Developer: Monolith Productions
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: October 10, 2017
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Writers: Tony Elias
Biography: Shadow of War continues the narrative from Shadow of Mordor, following Talion who is still infused with the spirit of the elf lord Celebrimbor. Talion and Celebrimbor travel to Mt. Doom, where they forge a new Ring of Power free of Sauron’s corruption.
My ally, Krakhorn the Ruined begins his ambush against Ur-Masi Hammerfist by sneaking into his camp in Shadow of War. With the Thick Skinned ability Krakhorn has increased health and carries a cursed weapon, which his enemy is dazed by when hit. However Hammerfist is a towering Olog, a tank class that can withstand a lot of damage. To make sure my side is successful, I back up Krakhorn with another ally, Snafu Razor Jaw, a Trickster who can lay traps and carries a Machine Hook to damage his foes. The orcs move in and each give a unique line of dialogue before the fighting erupts. To thin out the ranks of lesser orcs I fire a few arrows at nearby environmental weapons, lighting several on fire with an explosive barrel and unleashing a nest of spiders to poison any enemies in its vicinity.
The battle begins to swing my way when Krakhorn stuns Hammerfist with his weapon and I decide to move in to dominate the target. An Olog will be a fine addition to my army. Suddenly, another Olog appears on the scene: Norsko the Scholar – a blood brother of Hammerfist who is enraged at the sight of his bloodied brother. Before I know it the tide has turned and Snafu Razor Jaw is injured, he must have been weak to something Norsko had in his arsenal. I manage to execute this new enemy but Hammerfist has fled to fight another day and we have lost Snafu – a high level orc in the process.
This emergent storytelling takes place across Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Monolith Productions’ sequel to the well received Shadow of Mordor. The main plot follows Talion an ex-Gondorian ranger who is murdered by Orcs at the Black Gate. Talion would have perished had he not been possessed by a wraith, an elf named Celebrimbor who promises him revenge against Sauron by turning his own army against him. This game focuses on Sauron’s fortresses; taking them over with your own orc army and defending them. The main story takes things in an interesting direction (especially when playing around with some of the franchises fringe elements) but it’s the battles, personalities and how the player interacts with the Nemesis system that make Shadow of War an exciting game to play.
Each orc captain has their own unique characteristics. Everything from their name and their strengths, to their personalities and weaknesses. Talion can uncover intel on each captain by interrogating lesser orcs and uncover what these weaknesses are making them easier to kill or dominate to become a member of his own army. Send one of your allies into battle with a fire weapon and the enemy will be set ablaze, this may do some damage, terrify the enemy if that is one of their weaknesses sending them running or nothing at all if the target has fire-proof as one of their strengths.
Because orcs can range from over-the-top to serious to deranged you quickly become attached to the orcs various personalities and strengths and losing an orc captain that has been in your ranks for a long time can be tough to take. If you prefer survival of the fittest you can send any orc into the fighting pits to improve their level but this carries the risk of that orc being killed. Talion himself cannot die in a traditional sense but he can be defeated and losing to an orc will cause them to level up and become more powerful. This triggers a Nemesis mission where you can go and find that same orc who is most likely celebrating your defeat with a feast. With the more powerful enemies this back and forth can be really fun and you might end up with several longstanding grudges against particular orcs. This system goes deeper still as orcs you kill have a chance of returning from the dead at a later time sporting an injury and a vendetta against you. Even your own allies can turn against you in certain circumstances. Shadow of War keeps you alert even when things seem to be going smoothly.
Each of the five regions in Shadow of War has its own fortress where the most powerful orcs are promoted to Warchiefs and an Overlord who oversees the fortress. To make a fortress your own you must defeat all of the Warchiefs and the Overlord using your army, siege upgrades such as siege beasts, drakes and explosives and your wraith-like combat abilities. Here, again, Shadow of War allows you to approach these moments in different ways. You can have your allies infiltrate the enemies ranks and betray their Warchief at a crucial moment, you can hunt and take down the Warchiefs before the siege begins weakening the defences or stack your army with powerful orcs and smash your way through. Failure to capture a fortress is oddly satisfying too as it allows you to start recruiting more orcs, learning their strengths and weaknesses and building up to this cinematic battle. Because failure and death are integral to the game, the higher difficulty modes is where a lot of the fun is found.
Once you’ve captured all of the fortresses and completed the main story the endgame kicks in called Shadow Wars. These are enemy sieges of your fortresses which get progressively more difficult forcing you to level up your army by sending them on missions and upgrading your defences. Shadow Wars is pretty challenging but you are rewarded with high tier loot for your hard work. It also gives you the opportunity to use some high level skills such as raising an allied orc from the dead if they are killed in the heat of battle or shaming an orc to decrease their level and possibly make them deranged.