Middle-earth: Shadow of War Review: “Shadow of Mordor 1.5”

Middle-earth: Shadow of War Review: “Shadow of Mordor 1.5”

Monolith’s Shadow of War  is their second game that’s set in the world of Middle-Earth.  How does this orc-slaying extravaganza hold up to the original?  Let’s find out!


He’s really excited about the review

This is a hard game for me to review. On the one hand, I had a lot of fun with my playtime, and do not regret my $90 purchase. And yes, this is a $90  game, since there’s quite a bit of critical content you don’t get in the $60 version.  On the other hand, there are elements of this game that enrage me. I’ve rage-quit this game more often than I did in Dark Souls,  and it’s not even that hard. Perhaps the best way to summarize this game is that it’s “Shadow of Mordor  1.5″. There’s been some refinement to be sure, but great strides have not been made.

Genre:  Action-RPG,  Open-World
Developed by:  Monolith Productions
Published by:  Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Release Date:  October 10, 2017
Platforms:  PlayStation 4,  Xbox One,  PC via Steam
Website:  https://www.shadowofwar.com/

Middle-earth: Shadow of War Review

  • Conquer from Within – Go behind enemy lines and use strategy, cunning, or brute force to conquer Sauron’s fortresses and turn them against him.
  • A Richer, more personal and Expansive World – Immerse yourself in the epic scale of Middle-Earth as you forge a new Ring and siege epic fortresses to face the Dark Lord and his Nazgul.
  • Skills – Combining Talion’s training as a Ranger with Celebrimbor’s Elven skills and the powers of the New Ring the Bright Lord is the deadliest foe the inhabitants of Mordor have ever faced.
  • Gear – Forge powerful weapons and outfits as you defeat your enemies.

Audio & Visual

Let’s start off with the most neutral aspect of this game, the visuals and audio.  It’s OK.  Texture quality?  OK.  Model detail?  OK.  Audio?  OK.  Music?  So OK, that I actually had to go back and verify the open world has ambient sound tracks.  This contributes the most to the Shadow of Mordor 1.5 feel, I think.  The fidelity has improved a bit, but nothing in the visuals leap out.  Mordor still  looks like Morder.  Granted, there’s not much you can do with a wasteland, but still, things really do feel just like an upgrade.


Story & Setting

On to what could be a make-or-break point for many people, the story and lore. Middle-Earth purists, stay far away from this game. It can only enrage you. I’ve often heard other people refer to Shadow of War‘s  story as a fanfiction, and that’s a fair assessment I’d say. While it doesn’t change the ending of the books, the in-between details are so drastically altered it’s almost a separate world. Shelob is evil, a direct descendant of Ungoliant, a creature so full of darkness that even Morgoth (Sauron’s boss) feared  her. Shelob is evil. She does not care for the fate of Middle-Earth, she never shacked up with Sauron, and she sure as heck isn’t a femme fatale.


She. Is. An. Evil. Spider.

If you feel I’m getting a bit to worked up over a spider, I can assure you that this is not the only story point that flat out breaks Middle-Earth lore. It’s just one of the few issues I can talk about without spoiling some major story points. The second ring of power, how they handle the Nazgul, the face-palm inducing way they show the formation of the Eye of Sauron, it all adds up to a lot of irritation if you’re heavy into the lore.


But what happens if one lets go, and just enjoys the story for what it is, a fanfiction? Well I wouldn’t say the story is brilliant, but it becomes a lot better. The first act drags on a bit because you don’t get to really deal with the orcs that much, but once you hit act 2 and 3, the story gets a lot more interesting. It even holds true to one of the major themes from The Lord of The Rings – power corrupts. Can’t really say how it does this without spoiling a major twist, but I was impressed by this.

Of course the big reason why the game becomes more fun in Act 2 is because of the orcs. Just like in the first game, they are the reason you want to keep playing. You meet up with Bruce … excuse me, I mean ‘Bruze’ the orc. I’ll be honest, that got me laughing. Bruce the orc. Anyways, he is one of three major story orcs you encounter, and all three of them are delightful.  Even if you do end up killing two of ’em. But of course, the majority of the orcs you’ll be interacting with are powered by the “Nemesis System”.


Ah, the Nemesis System. Still waiting for more games to steal*cough* I mean be inspired by this system, because it really adds a lot to the game. All the captains have their own personality. There’s this one assassin who critiques your poisoning technique, several orcs that sing to you, and more than a few crazy ones. My bodyguard in one region was Sweety.


Twitchy little thing, and all he ever said was ‘Sweet’ or some variation on it. Little guy helped me off the overlord of the region, so I made him overlord in thanks.  Then there was the orc that made me feel like I needed an adult, because he was a bit to interested in my dead body. I didn’t recruit him. He went straight on the kill list.

Just like the first game, the orcs also remember their encounters with you. If you ran away, or they ran away, or if they killed you, they would remember it and comment on it the next time you meet them. Sometimes orcs would come back from the dead, and how you killed them would always impact how they look.


They would also, of course, comment on how you killed them as well. One orc seemed rather put out that I had poisoned him.  His face was rather melty as well.  Now while I greatly enjoyed the orcs, there is a small problem with them.  Repetition.  You will encounter the same orc archetype over, and over, and over again.

There’s no need do to this. It’s not  worth the headache. I generally found that it made things more frustrating than it did challenging, to the point where I rage-quit the game quite a few times until I just got fed up with it and cranked the difficulty down to easy just so I could finish the darn thing.  Even then, I still rage-quit on occasion, which leads me to some of the serious mechanical flaws of the game.


Relatively tame battle. It gets much crazier.s

Generally speaking, while you’re in the open world roaming around and killing orcs, the game works great.  Having the ability to play cat-and-mouse with a hard orc, dashing around a corner for a quick health-topper courtesy of some helpless grunt, hiding in a tower for bit to get the heat to calm down, all of this works great.  Until, you get mobbed.  Or pinned against a wall.


The camera loves doing this to you

The original game had this problem as well, though it seems worse in this one.  When you are surrounded by orcs, it becomes very hard to control where and what Talion attacks.  There were numerous times that I attempted an execution on the current captain I was fighting, only to kill a grunt.  It got to the point where as long as the captain wasn’t poison or fire immune, I’d just use “Elven Light” instead of execute.  Had the benefit of thinning the herd as well.


Even late into the game, there is a lot to do

This problem becomes even worse during fortress sieges.  You have multiple enemy captains, your captains, the enemy grunts, your grunts, and probably several packs of caragors, all milling about the place.  It becomes maddening to keep track of it all, not made any easier by the fact that if you hit your captains too many times, they’ll think you  betrayed them.


Can you find Talion in this picture?

Most of my rage-quits came from these situations, where I would die not because I made a mistake, or because I wasn’t prepared, but because I couldn’t properly  control Talion, or respond correctly to the myriad of prompts popping up all over the screen.


Finally on the mechanics side of things, the skill system has been greatly expanded from Shadow of Mordor.  Perhaps a little too expanded.  There are a great many skills, and each skill has three (sometimes two) modifiers.  This does allow a great deal of flexibility, especially when dealing with captain immunities and rage triggers, but it can feel a little overwhelming.  I also didn’t feel the need to switch very often.  Perhaps I’m just too set in a specific play style, but with the exception of switching out frost/fire/poison on Elven Light and what creature you summon, most skills felt like there was a correct answer to which modifier to enable.

Loot Boxes

Yes.  I’m going there.


The loot boxes are an interesting paradox.  They simultaneously mean nothing, and have ruined the game.  I shall explain.


In the previous game, the gear meant something.  It was your bow.  It was your son’s broken blade as a dagger.  It was your sword.  Here?  Eh, nothing worth fussing over.  I mean, you need to upgrade from time to time to get the stat boosts, and they do  look cool, but you don’t even preserve the look in the cut-scenes.  Getting an orange epic drop doesn’t mean anything, especially once you hit the end game and are probably using the legendary sets.


Need a lot of new orcs here…

To a lesser degree, it is the same with the orcs.  Orcs are disposable bundles of RNG, of randomness.  They die at the drop of a hat during fortress assaults and defenses.  They die because they are idiots in the fighting pits.  An orc might be awesome, except that it is heavily damaged by fire.  It creates this odd, disposable feeling to them.


I swear this is the 5th or 6th Glutton I’ve encountered.

So how  does all that tie into the loot boxes?  Because all of these things, weapons and orcs, are most efficiently gathered through loot boxes.  Orcs especially.  Even on easy mode, in the time it takes me to track down and enslave a single level 30ish orc, I could have opened a lot of loot boxes.


Oddly enough, you can’t buy gems.

Now during Acts 1 through 3, I never felt the need for swiftly ramping up my orc army.  Playing through the regions naturally provided the fodder I needed for the fortress assault, and items dropped frequently enough (and mattered little enough) that I never felt starved for items either.  Then you hit Act 4, the Shadow War.  Professionalism demands that I not type what I think of the Shadow War.


I think all the orcs drink 5 barrels of grog before entering the pit.

The Shadow War  is a long, painful series of Fortress Defense missions.  It will drain your currency, drain your orcs, and drain your patience.  With every siege, the enemy orcs get stronger and more numerous.  You will lose orcs, and your remaining orcs will swiftly be out leveled, leaving you with the choice of painfully grinding up new orcs using the fight pits, or opening lots and lots of loot boxes.  I found it to be such a dreadful slog that upon reaching the 5th siege battle (and there’s 10 battles) I threw my hands up into the air and watched the ending on YouTube.


I get a chest for completing this mission. Guess where I have to go to open it…

So yes, while the loot boxes are not needed in the slightest for Acts 1-3, Act 4 was clearly designed with free-to-play patience testing tactics.

Summary: At the end of the day, the big question is: Did I have fun? Yes, yes I did. I had fun killing the orcs, I loved the interactions with the story orcs, and when the combat behaves itself I enjoy the siege battles. The frustration isn't enough to make me glad it's over, and I'm looking forward to the additional story content coming in later. So with that, if you'll excuse me, I need to go find that corpse-loving orc again and kill it. With fire. And poison. And curse.
Story & Setting (7)
Gameplay (7.5)
Audio & Visual (7)
Replayability (9)
Pricepoint (8)

Tea. Dragons. Cartography. Video Games. These are a few of my favorite things. Still waiting for someone to combine them all into a holy gestalt of entertainment, but until then I'll just keep playing and analyzing games.

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12 comments on “Middle-earth: Shadow of War Review: “Shadow of Mordor 1.5””

  1. Avatar Fexelea says:

    Excellent review! I really enjoy reading your thoughts. It does sound like the gameplay, that’s the core of everything, is rather good. But the game may be a bit let down by audiovisual.

    Incomprehensibly, a game in Middle Earth has a weak story tho… that’s sort of a no-no for me.

  2. Avatar BWO_RazrSrorm says:

    A nice write up. But i’ll have to disagree. Firstly on the story aspect, you basically hinge it being bad by it not being "friendly" to lore enthusiasts. Well yeah. Can you seriously name one huge franchise that actually goes to game and is nearly 100% lore friendly? The lord of the ring movies even changed quite a bit compared to the books. At some point people need to realize changes are made for movies and books to make it palpable and entertaining for masses. Not for the lore purists. It’s worth mentioning nearly every idea they had was lore friendly to the books including the private letters and the simulacrum.

    As in while your ghost friend doesn’t have the ability to have those powers according to the books those powers do exist. And certain people can do that. This same outlook can be used through out the game. I’m not invalidating your feelings or saying you’re wrong for having them. I’m just saying the developers were quite open about the game. They wanted to tell a good game story. Not a book story. This is their take on things. And the family that owns the rights to LotR has backed that. I personally don’t think it’s fair to write a story off based on it breaking book cannon alone. Games rarely follow book cannon to a T. Halo certainly didn’t.

    Then there is the loot boxes. I don’t agree with them ruining the game. It is a bit disappointing that your personal talios doesn’t transfer into the cutscenes. But it along with the graphical/audio "meh"ness are well worth the upgraded nemesis system and a better flushed out upgrade system. As for grinding that is really only needed if you just grab random orcs instead of handpicking them. There is a great deal of strategy with the game. I have a friend who bought the same edition as you. Didn’t have any issues at all with where you struggled. And he never bought boxes or had to emergency grind at act 4 like you did.

  3. Avatar Languard says:

    Heh, there’s no reason to be so cautious in presenting a counter-point. I know people are going to disagree with me.

    And to counter your counter point, it isn’t that it’s not lore friendly, it’s that it shatters the lore. I found the first game quite fun, and while I did raise an eyebrow a few times, I could see how it fit into the lore. This game? Nu-uh. It’s fanfiction. Which is fine, it’s decent fanfiction as I said, but it will be a legitimate downside for many who are well versed in the lore. I don’t quite feel comfortable yet citing specific examples beyond Shelob, as I know people are still playing through the game.

  4. Avatar BWO_RazrSrorm says:

    I guess you view "lore friendly" different compared to me. When I think of lore friendly I think "this existed in the universe in some capacity."
    To me it sounds like you’re saying "because calibrimbor (know I butchered that) isn’t the same race as gandolf or sarourn he couldn’t possibly have the powers he’s got in game it’s not lore friendly."
    I don’t know how to word it any other way.

    The devs out right stated that they were not trying to tell a story that would appease the very heavy dedicated deep lore fans. They were trying to make a good story for a game. And as i’ve already pointed out games and movies can and usually will bend/break things just to make it more understandable/appealing to a larger mass of people. A movie example from LoTR would be the whole dwarf falling for an elf in the hobbit trilogy. That never happened in the books and that particular elf never existed. Legolas was only briefly mentioned as well. He didn’t pal around with them or even fight with them in the hobbit books.

    I’m completely fine with you or anyone not being content with the story because it doesn’t follow the lore to a T. I just have a problem with someone trying to call it objectively bad because of that because again, the devs never were trying to do that. They were open on their intentions with the game. It’s also surprising that you’d be fine with the first game. Talius would be dead. calibrimbor curse or not would not have the ability of keeping talius from going to where humans go when they die. There are other examples in that game that just don’t "fit" for lore purists. I think your issue is that with the first game they tip toed around things but with this second one they fully committed and stopped worrying about ticking of lore nuts.

    My friend is far more knowledgeable about the universe compared to me. He actually quite enjoys it all despite knowing a large majority of what’s happening isn’t possible in the LoTR universe.

  5. Avatar qeter says:

    its a question of degree when discussing weather on offshoot is fanfiction or not. i would say a creator has the right to add to a universe they work in. i wouldn’t take to much issue with some powerful eleven lord using mia like abilities wouldn’t even take to much issue with him saving the ranger from death, he could be receiving unknown aid from illuvatar or something. shelob is what crosses the line for me it just comes across as what a low quality fanfic author would do if they writing smut, the weird kind.

    as a fan of lotr i would have preferred it if they had just declared it non-canon and came up with something of better rather quality than trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

  6. Avatar Fexelea says:

    I haven’t played th game but I think I understand where the rejection is coming from. I’m a Tolkien fan and love the works, but I don’t normally mind small alterations and deviations over the several games and movies.

    However, I think the problem here is using a very clearly set and very famously ugly villain and trying to repurpose it into a do-gooder. That’s not inventing a new character or adding an anomaly, it’s taking a well-known character and completely changing them to exactly the opposite of what they are in the actual lore. It’s like turning Elrond into an ally of Sauron, it would be preposterous.

    It went from being a giant spider that is essentially the spawn of evil and reels in horror at pure things to a hot wise woman looking after middle earth? That seems like an absurd change.

  7. Avatar qeter says:

    she the crossbreed between a super spider stronger than demigods and unspeakable eldritch terrors of which only one person has ever seen and returned alive from.

  8. Avatar Lich180 says:

    Shelob is the spawn of Ungoliant, which even Morgoth (Sauron’s master) was terrified of, as Ungoliant wanted to eat Morgoth himself. Shelob has no shapeshifting power, and is only concerned with eating, much like her sire. She isn’t some hot chick trying to save Middle Earth, or help someone keep Sauron’s from taking over so she can. It’s just an odd characterization choice.

    I’m ok with fanfic, and Shadow of Mordor is very much fanfic. I don’t like that they changed things this much, but I’m relatively meh on it, as it is non-canon.

    I’m not bashing the game, as it has its merits. But the story is definitely a selling point for a Lord of the Rings game to me, and it takes too many liberties for me to enjoy.

  9. Avatar Fexelea says:

    I wish they made another one like war in the north. It was off the books but very enjoyably so!

  10. Avatar BWO_RazrSrorm says:

    Non cannon makes things up or better put invents something entirely new for the universe. Shelob isn’t an actual girl. She’s taking the form of one. The developers explained her as being a being that can take many shapes. Just as sauron, gandalf and the like do. Their goal was to make sort of a polar opposite of galiadrial (butchered her name.) They actually did a video on this.
    If you want to look at it from a sexualized angle that’s your hook up. Not the games.

    I only call you on that because it’s very hypocritcal of you to walk around as a proclaimed lore buff and basically forgive every "lore shattering" transgression shadow of war does but draw the line at this thing because she is an attractive female. That’s messed up.

  11. Avatar BWO_RazrSrorm says:

    The movies both the original trilogy and the hobbit trilogy have more than "small" changes done to them compared to the books. The books themselves are lacking in some finer points that are only in his personal letters and the simulacrum. You should probably go look into shelob. She just isn’t some random giant spider. And I wouldn’t even say shelob is watching over middle earth. She is pure evil with her own goals. Using you as a means to an end.
    The developers did a video specifically about shelob and why they took this approach. Simplified they wanted to create a parallel character from galadrial. And that shelob is an entity that can take many forms. Just as sauron and gandalf can change form.

    Like I said to the OP I don’t mind people not being content with the game because it’s not following lore to a T. My issue is when people start objectively calling it a bad story because it’s not an accurate representation to the lore. Movies and games never are. And the developers were very clear and very open with their intentions. They were after creating a good game story. Not a good book story.

  12. Avatar qeter says:

    have you ever read fanfiction?

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