4 Things to Watch for in Middle-Earth: Shadow of War
A few years ago, Monolith Studios and Warner Brothers brought fantasy lovers a gem when they introduced us to Shadow of Mordor, an action RPG set in JRR Tolkien’s legendary world. Having been a huge fan of the game, the announcement of its sequel, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War left me a little weak in the knees, and my Lord of the Rings itch needed some scratching. Talion and his body partner Celebrimor are back to take on more of Mordor, forging a new Ring of Power to command their own forces against Sauron’s growing horde. With a little less than a week out, I got a little time to put my paws on Shadow and there’s a number of things to watch out for.
The Nemesis System… on Steroids
Let’s not beat around the bush and talk about the most important thing first. The Nemesis system from Mordor is back and it has been given some steroids since last we saw it. While the same system is in place while you roam the landscape, the Nemesis system got an upgrade to include Fortresses. All of the top Orc generals hole themselves up in their own elaborate fortresses, equipped with stout walls, thick gates, and a hoard of foes to defend it. You can’t just waltz in and cut a few dozen Orcs asunder this time, no matter how jacked up your skill tree is. Taking down a fortress requires strategy and a huge army at your back. One of the attacks I lead on a fortress had a smattering of troops that featured a couple of loyal Orc commanders as well as a pair of troll commanders. While they bombarded the walls and gates, I climbed into the fortress, fought my way to the door controls and let my army in. That’s just where the fun began. The fortresses are huge and make for epic and sprawling battles that could swing either way if you aren’t careful to take care of your own commanders. Laying siege to the fortresses was easily my favorite part of the bigger, badder Shadow of War. There’s something so satisfying about driving a massive army out from behind its own walls and setting up shop.
More Dire Consequences
The Nemesis system has even more impact this time around as the fortresses also feed troops into surrounding areas. Fail to defeat a foe the first time around, and they will bolster their defenses, making it all the more difficult to defeat them again as well as it being more difficult to even get your armies to the walls. Your sieges have to be planned out just right or you will only make your enemies more powerful and your task much more difficult. The best part of the ramped up Nemesis system is how expansive it is. Lose a siege, Orcs will advance up the ranks in ways you could have never anticipated while your own commanders could lose ground in another area of the map because of it. The same will happen vice versa if you’re successful, so the risks are certainly worthwhile. The far-reaching aspects of Nemesis have now just added even more complications to your fantasy game of war.
An Expanded Skill Tree
To help aid you as you navigate the war-ravaged lands of Mordor is a new and expanded skill tree. The skill tree worked out great in the first game, but with the sequel being so much bigger, the skill tree had to grow as well. Augmenting your skills to complement your style of playing is key and Shadow delves into even more specifics than the first one. If you enjoy sneaking around and killing Orcs unawares, you can really pad out the sneak stats while still being competent in regular combat. Or, you can always make yourself a tank and obliterate your enemies as I’m more prone to do. Regardless of how you like to play, the skill tree will help you maximize your time with the game as well as aid you in knocking some fortresses down. *HINT* the ice based skills are very, very effective. Take whatever you want from that.
Stunning Visuals… Pick That Jaw up off the Floor
Shadow of War is not only making innovations in gameplay, it also boasts as being one of the first games to be designed natively in 4K and does it ever show! Simple things like grass blowing in the wind while Talion’s hair blows with it as you’re crouched and spying on your enemies are just touches that make everything pop. It fills the world out and while you may not notice all of the time, it’s the quiet moments in between the chaos that you really notice how good the game really looks.
Where the visuals truly stand out is in the aforementioned sieges. We’ve all watched those epic battles in Lord of the Rings, or Game of Thrones, etc. and every so often, you get to follow one of the heroes as they wade their way through the battle, trying to survive and cripple the enemy forces at the same time. The battles are huge and in Shadow, will sprawl all the way across massive fortresses that are multiple stories tall and vastly wide. The game has no trouble rendering literally hundreds of soldiers in crystal clear clarity and if you get the time, you can even stand around and watch the battle play out. An Orc takes an axe to the head here, a mounted flying unit swoops in and takes a guy out there, a troll smashes someone with a club for good measure – it’s stunning.
From the backdrops to the design of the fortresses, to the different locations around Mordor, Shadow impresses with its incredible visuals.
Shadow of War seeks to expand on the success of its predecessor, Shadow of Mordor and I think it knocks it out of the park. Is the story bolstered any? Not that I really noticed in my time with it but you can check out Grady’s full review for his take on it. The veritable chess game of war that takes place in Mordor is very in depth and expands greatly as a sequel. I am very looking forward to sinking my teeth into the Orcs of Mordor come October 10th. Hopefully, you are too!