REVIEW: Middle-earth™: Shadow of War™

Oct
15

REVIEW: Middle-earth™: Shadow of War™

 Middle-earth™: Shadow of War™ is a good sequel which improves on the great gameplay formula that previously existed, delivering what players were likely expecting from this new series by WB Games. The world of LOTR is recreated faithfully and the atmosphere is fantastic. If you enjoyed the first one, you will also enjoy this.

Steam: Released
Type: Single-player
Genre: ActionAdventureRPG
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: WB Games
Release date: 10 Oct, 2017

Overview

Middle Earth Shadow Of War (from now on SOW) is the second installment of the Lord of the Rings inspired action game series made by WB Games which first started with Shadow of Mordor. The core gameplay and features stay true to the first in the series and tell the tale of what happened to Talion and Celebrimbor after the events of the first game, but with obvious substantial improvements and new features to justify producing a second chapter entirely.

Gameplay Video

Fortress Capture

Gameplay Analysis

General Gameplay
SOW is a fast-paced action, third-person melee focused game, in which you will impersonate the ranger Talion who also happens to be the host of a powerful centuries-old elven spirit named Celebrimbor, a wraith spirit of vengeance made manifest within the confines of Talion’s flesh and blood.  It is Celebrimbor who grants him immense powers and adds just a little bit of a bloodlust to the now dual persona of Talion. But just a bit, though, I swear.

The gameplay is completely open world and location-based, meaning that the world is divided into various locations with marked differences from one another.  Those locations are completely explorable and exploitable for strategies. The distinctive feature of the core gameplay is once again the Nemesis System, which basically creates personalized mini-bosses consisting of Captains, Warchiefs or Overlords, all with different weaknesses and strengths the player can detect and exploit via intelligence gathering.  Yet, these bosses are generally your own doing, as they get more powerful and even outrank you based on your failures.  The player must then elaborate a strategy to be most efficient in combat as well as gather intel from a largely structured echelon of rank within the Orc army. In comparison to the first chapter, here we can see a much more polished and evolved Nemesis system that adds tons of new traits and classes to enemies, making the potential combinations vary quite a lot and this helps to keep the gameplay fresh and new at every Captain encounter. These mini-bosses will also be able to ambush you, take part in fights between them, or other special events in which the player may or may not take part depending on his will and the situation.

Another great feature which has really improved is enemy possession: in the first chapter we were already able to make enemy officers submit to our dominion and use them against enemy ones, but in SOW this is brought to a new level, featuring substantial managing options for our now-allied orc officers.  There is a multitude of options such as the ability to Upgrade Orders, assignment to specific missions such as Infiltration, Assassination, or be your personal Bodyguard to assist you in difficult fights. Each officer has unique traits that will have to be scrutinized in order to succeed in battle: sending an officer to an Assassination mission against an enemy that can exploit a Mortal Weakness will almost certainly lead to death for your officer, so intelligence gathering is important to send the right men every time.

For the exploration part, the world is filled with collectibles and optional missions and challenges.  Note that even collectibles have their own rewards so everything optional is worth doing in the end, no longer is this aspect added just for completionists, everything yields concrete rewards and I think this is a great thing.  Collectibles with a payoff give players much more incentive than before.

Combat System
Here, the Combat System is mainly melee focused, featuring stealth mechanics, counter-attacking, dodges, but also ranged weapons such as bows and THROWING HAMMERS. Yes, you got that right. Skills have a very important role in making combat more viable and expanding tactical options, so doing those side challenges and missions, or collectibles, which award +1 Skill Point becomes paramount in having those skills unlocked sooner rather than later.

In most chaotic situations, there are multiple enemies featured and Allied Officers, plus normal minions and Beasts galore.  The situation can quickly become an anarchic feast of carnage with limbs and corpses flying around in all directions, which in my opinion is really cool, the bigger the fight the cooler it gets in SOW. You can always dash away and go on some high spot in stealth to calm down a bit, anyway, or maybe not.

Content
The amount of content within SOW is immense with optional missions, challenges, collectibles to get, new captains to recruit, Online revenge and fortress sieges to confront other players’ defenses or avenge them from enemy officers.

The variety of things to do along with the sandbox-like formula and the Nemesis System keeps the game fresh and seldom boring, as far as the first two acts are concerned.  It probably will eventually become a bit stale as everything does with time and you pour several hours into it, but that won’t be anytime soon.

Balancing
I did not find any particular balancing problems in the character, apart from Elven Rage which really is OP and should be nerfed a bit because it enables you to basically 1-shot or take off 75% health to any Officer you encounter and then immediately submit it to your will.

Online Fortress Defense is another matter: since there is a time limit to get the best rewards in Online Conquest. Finishing off Officers quickly is essential to get the best rank and so the best loot, but some types of officers featuring certain traits are basically designed to be health/damage sponges.  Those require much more time and effort than others.  Also, combinations of these traits can sometimes lead to enemies that are incredibly difficult sponges that just can’t be killed in time to get the maximum rank, and that should be balanced a bit better in my opinion.

Generally speaking, we are on acceptable levels of balance.

Challenge
At the beginning on max difficulty, the game is very challenging because of the lack of most skills, but once you get things going the challenge is just average, with difficulty spikes here and there and a handful of Officers which feature particularly nasty trait combinations. The fact that it is very easy to just run away and hide in Stealth so that you can keep attacking from hidden positions does not contribute to the challenge.  The stealth ability is too powerful, allowing for an easy spam attack if you just want to speed through the game.  It’s something that really needs to be addressed.

Technical Analysis

Graphics
In this part I’ve been a bit disappointed, the engine is the same as Shadow of Mordor and that’s alright, but the graphics are also more or less on the same standards with exception of shadows and illumination being a bit better. Graphically speaking, there were no advancements compared to the previous chapter, not significant ones, and compared to what was promised in trailers shown before the release, this is much worse, now we all know trailers are never 100% honest, but this is some serious graphics “downgrade”.

Sound
I found the voice acting to be exceptional, all the cutscenes and cinematics are acted out with great quality, even Officers with their own lines are vivid and plausible.  The sound effects and music are also of good craftsmanship, quite true to the LOTR setting if you have seen the movies or played other titles of this franchise. Good score on this one.

Performance
With adequate mid-range hardware the game should run good, it has good scalability and performance especially during sieges when there are many units on-screen. There have not been any particular performance issues to be noted here, so WB did a good job as far as I can tell.

Stability
Nothing to report.

AI
One bad side of the AI is that the Stealth related system is not very good since enemies have the perception of a stone.  They will lose you really fast so if you want to play by hiding, then striking with stealth, and then hiding again indefinitely, it can make for a really easy experience.  However, that’s up to individuals if they want to exploit that power to the end or not.

Quality of Life
Menus and UI are quite good, also controls are, if you play with a gamepad. Playing with Keyboard and Mouse is somewhat of a pain so I decided to switch to a gamepad.  With action games like these, I personally recommend that option to make life easier.

Bugs / Issues
Some minor ones, there is some penetration of some models within static objects. Once, a quest remained active after completion, but no serious issues have been noticed so far.

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