SHORT REVIEW: PC VERSION
Middle of that Earth: Shadow of that Wars: From that Lord of that Rings
I’ve spent many an hour in the land of Mordor and have had a wonderful time there, despite what the brochure said. The original game spawned a lengthy retrospective and I am unhappy to report that it included a rather vicious disclaimer. You see, the original games plot… was… let’s say… lacking. Hey, let’s hope I won’t have to do that again.
Once again we inhabit brave Ranger Talion with wraith body-roommate Celebrimbor and I’m pretty confident they’ll improve on the lacklustre story.
Let’s find out.
Disclaimer – The following introduction berates a creatively bankrupt team. Again. Light swearing applicable.
Fucking hell. I’m finding it really hard to articulate just how bad the opening to this game is. They did it again. The writers should hang their heads in shame. Shame, I say. You’re dealing with one of the most beloved tales of modern times and this was the best they could do?
A short recap reintroduces Talion’s murdered family that we’ve all forgotten about, and our heroes forge a new ring of power. Naturally, the rings instantly stolen with barely any input from the player. Fucking hell. Can I get on with playing the game now.
All of this convoluted shit, just so they can drain our god like powers from the previous game. The whole review could be an examination of introducing a sequel at the expense of those that had already spent time in the previous game. Wouldn’t it be nice is we could choose to skip the whole first act, for those that had already subjugated an entire Orc army? Sigh, let’s move on.
Story backstory: The story – Our Elf-Lord friend Celebrimbor creates a brand new ring of power. Inexplicably created in Mount Doom. Yes, using his own power. The same power that allows him to dominate Orcs. Chucked into a ring that can easily be stolen. Which it is. By a sexy spider. Ye gods.
The games selling point is the same as the first. The Nemesis system. Randomly generated Orcs wander the land enjoying brunch and catching up with Sadie. Sometimes they partake in light murder. They generate their own missions and fanny around until you insidiously recruit them to work in your equal opportunities army.
This time round our funtime Orc buddies are more reactive, more varied and are a continual source of joy. You can mess up Orc tea parties, set up ambushes and act like a real jerk. There’s a real point to recruiting a large bunch, of mostly East-End sounding thugs, as you’ll need a strike team to take down mighty citadels protected by an Orc overlord. Which is nice, as we all enjoy a pleasant epic battle when suitably prepared.
Yes. You are always suitably prepared. Why wouldn’t you be?
These battles are fun but seldom provide any real challenge. At least until you waddle inside the main chamber to defeat the Orc commander in single combat. Oh, and his lackeys. It’s ok though, you can summon reinforcements yourself. Every and now and then you’ll come across a double hard Orc that’s a real pain to take down, but that’s the nature of randomised encounters. These battles don’t feel particularly epic. You storm the castle by standing and capturing different zones. I guess it could be harder but I pouched the defenders high-flying Orc talent before the battle. Maybe next time I’ll storm the castle by myself… Nah.
To counteract this wanton land theft your newly taken forts can also be counter-attacked. After you’ve completed the main story. Muh. You can choose when to defend your base. Muh. Other real life human players can passively attack your base. Muh. I’ll be honest with you, the online portion of the game can hugely fuck off. No-one asked for this. Stick your crates and Orc-jiggly-points up your jacksie.
Speaking of Orcs up-ta-jacksie; it feels really strange to have light-hearted Orc comedy relief characters. I mean, these big mean creatures of evil are quipping and being a bit cheeky. Also, their introduction speeches go on for a bit. In fact, everyone in the game goes on a bit. Cerewhatever the Elf-bloke can’t stop going on about his bloody ring. The games a tad one note.
If the Orcs are more adaptable and deadly, I’m glad to report that Talion himself is more manoeuvrable than ever. Less stodgy in his movements then the first game. He benefit’s from a joyful super-climb, and can unlock a great double jump thing. It’s a bit messy, doesn’t always land where you want to, but it is capable of bringing out the fun. To aid the much improved traversal the quick travel to towers is real quick. At least on the PC. Now that’s a real bonus. Whilst on the subject of Towers you have to climb them. Yes. Towers. Towers to climb. In a computer game. Towers unlocking things on maps. In an inspiring hateful act you have to manually inspect the realm to highlight each collectable on the map. No, they don’t automatically reveal themselves to you. You have to inspect each single one of them. Each tower has different things to look at. Go on Talion, look at the things. Fucking, fucking, fucking towers.
To be fair the view is a pretty one. Mordor looks just as nice as last time and the maps dense with opportunity. You can watch from the shadows as you cause a ruckus with bow and arrow… hey, shadows… like the games title. Clever. A land born from chaos makes for the perfect setting as you’ll come across hulking creatures smashing into a pack of Orcs, mighty drakes swooping down at you, ambushes and times you might consider doing a runner. The fighting remains solid, the building blocks fit together nicely and it’s not a hard game to recommend.
The main missions have all the hallmarks of a grand visual epic, but it’s false. The drama feels too regulated, and the focus relies on bloated fan service topped off with a hollow framework. Oh look guys, here comes Gollum again. Let’s follow his sexy ass for 10 minute. Oh wow, a Balrog… Blimey.. is that… yes.. It’s a Nazgûl! That was in the film! Don’t you love being told how much you care about something. “This is really important cos I said so” the script.
None of this compares favourably to your own entertainment generated in the sandbox of Mordor.
From my review of the previous game I said “they won’t have a clue what people liked about this in the first place”. My worries have appeared to ring true. Shadow of War is solid, but it doesn’t push anything too far. Let’s play it safe. Throw in a new animal to ride, chuck in an Orc commander. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. A tight focus on what really matters would have made for a better game. The Nemesis system is still fantastic and is the main draw, but the magician needs to improve the trick the second time round.
Despite my reservations and the games missteps and I have found myself hooked into dominating middle earth again. The base idea is just that good. Newcomers to the game will be in for a treat… well… that’s dependant on your sensitivity to Tolkien lore and that Batman fight system.
Shadow of War is just like the first game, but bigger and better.
What did you expect.
Bravery could have elevated Shadow of War into a true classic.