Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor was excellent. While the combat and stealth gameplay was very Assassin’s Creed — just with some added ghostly powers — Mordor had something truly unique: the nemesis system. Players would almost forget the main storyline as they were caught up battling with other Orcish leaders who had become sworn enemies.
With Shadow of War, little has changed. Again, the nemesis system forms the most intriguing part of the game, offering more variety of Orc thanks to an increasingly diverse voice cast. Collecting information and trying to assassinate enemy leaders you recognise remains fun, recapturing that magic. Unfortunately, though, there’s something else amiss about War.
Thanks to the original’s story, our hero — Talion — remains infused with the elf lord Celebrimbor, the pair having forger a new ring of destruction. However, things go amiss as Shelob has captured them. Shelob’s no longer just a spider, as within the books, but an enchantress, able to show our protagonist visions. From these, Talion understands that the all-seeing stone, the Palantir, must be kept from Sauron’s grip.
By the first act’s end, things have not gone well for Talion, nor have they gone particularly well for the game itself. A few hours in and War feels remarkably like just restarting Mordor, the starting areas looking very similar and the characters having to relearn their powers, such as how to control orcs. For those who finished the first and wanted to jump straight in, this will prove a frustratingly long prologue to the actual new mechanics.
When you do make it through the first slog, War remains disappointing. One of the much-talked-about features has been being able to control entire Orc armies. Yet, doing so requires very little tactical skill. Almost every siege battle you end up charging an enemy fortress, guns blazing. Few times are these a challenge. The battles should have played more like chess matches but are defunct of any real tactics apart from building the most powerful and strongest army.
Meanwhile, the story lacks anything particularly engaging. Perhaps because I’m a major fan of Tolkien’s books, majorly diverging from the lore left me slightly bitter. Even ignoring this, War stays on par with Mordor story-wise, perhaps slightly less engaging, offering little more than what you would expect.
Still, there remains the nemesis system,which stays excellent, even improving a little. What stood Mordor out against the tide of Assassin’s Creed and Batman games remains the series biggest selling point. The areas in War also vary enough to keep everyone interested, although they still don’t expand on the original as much as they perhaps should have.
Considering how innovative Mordor was, War has been a disappointment. The beginning feels like a slog, the middle improves somewhat, but by the end, you only care about rival Orcs and not the story. A shame considering the Lord of the Rings has, and remains, one of the greatest tales ever told.
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