Tolkien’s world contains a rich history of carefully laid out languages, maps and cultures which all intertwine, a proud legacy that Monolith manages to wade through on the back of an oliphant, torching everything in its sight as it gleefully beheads another orc or takes a tower.
For all the heartfelt cameos, mentions of events which are yet to come or impressive cities from the books there’s a Shelob with the ability to turn into a woman or an orc who sounds as if he’s come straight out of Eastenders, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Shadow of War takes place directly after the events in the last game but for those who missed that one out, there’s a handy recap and it’s back to work for our undead hero Talion and Celebrimbor, the spirit who shares his body and gives him some handy stealth powers, a bow and a strange white glow. It also feels very much like the first game, which will be great news for those who enjoyed this Assassin’s Creed style tower capturing action set in the world of Lord of the Rings.
The key gameplay remains mostly the same, unlock towers, kill orcs and battle those who you failed to kill the first time. This time, though, you can start to recruit your own army by taking their free will away and making them work for you. Fancy some assistance from archers? Recruit on to your army. Want a faithful orc leader to lead an army on your behalf? Beat him and drain his will before setting him back on task to help you out. It’s a move that turns Shadow of War in to far more than another open world hack, slash and sneak game.
The Nemesis system from the last game also ensures that any failed attack will help grow the enemies strength and reputation, making them harder to kill and often giving them an entourage of their own to help bring you down a second time. You’ll also have help yourself from soldiers who turn up to take down enemies for you in the thick of battle. They can often be as much of a hindrance as a help, especially if they end up killing the chief orc you’ve been after for the last hour. It all feels so much bigger and bolder than Shadow of Mordor even though the story this time around doesn’t quite feel as cohesive.
All in all it’s a successful venture which works with the larger scenery set out by Monolith to help bring a bit more of Middle Earth into the game. Yet, there’s something missing here which holds the game back from true greatness. It might be the fact that it keeps a similar rinse and repeat style from the first game, this time framed in the setting of castles which all tend to look similar when a bunch of orcs are rounding on you from the other end of yet another stone wall. The story, too, is still inconsistent, with some stand out moments often followed by dull characters with nothing important to add to the story.
Thankfully, the sum is better than its parts and Shadow of War is another strong offering from Warner Bros and Monolith that should keep fans of the first game coming back for more orc slaying.