom Bombadil. So while giving Shelob a distinct "another form" (and what that form is) is specific to the game, it's hard to say it is wrong. Shelob being a sentient communicator and another type of evil altogether from Sauron is straight from the text.
Many complaints were made about how a new ring being created is against the spirit of Tolkien. In fact, in the original text, Saruman was working on his own version of the One Ring and may have actually succeeded as he's described wearing one during his first meeting with Gandalf. Tolkien mentions in his one of his letters that in a "realistic" Middle-Earth, Sauron and Saruman would have divided the lands between them with the latter successfully gaining the knowledge to create his. note Yet while Saruman tried making a Ring of Power, there's no indication that he ever succeeded. The purpose of the Rings was to preserve the state of the old world and stop the decline of Elves within their sphere of influence, and the One Ring was meant, aside from controlling the other Rings, to preserve Sauron's own power from waning the same way; whatever power they were supposed to hold no longer exists in Middle-Earth. Making a new Ring seemingly contradicts the running theme of Tolkien's works, that great works of the past can never be remade... until you realize this new Ring would be the same thing, no matter what; a way to try and keep the power that Talion/Celebrimbor have gathered, then take and hold the power of Sauron for use of 'good' (if they can manage it), but it'd never be able to succeed even if they did accomplish it. Either way, the cycle of waning power would continue.
Some criticism has been drawn to Baranor, a black man being featured in the trailer and cover, the Haradrim from the far south of Gondor were identified as a human race with dark/brown skin. The Haradrim were an antagonistic faction (albeit of the Worthy Opponent variant).note According to the Appendix of Return of the King, Ecthelion II, Denethor's father, was an equal-opportunity ruler who gave a place for absolutely everybody willing to serve in his armies and promoting anyone who showed talent, regardless of where they hailed from — this is how Aragorn in his disguise of Throngil was able to become a high-ranking Captain of Gondor in his younger days. In-game, it's revealed Baranor is a Haradrim hostage who was eventually adopted by a wealthy family in Minas Ithil.
While the presence of fire-drakes caused some controversy – Gandalf explicitly says the purpose of the expedition to the Lonely Mountain was to prevent Sauron from reaching and recruiting Smaug – no canon source ever states that there were no dragons left in Middle-Earth. Indeed, Gandalf at one point says "there is not now any dragon left earth" who could melt the Ring, implying that there are still dragons alive. It's not out of the question that Sauron could have some of these lesser dragons or dragon-like creatures in his army; given how destructive even these seem to be, this may actually lend credence to the idea that Gandalf would want to prevent Sauron from recruiting Smaug.note In-game, the drakes are revealed to be infertile crossbreeds of dragon and fell-beast that Sauron has been breeding solely for warfare.
Some accused the creators of straight-up plagiarizing A Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones, by having the Nazgul being capable of raising undead minions called wights, similarly to the White Walkers/Others though they were more like zombies than ghosts. However, Ringwraiths always had their ability to turn living beings into their wraith servants, and wights are established to exist in the lore, however they are not the same thing.
Microtransactions, lootboxes and market. Those things are a Berserk Button of greatest magnitude for most players, who are opposed to the idea of having a single-player game with any of those, and are afraid most of the high-end content will be restricted to be accessible only by paying real money in a game they'll already have purchased full-price. Others trust the developers' assurance that their content are optional, can be obtained through normal gameplay, and don't see them as that bad. Either way, the game has become infamous for how it is monetized by WB.
Not helped by one of the developers stating that all the current playtesting has been done without the lootbox system enabled, which many interpreted to mean that it's as slap-dash as Deus Ex: Mankind Divided's controversial microtransactions were. Reviews have since called the microtransaction model a silly afterthought.
While the game in general got overall, very positive reviews, the more mixed ones all mention the aforementioned Loot Boxes and various instances of "Lore Rape" as things that drag down the experience.
Having any orc follower that you have grown attached to getting killed is bound to be one. Even worse is if they are brought back by Sauron and are now your enemies.
Several players lamented about Brûz's betrayal and subsequent Mind Rape being completely scripted and unpreventable. Several have reported to have tried recruiting him back after finishing his questline, but unfortunately, he is programmed to betray you because of his permanent deranged state.
Play the Game, Skip the Story: Among early reviews, some say that the plot is lackluster, but the gameplay is an improvement over the first game's (if you don't count the lootboxes, that is).
Rooting for the Empire: After cruelly and coldly betraying Talion and leaving him to die, many fans outright rooted for Sauron against Celebrimbor since he's not even pretending that he's not going to be another Evil Overlord. Sauron's victory in the final battle against Celebrimbor, complete with the ironic reversal of slashing the Bright Lord's fingers in the style of Isildur likewise makes the bad guy winning into an awesome triumphal moment.
While the ability for captains to betray Talion is okay, even a welcome change from the "you get it, it's always there" of the predecessor, some people's games have this happen so frequently (often several captains at once), and with so little reason, that recruiting captains is seen as a temporary measure at best, with killing them being more reliable.
There's no real way to upgrade your overlords and warchiefs; either you get some training orders from the market, or mess up your infastructure by demoting them to captains and then training them; but this seems to increase their chance of betraying you.
It's impossible to kill all the captains of an area and have that area stay captainless for longer than an instant. If the game detects an empty army page, it will immediately spawn a small amount of new captains, seemingly just to avert this. By contrast, in the previous game, the army page would only get new captains if time advanced - which was something the player had to trigger manually (or receive as part of the penalty for dying). Players have noted that the automatic spawning of more captains doesn't add anything to the experience, since advancing time manually does so anyway, and in fact it is at odds with the game otherwise being a very well-made Power Fantasy - this is essentially a form of player helplessness in a game otherwise entirely built around making the player an unstoppable killing machine.
You cannot create a pit fight between undead orcs and an another allied orc, despite the fact that this would speed up grinding considerably, since you could just resurrect the undead one for unlimited target practice.
Despite the new movement options that involve a lot of jumping, it's not possible to perform stealth takedowns from the air.
A minor one; some equipment causes Talion's attacks to do elemental damage at random, and while useful, it can and will end flurry kills early and can enrage captains who hate said element. Especially annoying if the piece of equipment is your best one, so you need to downgrade to get rid of the effect.
You no longer receive experience points for killing random grunt orcs - which makes fighting them often feel like little more than a waste of time.
While usually consistent, the combat priorization can occasionally glitch out, like in the first game. Surrounded by captains, and you barely managed to build up one special move? Talion might spend it on the only defenseless grunt instead. It gets especially annoyong if Talion suddenly decides that Savages are his most important targets at the moment.
Tainted by the Preview: Not necessarily tainted, but the fact that the game still seemed to be in alpha as of May, three months before the initially-announced release date was a bit unnerving to some. Even as the game itself seems to be rather-solidly built, and the graphics are steadily improving from the last-gen level first seen, the time-frame involved was the real kicker. This was fixed somewhat when numerous publications post very positive first impressions of the game, along with more and more footage, and even moreso when the date was pushed-back to October.
Tier-Induced Scrappy: Caragors make terrible allies. Even several of them ganging up on a single Uruk who is theoretically weak to their attacks (ie: one who possess traits like "Beast Fodder") will be effortlessly destroyed due to the AI making them too non-aggressive against Uruks to do anything.
Uncanny Valley: Forthog Orc-Slayer gives some vibes of this, what with his perfectly human face in a corpulent Uruk body combined with his highly detailed skin.
The original character models are used in the opening cutscene. Then the game switches to the new character models, to quite jarring effect.