Back on September 30th, 2014 the world was smacked in the face with a sleeper hit that was a brewing pot of many loved features and universes. First you start with J.R.R Tolkien’s wondrous Middle-earth lore, take the open world shell and feel of Assassin’s Creed 2, mix it with Arkham Asylum combat, and throw in the dynamic power-house system that was called “Nemesis” and you have a smelting pot of grandeur. That in itself was basically the predecessor (Shadow of Mordor) and it was stunning because it was something we were familiar with but yet not. That game opened a door for so much more potential down the line. Admittedly one could say it might have been over-acclaimed and the story-telling wasn’t even “good” when compared to the wealth of source material… but whether we like to address it or not, it was the “Nemesis” system that kept it held in such high regards.
Shadow of War applies the Nemesis system as well, since it is such a main-staple of the series now, except there-in lies a problem with it; Shadow of War applies (what feels at surface value) the same “Nemesis” system with what does indeed feel like wasted potential. We’d never seen it with the preceding game so we sort of pushed everything else under the rug for what felt like a Rocksteady Batman game in most all other aspects. But lets not wonder on this to much or we will miss a lot of the other main points. Let us discuss the story before delving deeper.
MORE OF THE LORE
If anything this game does get right, its the better use of the lore (but not necessarily brilliant use) . With the first game, it was hard to pin-point exactly where the game took place in relevance to The Lord of The Rings/Hobbit movies. As the game progress on, you will start to get a better understanding of where these games fall in the timeline. Familiar faces will make a return and there is a nice amount of comic relief, action, suspense, and other emotions in-between that makes the campaign story much less shallow than before. The biggest complaint here could be that some of it feels too stretched out at times and that might possibly come down to how long you may take to complete armies and raid strongholds (but there might be other factors to consider such as over-sizing of the game length itself).
Yes, you still play as Talion, who lost his garrison and family to the Black Hand of Sauron. Celebrimbor also makes a return (because how else would you do those cool wraith moves) and he has a much bigger role that expands over the story, making him less of a cop-out (as much as that is possible). New characters are introduced such as Shelob the spider, and while admittedly you might not get the whole picture at first… it does come together better than the initial plot of the first game. This could be said about most of the other minor and major characters in Shadow of War (which other than Ratbag himself in Shadow of Mordor, feel like they have more of a use and purpose). If you were worried about a weak watered story in this game too, you might be slightly surprised for what extra effort there is.
A TALLY UP FOR TALION
- COMBAT AND SKILL TREE
The root combat is a lot of the same which isn’t necessarily to cause to be in an uproar about. Really though, we’ve played the Batman Arkham series and with the exception of a few things here and there… it too was always at its core the same fight mechanic game-play. What makes a great addition to Shadow of War is a more refined skill tree that has the ability to variate what certain main abilities do. Its also broken down into more categories so you get to unlock abilities at much more freedom. So as with the Arkham games that had tidbits added in to incentivise sequels, Shadow of War at least builds upon the skill tree system without overwhelming the previous system before it.
NOTE: We will loop the basic controls into combat here and at this point there are some issues with navigating. Controls don’t always feel as responsive as they should and climbing objects (while you can climb virtually almost any wall) doesn’t always blend well with running or trying to get in and out of stealth actions. The most damaging issue to the controls (however infrequent it might be) is a bug where Talion will get caught on a surface while climbing/hanging/etc and he can no longer move. You are frozen and cannot regain character control until an undetermined amount of time passes and he snaps out of the bug. Getting caught like this in a big fight will certainly induce rage and we are hoping it will get patched.
- CHARACTER LOAD-OUT AND GEAR
In Shadow of Mordor you only had one load-out and things such as your clothing, bow, sword, and the make-shift dagger were unchangeable in any way. This game allows you to kill Uruk captains/war-chiefs and dependent upon their level, you get loot in the same threat tier as the captain/war-chief. This is a good addition to mix it up as higher tiered gear can grant things such as poison/fire/curse damage when dishing out blows. Shadow of War much like the previous game randomizes its Uruk captains with different strengths and weaknesses. This addition can help you go into battle with a poison weapon per say, if the the enemy Uruk captain can take major damage from poison weapons (but not all Uruk captains will be weak to poison if much at all; its just for example).
For even more depth, most of Talion’s armor and weapons come with an upgrade path and a slot to “augment” the piece. Most of the time you will have to complete a challenge to upgrade the gear, but to augment them with stones that for example, increase currency drop/life steal or what have you, you will need to pick them off dead Uruk who carry them. Its easy to find these Uruk as they will have a white icon above their head that signals who they are to you.
NOTE: You can acquire more gear via drops in the loot box system that is integrated into the game. In opinion, its mostly there to rob your chances of getting the legendary Uruk that they want you to buy into them for. We aren’t going to spend time delving into all of that just yet but there is something to take away from this. You shouldn’t buy the loot crates to get new gear. You can manipulate Uruk with in-game missions to drop better loot later but most of the time you can just find Epic and Legendary Uruk to kill in later game that drop good loot without spending a dime. So, no… do not be enticed.
MEET YOUR NEMESIS
What was unmistakably the sustenance of Shadow of Mordor makes a return. The Nemesis system for Shadow of War is pretty much the same, minus UI tweaks here and there. The game starts with randomly generated Orcs and Uruk that have varying degrees of strengths, weaknesses, traits, and personalities. Some will be invulnerable to some elements of attacks while being mortally weak to a beast attack (for example but not limited to); the varying range of Uruk generation is just as diverse. If you go in on an Uruk and fail to kill him or he kills you, then he will become stronger in level and be harder to kill next time.
Uruk also posses the ability to adapt to your moves. You may try and vault over them one too many times and they will adapt to where you can no longer do that. You can see there was some heart put into this idea as with a truly “alive” being, not all will fall for the same tricks over and over again (unlike the whales of the gaming consumers but that is a different battle for a different time). This will quickly become an issue if you are facing an Uruk with virtually no weaknesses and whom has adapted to almost all of your move. You will quickly find yourself not being able to kill them unless the most drastic measures are taken by mounting a drake or graug beast.
MAKE YOUR NEMESIS YOUR OWN
The whole point that the Nemesis system builds up to is the ability to “dominate” them and force them to be captains of your own army. There are some interesting events that can become of this too. If you fancy a certain captain, you can make him your own personal body-guard and call upon him in battle, yet that isn’t the deepest part of it. Some Uruk will betray you, some will have iron-will that cannot be turned, and some will turn against you if you kill their blood brothers. Just killing every Uruk for the sake of it is kind of risky in Shadow of War with the “revenge” dynamic so some praise should be given for the deep planning put into “Nemesis 2.0”.
COULD THERE HAVE BEEN MORE TO NEMESIS?
There are some nice tweaks here and there for the Nemesis system but at the end it all feels the same. Yes, they still remember when they’ve encountered you and the dialogue for any situation can be an uproar of laughter sometimes. Just for reference, the first promoted war-chief for the review play-through literally moaned instead of talking; it was very much hilarious. So to emphasis again, yes there are some changes and interesting dynamic you may not have seen in Shadow of Mordor, but at the same time there feels like there could have been more done and made definitive as a true game staple.
Instead of a more well defined and fleshed out system we got a bigger focus on stronghold capturing and side-quests that in the end feel tacked on to buffer the game length (instead of taking the production time with all that and pouring it into the Nemesis system). Sometime during the second act, you may begin to realize how fluffed the game feels and repetitive it shouldn’t have turned into. Where-as Shadow of Mordor felt short to some and the padding could be more justified… the padding for Shadow of War is rather overbearing and the game length certainly outstays any welcome. One could only speculate how the ham-fisting of loot crates and the incentive of buying them, affected the whole game design. I.E. we needed to see a richer Nemesis system, deeper combat, and a game-length much more suitable and far less “grindy” (there are always other games for grinding, Warner Brothers).
UPDATE: It is true that there is seemingly a larger amount of variation among the Uruk than what was found in the previous game. This was not emphasized enough in the original posting. This is obviously where some of the updates went into and its definitely better than “Nemesis 1.0”. While the Uruk are more and plenty, once again, the issue ultimately is how instead of pushing a loot box economy, a more rich implementation of the overall Nemesis system would have been better for developer resources.
CONQUER STRONGHOLDS. DEFEND STRONGHOLDS.
Shadow of Mordor lead this idea of conquering Sauron’s army but Shadow of War makes this game obvious game staple. We’ve already discussed how over-extended it feels but you also need to understand how it works. There are different regions in Mordor that each have a stronghold. Each stronghold has a warlord and various war chief’s under him. Its really just rinse and repeat for each various region. Infiltrate the ranks and take out/recruit war chiefs and pick some captains in the Uruk army for good measure.
When you have a big enough army, you can assign your recruited Uruk to become “Assault Leaders”. These are the captains you will take into battle to conquer the stronghold. Each captain can have special reinforcements like beast packs, siege-bests, or special troops that can be purchased to help push into the various fortress’. You wont need them much at the start but as you assault bigger and badder strongholds, they will become a must to succeed. Truthfully, its a fun idea at first… but this is the same avenue in which Shadow of War finds itself far too “grindy” for its own good at higher stronghold levels, in hopes you fork over fist-full of dollars and purchase loot boxes for Legendary Uruk.
The fight with the warlords after storming the stronghold throne room after usually a missed opportunity too. Monolith makes it look cool in all their game footage but its underwhelming simply for the fact you are stuck in a small room with infinite Uruk enemy reinforcements and the warlord has some kind of gimmick to fight you with. They are not proper boss battle; they are just boring and uninspired. The biggest slap you could take from it though is that even if your assault leaders survive, they don’t follow you in to help you. Now we ask the question, “what did it all even matter?”
NOTE: If your bodyguard survived the siege, he can be called upon but that is mostly a given. If you are going to lazily regenerate enemies… then give us our assault captains!
There is a multiplayer component to all of this too. When you conquer a stronghold, you can be attacked by another player. Likewise, you can invade someone else’s stronghold. It’s a nice idea on paper but since they’ve already over saturated and made taking the campaign strongholds monotonous, you are just torturing yourself at this point. Sure, you get rewards for beating the strongholds… but is it really worth it? That is up to you.
NOTE: You can actually turn off the online mode by not accepting it in the Terms of Service. You cannot play online or buy loot crates but you also won’t be bothered with ads that bombard you in hopes you spend your life savings on one game. Keep this in mind when playing. Don’t want to spend extra money? Don’t except it in the front menu!