2014’s Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was a revelation for gamers who are also fans of the Lord of the Rings franchise. Often, games tied to the series have fallen short of player hopes with a handful of them providing mildly enjoyable experiences. However, Shadow of Mordor brought the series into true AAA territory, by infusing into the hack and slash genre a fluid and entertaining combat system along. But a big component of the game’s critical success was an innovative Nemesis system that allowed enemy NPCs to remember the deaths and other situations from its experience with the protagonist, allowing them to be promoted within Sauron’s ranks and grow stronger (and vengeful), while also increasing the value for defeating them. Buoyed by the sleeper success, developer Monolith hit us with a reveal announcement for Middle-earth: Shadow of War earlier this year, and a promise of a release this August, along with announcement footage of city siege gameplay. As the weeks have gone, we’ve learned a bit more about what the sequel will look like and how it will build off the foundations in the first.
Developed by: Monolith Productions
Published by: Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment
Release date: August 22nd, 2017
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Middle-earth: Shadow of War Features
- Go behind enemy lines to forge your army
- Conquer Fortresses and dominate Mordor from within
- Experience how the award-winning Nemesis System creates unique personal stories with every enemy and follower
- Confront the full power of the Dark Lord Sauron and his Ringwraiths in this epic new story of Middle-earth
Story and Setting
Shadow of War continues the narrative from Shadow of Mordor as the events take place between the events told in The Hobbit and The Lord of Rings. In the game you continue the story of ranger Talion who shares his body with the spirit of elf lord Celebrimbor, as they work together to use a Ring of Power to build an army to stand against Sauron and his deadly Nazgul. The story finds Talion still bound to Celebrimbor, and with a new Ring of Power. Celebrimbor believes this ring can be controlled to prevent falling into shadow, and instead use it to become a stable and powerful king. Talion agrees with Celebrimbor that it’s a worthy cause to pursue and consents in the name of defeating Sauron.
The setting of Middle-Earth is familiar to many and the game will traverse iconic locations in the franchise’s lore. For diehard fans of the series, it’s hard to ask for much more than an opportunity to do battle in the environments we’ve spent so much time daydreaming about.
Shadow of War is a 3rd person action RPG that is set in an open world setting, and builds off of Shadow of Mordor. Taking on the role of Talion the ranger you will make use of his natural combat and athletic abilities and then augment them with the more supernatural abilities conferred to you by Celebrimbor. As you complete quests and objectives you will be using a mix of both abilities. In a departure from the previous game which focused more on hack and slash, Shadow of War will be much more rooted in the Action RPG gameplay, giving more freedom of choice and decisions making, which should make every playthrough its own unique entity.
The game expands upon the innovative Nemesis system introduced in the first game. Building on the return of foes with a grudge, the Nemesis system will now apply to more of the world including other characters called Followers whose behavior will be determined by how you interact with them. You will be able to gain Followers from several races in Middle-earth such as Uruk-Hai and Olog-hai. These followers can then be strategized to complete missions for you! You will be covering some deep themes like betrayal, loyalty and friendship and your choices will result in dynamic far reaching consequences. For example if you capture a city, you may be in a situation to decide who is in charge, whether you name a loyal follower the overseer, or give the title to a veteran war chief will have consequences going forward. The battle systems will now enable large-scale battles where parts of the battle will then be managed by the Followers you have recruited to your cause, allowing you to focus on the brutal and addicting close quarter combat. At its basic level, the scarring feature of the Nemesis system is being expanded upon, allowing for even more savage marking of the foes who survive facing you.
The combat in this iteration is something Monolith has been keeping close to their vests for the time being, and understandably so, as that was a big component of the first game’s appeal. It’s only natural that there are going to be some significant evolution to the formula which combined fluid 3rd person combat reminiscent of the recent Batman games while adding in wonderful stealth mechanics. The little we’ve seen looks like it’s going to be that but turned up to 11, which is always a good thing! Dominating enemies will allow you to gain access to some intel on the enemies in the area.
As you progress through infiltrating an area, you can use a manner of different ways to scan your enemies and take them out using the map’s verticality to climb and advance. You will also be fighting alongside more allies in large scale battles giving the game quite the epic scope, especially as you fight among some massive locations and cities like Minas Ithil, as well as a much more diverse collection of regions each with their own tribes. The culture of the orc tribe in control of a particular region will affect how that area looks and how the orcs who belong to that tribe look themselves.
Beyond the added depth of the Nemesis system, the game will feature more customization and more loot bringing it more in line with an RPG, as well as further refinement to the first game’s addicting and brutal combat. The weapons and armor you can find have been expanded upon to fall more in line with RPG games, and they’ve been changed to now have rarity and gem sockets that can augment the weapons further. You can equip a main weapon, off-hand weapon, ranged weapon, armor, cape, and a ring of power that you can inscribe runes on. They all have distinct visual looks that will allow you to personalize your fashion.
To earn high powered weaponry you’ll have to target some tougher enemies. The rare weapons have added attributes such as elemental damage and some feature challenges that you can complete to unlock even more attributes. You can unlock gem slots on your gear by paying currency and once you do you can slot gems you’ve looted from enemies.
Runes act like equipment but are inscribed on your ring of power. The runes confer passive abilities when equipped. The runes you can use add even more situational attributes and will combine to compliment a variety of playstyles. This all works to marry the lore to the gameplay as your ring features prominently in both.
All the items you equip in your gear slots are part of sets, and equipping several pieces from the same set (from weapons to runes) will unlock extra set bonuses for your individual pieces of gear. Once you complete an outfit set you unlock complimentary bonuses across all of your pieces of gear.
Skills and abilities available to you have been significantly expanded. Instead of just purchasing a skill and being done with it, you can now modify unlocked skills further via its own upgrades. For example the stealth based Brutalize skill can be upgraded to add an effect that causes nearby enemies to flee in terror once you’ve landed that savage blow. These upgrades will allow you to upgrade your Talion and Celebrimbor duality to its fullest extant and give your a multitude of new ways to dominate the battlefield.
In addition to the standard orc fodder that you’ll be hacking apart, the game will feature a variety of other enemies to tangle with that will present different challenges. Drakes will be present in both scripted and random encounters and they don’t discriminate, wrecking havoc on friend and foe alike. But they can turned to your side! That’s right, you’ll be able to mount and ride a drake into combat. How’s that for wish fulfillment! In order to do so you will have to break it in the wild, by bringing it down to the ground via ranged combat. Once it’s downed, you will have to move in and use melee to subdue it. Once you do, you’ll mount it and it will be on your side for good, even if you hop off. Later on you’ll be able to use an ability that lets you teleport to mount them from a distance, making this a much easier process. Your summon mount ability can also be upgraded to summon one at will!
Once you’re riding a drake, you can engage in the expected flaming of the landscape! You can also eat orcs to regain health as you devastate the landscape. Eventually you will be able to charge an explosive fireball for even more destruction. The bestiary is going to be fleshed out with even more variety than the first game and some of these will also be rideable beasts of destruction! In particular you will be able to commander siege beast from the opposition and use them to demolish your foes.
Everything about Shadow of War looks like an improvement over Shadow of Mordor and that’s saying a lot. It looks as if Monolith is taking everything that was great about the first and building upon it in all the right ways. This is a developer that is definitely not content to rest on their laurels and that’s evident in how Shadow of War is shaping up. If this game truly builds upon the series it will easily be a contender for game of the year. The only thing that can get in their way at this point is the becoming a victim of over-ambition and trying to do too much. We’ll be keeping a close, lidless, flaming eye on this one up to its August release.
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