Middle Earth: Shadow of War is the follow up to the 2014 hit Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. I absolutely loved the original due to its innovative nature and the nemesis system and am pleased to say the sequel brought the A game again. Developer Monolith created a beautiful franchise with the original and they were smart with the sequel. They didn’t change much from the first game. Instead, they added upon what they already had, which was near perfection. They improved the nemesis system to have even better interactions with your orc rivals, had several more areas than the first and introduced new creatures and abilities. The combat stayed nearly identical which I applaud. Often developers try to change things up in the sequel rather than going with the idea of “don’t fix what ain’t broke”. I understand the desire for progress and that it is art but I prefer when something wonderful stays that way.
The game consists of 4 acts, the first of which is rather slow. If you are new to the franchise, I doubt you will feel this way. My main reason for feeling it was slow is that it felt a lot like the first game. The new systems are only introduced in the second act. I don’t think this is necessarily a game design flaw, rather I think it is just my own fault for spending so much time in act I. I ran around killing orc captains so much rather than progressing the story that, when I got to act II, I felt I had played enough. I set the game down for a few weeks and came back. I am so glad I did.
Once I started act II I was hooked again. The ability to dominate captains and lay siege to a castle is the best addition to this franchise yet. I loved the build up of killing/dominating captains and war chiefs until you had enough power to take down the overlord who ruled the region. Never has a game made me feel so cool as this. As a massive fantasy fan, I was able to live out my dream of attacking a castle with an army.
The story in act II was rather fun too with new character additions as well as those from the original such as Ratbag and Gollum. The story is nothing to write home about, although the story bits in act III were fantastic and surprising. Speaking of which, act III was short but full of story and fun battles including a boss fight with a Lord of the Rings character I will not spoil. With all the excitement and fun from the first three acts, I was curious about what act IV could be. Act III seemed to wrap up the story to where the credits should have rolled. And the credits absolutely SHOULD have rolled. Act IV is nothing but a long grind of defending the castles you have dominated one after the other. This grind includes the need to level up quite a bit with no story missions to give you the experience you desperately need and little XP coming from other avenues. Further it requires that you also level up your orcs to extremely high levels. When all is said and done, it takes an additional 10+ hours (the first three acts take about 20-30) and all you get it a couple more minutes of cut scene and FINALLY the credits roll. I am completely fine with this grind being in the game and the extra cut scene but to call it act IV was a strange decision. Batman Arkham Knight, for instance, played an extra cut scene if you completed all of the side missions however the game was still counted as “completed” and credits rolled if you beat the main story. Some may say I am being too sensitive but I play games for the story and I love to have the satisfaction of the credits rolling at the end. I am not a completionist though and was therefore left wanting with the ending of this game.
In summary, Middle Earth: Shadow of War is a brilliant game. With a dismal and boring 4th act, I am left to wonder what the game designers were thinking considering the absolute masterpiece on our hands. Had this simply been post game content, the score would have been a higher score and I would have made this the site’s game of the year. Unfortunately the poor game design dropped the score a bit and left it wanting a bit. Even still I recommend this game to anyone who enjoys action adventures as the first three acts take you on a thrilling adventure worth enjoying.
4 out of 5 Couch Cushions!!!