Middle Earth: Shadow of War – Review Roundup

Monolith goes bigger in its Middle Earth sequel.

Nerdy Professor Early Impressions

I’m not a Tolkien superfan; in fact, I’m not really a fan of the books. I am, however, a massive fan of the film trilogy. While I’ll leave my complicated thoughts on the Lord of the Rings franchise for a separate post, suffice it to say that since reading The Hobbit as a teenager and watching Peter Jackson’s films, I have always desired to explore the fascinating world for myself. Then, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor came along. Despite some shortcomings, it was one of my favorite games of 2014. But Mordor left something on the table, and its sequel, Shadow of War, has been one of my most anticipated games since it was announced. If the developers at Monolith could improve in some areas and take the interesting systems to their full potential, I thought, this game could be something special.

I’m not about 15 hours into Shadow of War, and I’m pleased to say it’s been mostly positive so far. I’m playing on the PC and performance so far has been great. While not a particularly breathtaking game visually – particularly in the world of games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Star Wars: Battlefront 2 – it looks mostly solid. The cutscenes look nice and are well-acted, the environments are more varied than the first game, and the higher settings on the PC look quite good, although there are some poor textures to be found throughout. The combat is still the meat of the gameplay, using the rythmic Arkham-style fighting found in many games, including Mordor. Exploring the environment and fighting orcs, uruks, and other monsters is always fun. But the star of the show is still the “nemesis” system, which allows players to create their own storylines and subplots through interactions with random enemies. The first game’s system showed immense potential, and so far, it seems that system was put into overdrive for the sequel. While I’m not far enough to have seen all of what the nemesis system has to offer, I have already developed vendettas against against ghoulish enemies with funny, interesting quirks.

Although I’m enjoying my time with Shadow of War, there are some frustrations. My biggest issue at this point is bloat. Monolith seemed to think that the key for a sequel was more of everything. Unfortunately, the game has something resembling an Assassin’s Creed map from several years ago, where the screen is littered with icons for collectibles, quests, and other random tasks to take up time. I can already tell that the game is bloated, and I wish Monolith (and other developers) would be willing to sacrafice some arbitrary goal for gameplay hours to create tighter, denser experiences. Also like many Assassin’s Creed games, there are some issues with controls. There is a lot going on and many things are mapped to the same buttons, leading to a character who is not always doing what the player wants. There is also a feeling of magnetism sometimes, where Talion will seemingly stick to an object, jump to the wrong object, and so forth. Finally, my last issue thus far is the story, which seems like mostly nonsense. The acting is great, but the narrative and plot are not what I’d hope for in a Lord of the Rings game, although the main draw of the game was clearly meant to be the gameplay systems.

One final thing to note at this point: I have not had an issue with the microtransactions and loot boxes that have been covered incessantly in the gaming media lately. According to many, they are most egregious in the final act, so I will check back in when I get there. But at least in the early going, the issue seems to have been blown far out of proportion. The boxes are there, but are completely unnecessary. I have already acquired several pieces of legendary gear from enemies in the world and have far more in-game currency than I need at this point, so it seems to be a non-issue.

Overall, my first 15 or so hours with Shadow of War, while not perfect, have been great fun. The start was a little slow, but now that the gameplay has opened up, I’m having a blast just running around the world, fighting enemies, and creating mini-narratives through the expanded nemesis system. I still have a long way to go, but Shadow of War has thus far made me want to continue my journey.

Review Roundup

(Click on the website names for links to the full reviews.)

Metacritic: 84 (as of 10/16/17)

IGN: 9/10 (Amazing) – “Middle-earth: Shadow of War is bigger and more ambitious in scope than Shadow of Mordor, with great results. The way it expands the Nemesis system with far greater variety and fortress sieges makes even better use of the stand-out generated characters, and its battles with memorable uruk captains remain challenging all the way through the campaign and into the clever asynchronous multiplayer beyond.”

Gamespot: 7/10 (Good) – “It tries to be larger than its predecessor, there are more abilities, more weapons, more Orcs, yet it leaves you wanting less. But at its core, it’s a fun experience with brilliant moments that provide fascinating insight into some of the untold stories of Middle-earth. I just wish it had known when to stop.”

USGamer: 4/5 – “Shadow of War is much bigger than its predecessor, …It’s a massive game with so much to do that it can feel like a bit of a grind later in the game….Shadow of War is still a great game, but there’s a linger[ing] corruption that keeps it from perfection.”

Game Informer: 9.5/10 – “Shadow of War is a playground of intense and emergent action scenes shaped by your choices and triumphs….Whether in the opening minutes of stealth or the frenzied melees that inevitably follow, combat is rich and rewarding, offering dozens of ways to bring down the denizens of Mordor. The overriding sensation is that of a sandbox of super-powered predation and exploration in a world where you are the prime mover, and on a scale that dramatically outstrips its predecessor.”

PC Gamer: 73/100 – “…the increased variety and depth of the nemesis system makes for a much richer experience overall. I just wish the game wasn’t quite so overfed. A lot of developers think sequels need to be bigger and offer more to get people interested, but I’d prefer it if they were just better. Shadow of War is a great action game that feels like it’s yearning to break free from a prison of open world busywork.”

Eurogamer: No score – “That’s not to say Shadow of War is bad, mind you – it isn’t. It’s more that everything about this game is a statement – where Shadow of Mordor was something of a sleeper hit, Monolith Studios went into production on the followup knowing for sure they had something big on their hands. Considerable expectations were there to be met and so everything about Shadow of War is bigger, which is good in some respects but decidedly bad in others.”

Rock, Paper, Shotgun: No score – “Like so much about Shadow of War, it’s a step forward for the ideas that made 2014’s Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor so memorable. Shadow of War operates under the philosophy that more and bigger are better, and in action the approach usually works.”

GamesRadar: 4.5/5 – “So ‘big’ is a good word to describe Shadow of War, with as many expletives in front as you see fit, to get across just how fucking huge this is. It might not quitehave the polished craft of things like The Witcher 3, or the variety of an Elder Scrolls, but overall the bar for quality is high, and with so much to do it’s both immensely easy, and satisfying, to get lost in.”

Polygon: 7.5/10 – “If you can get past the microtransactions, Shadow Wars seems set to provide a much meatier extended playtime than Shadow of Mordor ever offered. But more than anything, that’s my biggest disappointment with Middle-earth: Shadow of War: Everything about it seems to come with a caveat, some small annoyance or two that you need to dig past to get to the still-very-fun game underneath. The Nemesis System is still a wonder that has yet to be replicated. The movement and combat are thrilling.”

PC Gamer: 73/100 – “…the increased variety and depth of the nemesis system makes for a much richer experience overall. I just wish the game wasn’t quite so overfed. A lot of developers think sequels need to be bigger and offer more to get people interested, but I’d prefer it if they were just better. Shadow of War is a great action game that feels like it’s yearning to break free from a prison of open world busywork.”

Destructoid: 7/10 (Good) – “Middle-earth: Shadow of War has a lot of fluff that attempts to sabotage it, but the game succeeds in its effort to make its world worth roaming around and killing things in. Although I wasn’t enthralled by the silly story beats that try to dance around telling an actual epic and somber tale, the ability to create my own stories with an expanded level of depth was more than sufficient to call this a step up.”


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