It wasn’t that long ago that Shadow of Mordor took the gaming world by storm, bagging numerous awards and giving brutal, free-flowing combat a home right next door to the nemesis system which would make your contact with enemy captains far more than just another body in the graveyard.
The sequel Shadow of War is finally upon us and on paper everything starts to sound very similar, large battles, with dozens of enemies, working your way through the ranks until you’ve weakened the leaders enough to battle them, before moving on to the next all while enjoying a Lord of the Rings inspired storyline, which while far from perfect does mostly tick all the right boxes…
Sound familiar… Well over the last few decades one thing I’ve learnt is simple, if you’re going to make a sequel it’s got to add enough new content to make it worthwhile while remaining true to the original, or it’s got to be bigger, badder and better.
Shadow of War does add new, in the way of loot boxes which can be purchased using in-game currency or micro-transactions. But the main addition is the recruitment system, where you don’t just take down the captains as you progress to the war-chief, you over-power them, dominate them and enlist them as your bodyguards so they can help you destroy their former ally.
It’s a fantastic system which works as a massive improvement, but Shadow of War doesn’t stop there, it’s certainly, bigger, badder and better in just about every way possible.
At the start of the story, you’ll once again control Talion and his wraith-in-arms Celebrimbor. After your wraith friend forges a new ring that’s pure and free of the mighty Sauron’s evil he ends up captured by the shape-shifting witch Shelob, and in return for the Wraith’s return you give in to her new attractive appearance and hand her the ring with a plan to recapture it at a later date.
This takes you into the first chapter where you’ll be running back and forth to Shelob performing tasks thanks to her goddess like ability to show you fragments of the future, there’s a few other inter-twining storylines such as helping the Gordonians, but this first 10 hours might seem like a hefty stretch but it works as a great way of getting to grips with the game, catching up on the happenings of the first title and starting to work your way through the impressively detailed skill trees.
On to the second Act and you’ll gain the ability to dominate orcs, captains and other enemy creatures to fight alongside you, While the first act might have been quite similar to the first game it’s from Act 2 forwards where your patience is rewarded and the excellence of Shadow of War really starts to shine.
Working your way towards the war-chiefs you’ll come across plenty of enemies, enlisting the help of a few orcs might help with the smaller battles, but the real fun is getting a few former captains on board, working them to serve as your bodyguard or maybe return back into the enemy ranks as a sleeper-cell, if they are capable of getting back into a War-chiefs good books, you’ll find life much easier when one of his own is happy to throw a blade in his back as soon as you turn up.
The relations you’ll build with your new-found allies is one thing, but you’ll also need to keep an eye on how things are with your enemies, take down a captain and he might return with a metal plate covering his once wounded skull after cheating death during your last encounter. But fall victim to another, and they’ll brag about their accomplishment, often appearing again with a new title and a more prominent role in the enemy army.
The new improvements to the nemesis system keep this meetings fun and rewarding especially when you return to avenge your death with the chance of improved loot, but rustle the wrong feathers and you’ll be watching your back round every corner.
These ongoing feuds are as rewarding as the story itself, and I lost countless hours running around intentionally targeting certain enemies, or tormenting them by sending death threats after dominating their understudy. I would look forward to every encounter as the perfectly voiced and well-scripted dialogue would tell me more about the win, loss or new foe, and this all falls into place thanks to some absolutely eye-popping graphics.
The review build was played on the Xbox One S, so I had the benefit of HDR lighting, however I’ve also spent time in both standard 1080p a well as 4K on the Xbox One X.
Shadow of War proves to be an amazing graphical accomplishment and these face-to-face encounters are only improved when you can see every crack or ripple on their skin, this all falls in to place perfectly with a smooth, flowing and brutal combat system which remains easy to get to grips with, using a single attack button, another to dodge, counter and stun.
It might sound a little too simple, but when you bite off more than you can chew (and you will) you’ll soon realize that plenty of skill, timing and judgment is required when you end up surrounded by a few dozen orcs and that pesky captain you thought you’d killed who’s just been waiting for the right time to ambush you.
Moving through the game, you’ll find these ongoing feuds will start to roll in line with the story and at times you’ll forget about one as you concentrate on the other, but with plenty of side quests to complete and revenge quests allowing you to gain improved loot from captains who have killed others on your friends list, you’ll find Shadow of War provides plenty of replay value without having to rely too heavily on one area. Even after you’ve completed the main story, there’s ongoing fortress defense missions which will keep you working to strengthen your army long beyond the 30+ hours it will take you to get there,
There’s also loot, while not as plentiful as some games it’s always worth checking the items you’ve picked up and selling what you no longer use to raise funds for more of the loot crates, Micro-transaction do push into the end game army building defense tasks, but with a steady flow of in-game currency it’s more pay-to-enjoy a little more, rather than pay-to-win.
Shadow of War is a big step over it’s already impressive predecessor. It’s bigger, better and jam-packed full of orcs to kill and befriend.
Some might complain that there’s sometimes too much going on, but most will appreciate the level of depth and excitement on offer throughout.
Gameplay : 9
Graphics : 9.5
Sound : 9
Story : 8.5
Value : 9
Overall : 9 / 10