Shadow of War is an open-world, action role-playing game that continues the story from the 2014 hit game Shadow of Mordor. It features the Gondorian ranger Talion, fused with the spirit of the elf lord Celebrimbor (creator of the three Elven Rings of Power), giving him amazing wraith powers. Both victims of Sauron the Deceiver, Talion and Celebrimbor work together to bring Mordor under their control and take the fight to Barad-dur.  

Beyond Lord of the Rings. If you expect to encounter/play familiar LOTR/The Hobbit characters, you’re in the wrong game. To be blunt, Shadow of War is akin to LOTR fanfiction—it’s supposed to be set in Arda, you can hear famous people and events referenced, but the plot is waaaaaaaaay out there that Tolkien purists would probably have a conniption when they play this game.  

Don’t believe me? In this game, you forge a new ring of power equal to Sauron’s One Ring, Sauron had an affair with Shelob—who’s not just a giant spider but also a sexy goth-like woman, there’s a necromancer running around Mordor who actually raises the dead (Tolkien’s necromancer was only “rumored” to have communed and summoned spirits of the dead, not raise the dead itself), Galadriel hires elven assassins, and Isildur (Aragorn’s ancestor who cut off The One Ring from Sauron) was one of the nine Nazgul. It’s insane, right? And I’m not even talking about the spoilers and plot twists here. 

Superb actionShadow of War’s action is one of the most enjoyable around—I’ll even go out on a limb and say it’s better than the action of the Batman Arkham games. It’s dynamic, fast-paced, varied, challenging, and, most importantly, fun. The game is basically 101 ways to kill an orc—and the amusing part is that they can do the same to you.  

A bigger and better MordorShadow of War looks and feels so much better than the first game. Unlike the first game’s scant two regions, we now have five regions in Mordor to run around in and every one of them looks and feels unique. Gorgoroth, as the “forge” of Sauron’s empire, is a hot and fiery plain—and a stark contrast to the snowy, mountainous region of Seregost. Cirith Ungol is rocky and cavernous—a perfect place for Shelob to make her lair. Nurnen, on the other hand, is a humid jungle where there’s more varied fauna. Minas Ithil/Minas Morgul, as the sole explorable (former) human city in the game, looks the most distinct with its towering structures and copious houses.  

A hero needs a nemesis. It was an ordinary day in the fallen city of Minas Ithil and I was hunting Grignak, an annoying orc captain. I finally saw him rounding up a corner, surrounded by his lackeys. Running on autopilot, I waded in—trading sword blows, dodging arrows from nearby archers, and randomly igniting my enemies on fire, trying to whittle down Grignak’s health down and kill him. The fight was pretty even—it was a matter of who gets to land the critical hit, when suddenly, this motherfucking nameless orc grunt one-shots me with his spear from behind. I die. The back-stabbing asshole gets promoted as captain and gets a name: Lazu The Sneaky. Meanwhile, I shout at the heavens at the indignity of getting killed by a grunt. 

The next time I encounter Lazu, he was on his way to a duel with Grignak—who was probably pissed off that Lazu “stole” his kill. When he saw me, I had to listen to him yak on and on about how he was the going to kill me again and again to prove to all of Mordor that he’s the hottest thing since Mt. Doom. I shoot an arrow to explode some oil barrels near the two of us, willing to sacrifice some of my life just to put his stupid face on fire. I thought I had him, but it turned out that Lazu developed the Fire-Proof trait from my first battle with him and now it’s me that’s burning while he stabs me again and again with his wicked spear. I die. Again. And now that Lazu leveled up from his win against me, he was able to kill Grignak with ease, catapulting him up the ranks. From a nameless grunt, Lazu is now a bodyguard of an orc warchief who I haven’t even discovered yet. The bastard’s moving up in the world.  

The nemesis system is the key ingredient that makes the Middle Earth games unique from all other games out in the market. It’s a game mechanic that makes your enemies unique—not just from how they were procedurally generated but also based on how you interacted with them. Cheating death in Shadow of War is common and the orcs you thought you were done with could come back stronger than ever—a real nemesis that could end up hounding you all over the game. 

This time around, however, you can also form… well, I wouldn’t call it “friendship” but certainly beneficial relationships with your follower orcs. Choose one of your orc followers and assign him as your bodyguard and you can always count on him to come to your aid when the going gets tough. Just make sure to repay their loyalty by not letting them die. I inadvertently let my bodyguard bleed out and he came back furious because I “betrayed” him. He refused to be dominated again and I had to chop off the head of the poor bloke.  

Orcs are people, too. The LOTR movies gave us the impression that orcs were just a generic, homogenous mass of evil. Shadow of War gives us an overflow of orc personality. In running around Mordor, I’ve encountered the expected savages, boastful, sneaky, blood-crazed, craven, and barbaric types. What I didn’t expect were the bards—eloquent, rhyming monsters with dreams of making it big, drunken orcs who are too smashed to kill you and will only humiliate you when they beat you, over-the-top mystic types who keeps spewing out mumbo-jumbo, and I swear I even encountered one who uh… um… wanted me. Let’s just leave it at that. I’d rather not relive the experience. 

Fight for your fortress. One of Shadow of War’s main enhancements over the first game is the inclusion of siege warfare. In Shadow of War, your objective is to seize control of the fortress (seat of power) in a particular region, install your own orc overlord and warchiefs, and extend your power. In online mode, you can assault the fortresses of other players—capture certain points in their fortress (and kill hundreds of orcs along the way) to bring out the base’s overlord and do some epic battle.   

Lootboxes. The majority of the bad reviews about Shadow of War centers on the game’s use of lootboxes—packages (containing either high level items or followers) that a player can acquire in exchange for real-world money. I don’t like lootboxes in principle, but I don’t get the vitriol in this game either. Far from being a necessity or even game-breaking, the things you get from lootboxes in Shadow of War are forgettable—you’ll pick up better items and encounter tougher orcs to make as your followers with ease. If you want them, go and buy. If you don’t, it won’t affect your game negatively at all.  

Forget the mobile game. There’s a Shadow of War game on mobile, but feel free to skip it. Don’t mistake me—there’s a lot to do in the mobile game that’s similar in concept to the “real” game (capturing fortresses, dominating orcs, making orcs fight each other, getting better gear, improving your base, etc.) but it’s just not fun.  

VERDICT

Middle Earth: Shadow of War is a game that isn’t afraid to go beyond: beyond the established canon of its source material, beyond the customary portrayals of orcs, and beyond expectations of an action game. If you’re looking for a fun, action-packed game that lets you play out the saga of you vs. your annoying why-don’t-you-leave-me-alone, surprisingly-nuanced orc nemesis, you’ve come to the right place. 

Specifications
DEVELOPER Monolith Productions
PUBLISHER Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
PLATFORMS Microsoft Windows, Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One, Android, iOS
GENRE Action role-playing
MODE Single player, multiplayer
PRICE P1,999.95 (Gold Edition)

 

Test: Middle Earth: Shadow of War
DESIGN8
PLAYABILITY 8
ENJOYABILITY9.5
PERFORMANCE 8
VALUE FOR MONEY9
8.5Overall Score

About The Author

Mark Isaiah David

Mark Isaiah David spends his days writing, reading, gaming, and taking care of his six-year-old boy who parties on the autism spectrum. He sends hello from the land of cheese and chocolates (Switzerland) and eagerly awaits the next time he can eat crispy pata and sisig.