Middle-earth: Shadow of War Review for PlayStation 4 (PS4)

Middle-earth: Shadow of War Review for PlayStation 4 (PS4)

One Simply Walks Back into Mordor

Middle-earth: Shadow of War is a second chance. It is an opportunity to make a series more memorable. With the original Shadow of Mordor , there was potential. A more rudimentary Nemesis system tried to make enemies grow and matter. Now, with the sequel, we have a more fully fledged system. The orcs are better and more interesting, Talion is upgradeable in a way that lets us tailor him to our needs, and the sieges can feel more momentous. Unfortunately, the story still isn’t very memorable and there can be a whole lot of busywork leading up to fortress assaults.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War starts off with Talion being in a good position, before falling low again. He has a new Ring of Power, which keeps him alive without the spirit of Celebrimbor. Except Shelob kidnaps Celebrimbor to get him to turn it over. This requires the man and spirit to fuse again, heading into a new fight against Sauron and his forces. Over and over again, he pursues resources that will lead to Sauron’s undoing. While some interesting things do happen along the way, they aren’t exactly memorable and often get overshadowed by constant orc battles.

This is a major downside for people who really appreciate the Lord of the Rings lore. Like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor , it often feels like the game is inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien’s books, rather than faithfully follows them. Shelob in particular felt like a character where it could have been an entirely original heroine, rather than forcing an existing entity into the role. And people who know their Middle-earth history may be frustrated with the founding of Minas Morgul. It can be frustrating, especially since the story doesn’t do much to stand out or hold people’s attention.

With the way the story is in Middle-earth: Shadow of War , I really felt the game was at its best when I absolutely ignored it. The world’s five zones are filled with orc captains, sidequests, Shelob memories to collect, Gondorian artifacts, and other things to see and do. Especially since new missions can disappear, others fade, and possible opponents rise and fall as time passes. While I was forced to spend most of my time pushing through acts for the sake of opening up the game’s world and experiencing as much of its elements as possible, the moments I had where I could forget primary objectives and just live in its world were the best. I do wish that areas didn’t start to feel generic after a while and missions were a bit more varied. Even though there are five different ecosystems and varying kinds of missions that involve hunting people down, foiling plots, taking out specific enemies, and accomplishing goals, they can feel generic when you aren’t encountering interesting captains along the way.

Still, I do credit the Nemesis System with making the mundane entertaining. It is much improved in Middle-earth: Shadow of War . Even though these are procedurally generated characters, gradually growing in power or falling both at your hands and the hands of others, they all feel very alive. They have perks and weaknesses, which you can learn ahead of time by finding and interrogating specific underlings. One of my most challenging foes, early on, was Lorm the Hurler, a rank 12 Warmonger Assassin who “found” me when I was going to purify a Haedir about an hour into the game in Gondor. Everything enraged him. Everything. That was a fun fight, by which I mean he completely wiped the floor with my fledgling Talion. Then, there was Bagga the Complainer, who only said, “I’m going to stop it.” Over and over again. He ended up humiliating me once, because I missed a button press to dodge, and then I ended up inadvertently letting him escape when I had him where I wanted him. The important thing is, these minions are captivating and endearing, and there were times during my review process where I would let them live or even kill me so I could see how they would grow.

The only downside is, each orc captain has a two or three minute speech. This can’t be skipped and, while some are rather colorful or interesting, there are many that are some variation of “I am going to kill you now.” This can get a little overwhelming in a major fight where two or three captains could appear at certain points, forcing everything to stop so that guy can have his big moment before you (hopefully) swiftly defeat him.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War Screenshot

But for the most part, these orc captains are great and make the recruitment system more satisfying. After reaching a certain story point in Middle-earth: Shadow of War , you will be able to dominate enemies. When you hunt down or stumble across a captain in the field, you can break them, dominate them, and hopefully turn them to your side. And if their level is too high, you can shame them, reducing their level and letting them live so the next time you find them, you can turn them to your team. These followers can be trained, given their own gangs, sent to infiltrate enemy armies, and fight at your side. Remember Bagga, the Complainer I mentioned before? I have him acting in the inside of Sauron’s forces.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War Screenshot

But enough about orcs. Let’s talk about other important parts of Middle-earth: Shadow of War ! Like battles! This game can feel like an entry in the Batman Arkham line or inFamous installment? This is because Talion’s existence with Celebrimbor makes him feel like a superhero. He is able to soar and dash through the world. There is a whole arsenal of weapons immediately at hand. Skills like Elven Rage let you enter a state where you can quickly kill minor orcs and deal major damage to captains. You can drain enemies’ health or dominate opponents. Battles are swift dances where holding buttons for different amounts of time could trigger additional weapon attacks and you can quickly counter or dodge an attack. Everything flows together very well.

And the better you get at it and more you accomplish in Middle-earth: Shadow of War , the more Talion grows. There is a rather large skill tree to fill out with points as you make your way across the zones and face Sauron’s forces. Some of these are absolute necessities. Execution and Perfect Counter are two of them, especially since Perfect Counter’s Fatal Counter instantly kills grunts. Unfortunately, the most useful of all is locked away behind Gondorian artifact collection. Normally, you need to hold the trigger button after items drop in the world to collect them, and the base Treasure Hunter skill automatically collects such things. Its upgrades only prove even more useful, resulting in better quality gear and gems or speedier dominations. As for the other abilities, they allow you to build a specialized Talion and make your experience feel more personal and suited to your own strategies.

Then, there are the fortress siege battles. As much fun as it is to amble around and fight people around the world, these major attacks where you have a real sense of purpose give a sense of focus that the rest of the game can sometimes feel like it lacks. Before you can head in, you have to build up an assault force level by gathering an army of recruited orc captains and purchase upgrades for them ahead of the mission. You can take out Warchiefs ahead of time, making their fighters people who are secretly on your side, so they will betray them when you face them. And the overlord fights are really well done, with bosses that provide a real challenge. It is an engaging process that gives you a reason to fool around Middle-earth, completing smaller missions, recruiting orcs, and earning in-game currency, all so you can be prepared for these major events in various acts.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War Screenshot

The downside is, these sieges make your orcs, ones you’ve worked with and come to like, disposable. When you participate in a siege, you are going to lose some of your allies. Even if you bolstered your ranks, they will die. And this happens when you are forced to defend your fortresses. This is where the whole loot box controversy could come in. It could be so tempting to pay real cash for some immediate epic and legendary Orcs who will have a far better chance of surviving than spending all the time and effort to find them in the field, fight them, dominate them, use orders to improve them, and maybe have them ready for an assault, only to lose them after one attack. By the end of the second act, I was starting to feel some real frustration when I would lose characters. But, it isn’t difficult to find epic and legendary orcs by the time you get to this point. It is easy enough to enjoy the game without spending any money. Rather, it just ends up making your efforts up to the siege feel a little pointless, since hours of work were gone in one major battle, forcing you to go through more hours of preparation before getting to that enjoyable major battle again.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War is a definite improvement over Shadow of Mordor . People who played the first game and wanted to see serious growth will be pleased. There are times when it can feel a bit repetitive. I feel like I would have enjoyed it more if I could have spread the experience out over weeks, picking away at segments and really building up to those major sieges. But the Nemesis system does feel stronger this time around, with orcs that can be rather delightful as you continually fight them or prepare them to serve your own purposes in your army. If you don’t take the story too seriously, you should have a good enough time.

Middle-earth looks great, as do the people. However, there can be a distinct difference between the cinematic depictions of characters and their in-game counterparts. 4.5 Control
Battles are swift and fluid, but it is a hassle to have to run around holding a trigger to gather dropped items. Also, one of the first things you’ll have to do is turn off all the distracting icons. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The orc voice acting can be incredibly memorable and both Gollum and Shelob are portrayed well, but the rest of the cast ranges from “just okay” to unremarkable. 4.3 Play Value
The story isn’t exactly enthralling and some quests can feel like busywork, but there is definitely always a lot to do. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Experience a richer and more personal world full of new enemy types, stronger personalities and deeper stories – anyone you face can now evolve from a lowly soldier to a mighty overlord.
  • Go behind enemy lines and use strategy, cunning or brute force to conquer Sauron’ s fortresses and turn them against him.
  • Immerse yourself in the epic scale of Middle-Earth as you forge a new ring and siege epic fortresses to face the dark lord and Nazgul.

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