My Year of Gaming: Middle-Earth: Shadow of War
At the beginning of 2017, I purchased a Playstation 4, and it was the first time I have had a console since 2011. Needless to say, I have quite the backlog of games. I played through 23 titles in my first year getting hardcore back into gaming, and still have a long way to go. Now that we’re halfway through 2018, I figured I would share what I have been playing since the beginning of the year.
I started 2018 by playing the sequel to 2014’s Shadow of Mordor, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War (2017). I was really excited to get to play both of these games. The trailer for Shadow of War looked incredible. I will preface this all by saying that though Shadow of Mordor was fun and an interesting take on Tolkien lore, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. It was incredibly repetitive, and I remember being really glad to be finished with it. I had heard rumors that Shadow of War was more of the same, so it took me a while to work up the drive to play it. And I definitely forced myself to start. Having said that, I enjoyed Shadow of War much more than then Mordor. It still suffered from being repetitive, however, the map is diverse enough that it didn’t feel like more of the same. Plus, there were a bunch of new features added that made it different than Mordor.
The biggest change to the series was the inclusion of conquests. One of the abilities of the main character, Talion, is to infect the minds of the enemy Uruks and make them fight for him. As you play, you built up an army of captains and warchiefs who will help you overthrow Uruk compounds. The all-out battles as you take the castle was a lot of fun. Each conquest ends in a showdown with the overlord of the region. These Uruks were much more powerful than their underlings and can summon a constant stream of enemies. And you have to fight them alone. These fights definitely got my frustrated at times. Which leads me to one of my major complaints with the franchise.
The Uruks come with a series of strengths and weaknesses. When you gain intel on an enemy, it makes them easier to defeat. The Shadow series has what they call the “Nemesis System” which sets up an Uruk as your arch-rival. In War, this plays more of a part in the main story as your nemesis will pop up during key battles. Here’s where the system can fail. It’s a luck of the draw, and I had bad luck. My nemesis had very few melee weaknesses, with stealth being the only sure-fire way to defeat him. He carried a big shield, so the only way to strike a hit was to roll over him and stun. Which worked for a bit because he learned your moves and adapted to them. He was also immune to arrows, so once he learned how I was striking hits, there was no way to deal damage. On top of all of that, he could regenerate health. All of this was the worst thing to have when he turned up in two full-scale battles where there was no opportunity for stealth. It was the worst boss battle I have ever faced, and it happened twice. I ended up trapping him in a corner away from his lackeys, grabbing him, and shanking him until he was defeated. Which took forever because he also had “death defy,” which means when you kill him the first time, he comes back with half his health. I had the absolute worst luck getting him as my nemesis.
Another aspect of the game that could be annoying (it was to me) is that the story isn’t entirely linear. You can pick and choose which parts of the overall story you can play and, to me, it was sometimes hard to figure out where to go next. I eventually figured out how everything worked, but I like games where everything is spelled out a little bit better in terms of the main story. When it came down to it, the story was actually really good (once you got over the weirdness of the opening moments, which I won’t spoil here). I really enjoyed the big-battle sequences and it was interesting playing through the events that led to Mordor’s expansion and learning more about the Ringwraiths. The story culminated in a really intense and emotional finale.
If you are a fan of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I would suggest playing both Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War. They can get a bit laborious, but there is enough good in them that it’s worth it.