Reviews: Middle Earth Shadow Of War

Very, very flawed, but ultimately entertaining [spoilers]

Good:

-Orcs are still a lot of fun. The Nemesis system is as organic and engaging as it was in the original, and to me, getting attached to allied orcs and forming rivalries is the main appeal of the game. You can have all sorts of cool moments, such as when I was saved from a "no chance" captain by a shot from a friendly archer captain.

-Combat is basically satisfying, though it can be a bit of a clusterfuck with too many enemies on the screen.

-Bodyguards are cool (though I wish you could transfer your bodyguard across regions). Shaming is also sadistic fun, especially once you get the ability to derange orcs.

-Fortress conquests are engaging spectacles, if not particularly deep.

Bad (and there is a LOT of bad)

-Fuck lootboxes. They have no place in a AAA release, and it just goes to show how contemptuous AAA publishers are of their audience.

-Story is absolute shite. The Gondorian NP Cs bored me to tears (especially in contrast to the colourful personalities of the orcs). Shelob is pointless. The true ending is half-assed; Talion doesn't even get a line! The downright stupidest moment is when Eltariel, after spending the entire game decrying Celebrimbor and the new Ring, inexplicably does a 180 with no transition whatsoever and uses the Ring with Cerebrimbor to try and dominate Sauron. It's awful writing, and the story feels padded and intrusive when compared to the organic Nemesis gameplay. I found myself resenting story missions, and speeding through them as fast as possible to unlock all the powers before moving on to the fortresses.

-Fortress conquests, while entertaining, don't live up to the hype. There is no strategy to be had; your army will just surge forward and do its own thing. I was hoping for some tactical options, like being able to approach from different directions or being able to issue orders to you captains. I wasn't expecting an RTS, but I would have liked to have SOME influence on events.

-It is absolutely infuriating that you cannot level up your warchiefs and overlords without demoting them and tearing down your entire command structure. This becomes especially pronounced in act 4; if, like me, you have some favourite orcs that you want to keep around, then be prepared to spend a lot of time messing with your organization.

-You can't command orcs engaged in a mission. You have to either wait for it to resolve or resolve it yourself, both of which take time, before you can command them. This is exacerbated in Act 4.

-Act 4 in general can fuck off. As mentioned above, if you have some favourite orcs that you want to use as warchiefs, then be prepared to spend a long-ass time in the fighting pits grinding. Even without that, Act 4 takes a ridiculously long time for very little payoff. This also undermined the fun of the Nemesis system for me; with so many orcs to kill/dominate, you start to see repeats, and they all start to blend together.

Ignore the controversy and just play this great game.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding this game, mostly due to some dubious alterations to canon and the loot-box system which seem likes a staple MOBA/MMO mechanic awkwardly shoe-horned into a single-player game to gouge the players. Some of this might put people off even trying this game.

If you are one of those people, I urge you to reconsider. Despite the above, Shadow of War is fundamentally an excellent game, a rare experience where the playing is more fun than the winning.

The Uruks are the stars of this show: the Captains are randomly generated yet feel expertly crafted. They have unique dialogue for almost every combination of events that can happen to them, they remember if you ran away or beat them before, they can become obsessed with you and hunt you down for revenge, and more besides. With a huge variety of personalities, traits and appearance, every encounter with a new Captain brings something different to the table.

Combat is similar to the Arkham games, and is just as fun as those games were. You can also take a stealthy approach, use poison, beasts or fire to find the best way to take down a Captain. The various strengths and weaknesses of each foe make facing them a challenge in planning ahead and knowing when to retreat.

Over time, you'll develop a sort-of relationship with your enemies; you'll fondly remember that Uruk that made you laugh, the one you fear to face and the one that just won't stay dead. With even the Mooks having individual names and personalities (which are revealed when they are promoted) this makes every enemy encounter a memorable one.

If your looking for a deep story or satisfying conclusion, this is not the game for you. But as something you can just pick up and play and have a whale of a time, then get stuck in and face those Captains!
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