Yesterday marked the release of Monolith Production’s Middle-Earth: Shadow of War*, but it unlocked on Monday for me for some reason, so I’ve spent a good bit of the past 48 hours stalking Uruks and finding out what makes them tick. Like scum-of-the-earth-Tinder-predators, I’ve been learning what they like and dislike so that I can use it against them at the opportune moment. And like those pieces of shit, I’ve been wreaking havoc: turning friend against friend, filling my targets with fear, and sucking the life essence out of them…often literally. I mostly enjoyed Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, despite a lot of shortcomings, and Shadow of War is doing its damndest to capitalize on the things that worked for the first. So, I’ve decided to rip myself away from it for a little bit to bring you a patented Constantly Calibrating Non-Arbitrarily Numbered List of Awesomicity and Verisimilitude (we’re working on the name). So here are three and half things you should know Middle-Earth: Shadow of War
Holy Shit, There’s a Story
I’m going to get right to the point, Shadow of Mordor had an extremely drab and forgettable story. Aside from a few outstanding bullet points, it was an uninspiring revenge tale with an, at times, incohesive plot, unremarkable characters that included the token, rough and tumble dwarf archetype, and villains that didn’t feel at all grounded in the story. Shadow of Mordor, however, seems to have taken a step in the right direction seeing as how I’m a good many hours in and am genuinely interested to see how things play out. Granted, I haven’t made it to the end yet, so I hope I’m not being premature for what could be a flop of an ending. But, seeing as how it feels like Talion and Celebrimbor have a little more depth this time around, it may have been worth it to have the previous game basically be a giant set up for their character development in this installment.
The Game Plays as Well as You Remember
Shadow of War still feels solid regarding controls and flow of the game. It still plays like the Tolkienesque bastard child of the Batman: Arkham series with combat revolving around stringing hits, countering at the right moment, and using a varied arsenal to keep the advancing Uruk army at bay. The character progression system feels a lot sleeker, allowing you to get new skills and upgrade those skills as you see fit. Also, I’m personally enjoying the inventory system more than in the previous game. Defeating Uruk captains and warlords rewards you with different weapons and armor as opposed to runes that you can only insert into your original, “didn’t help much the first time” set of weapons. I like this touch of flair as it adds some variety to visuals and is welcome. There’s still an item upgrade system similar to the runes of the previous, but now you pick one of three colored gems that have different properties depending on the item you insert the into. You can upgrade also gems by getting more gems of the same type and combining them. One of the more interesting features is that higher quality weapons can have extra traits to empower the weapon that can be unlocked by meeting certain criteria, like “Kill 5 Enemies Using Poison”. This gives you a reason to hold onto some weapons for a little longer in case you want to upgrade them later.
You will eventually, however, wind up with a horde of weapons you don’t want or need. You can destroy these items and receive a small amount of currency that you can use to buy items and chests in the in-game marketplace that was obviously kind of shoed-in by an executive for microtransactions. My verdict on this marketplace? Unnecessary. But, I mean that in two senses. First sense is that this game doesn’t need anything like that. I understand companies wanting to make money, but microtransactions are a parasitic way of trying to help people enjoy a game more. Second sense, though, is that it isn’t necessary to play the game. You’ll still have a chance at legendary items, followers, and handjobs (gentle war troll handjobs) without spending a dime.
The Nemesis System is Still Muth-effin’ Brilliant.
I have absolutely no idea why the Nemesis system isn’t utilized more often across different game platforms. The idea that your interactions with characters matter give substance to encounters that you don’t see very often elsewhere. If I run from my attacker, he’ll remember and next time I see him make sure to remind me about the that time I was a little bitch. I recently ran into an Uruk that fancies himself a bard. When we ran into each other, though, things ended on a very low note for him seeing as my blade pierced his belly. I would be his swansong … or so I thought. Since then, I have run into this same song-slinging son of a bitch THREE MORE TIMES. Each time he mocks me because he’s cheated death and each time another appendage bandaged or braced from our previous meetings. That, though, is one of my favorite things about this system. I have my own history, my own story outside of what the game tells me it should be. Recently this and X-Com 2 have provided that niche type of storytelling that truly engages people and gives them stories to tell. Already myself and the ConCal crew have been sharing stories of our encounters, not once have we discussed how we’re helping decide the fate of Gondor or that one sexy spider-lady – it’s only been about our personal, unique experiences. That’s why they need this type of system elsewhere and I hope that it gets adopted (note: adapted well) elsewhere.
3.5 HOW DID I MISS THIS?!
This brings us to our half-point. I was playing the game and the screen started to zoom in on an Uruk captain I wasn’t expecting. Ambushes happen regularly, though, so I wasn’t too surprised. At least I wasn’t until I could actually see the captain in question. His flaming spear, his high-pitched voice, his helmet topped with brightly flaming sconce. At first, I thought “…no way, it can’t be.” But then the game displayed his title. It was him, Urug Grogbreaker…that stupid piece of shit that gave me so many problems in the first game. He was the only captain that ever gave me true problems in Shadow of Mordor. He had just the right set of traits so that he was tough to attack in almost any fashion and he dwelled in an outpost, where if they raise alarm you’ll be swamped by a sea of angry Uruks to deal with alongside his flaming-steel-of-doom. It must’ve taken 15 attempts before I finally took him down…and Shadow of War knew he was my nemesis. He even had a special introduction including some banter about our previous encounters from the first game. This is because in my real-life attempt to avoid too much information about a game I wouldn’t have early access to, I missed the idea of the Nemesis Forge. The Nemesis Forge let you have data from the previous game imported into the new one, essentially importing your greatest follower and most hated nemesis to show up somewhere in Shadow of War. Yet another example of story-telling unique to my experiences. Sorry if this ruins a surprise for you, but if you used the Nemesis Forge in Shadow of Mordor you could be in for a surprise encounter when you least expect it.
This concludes my Non-Arbitrarily Numbered List of Awesomicity and Verisimilitude, Filthy Hobbitses edition. Now go get Middle-Earth: Shadow of War (available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One) before I’m forced to become your nemesis and mock you for your shortcomings.
*Links lead to Green Man Gaming, a partner of Constantly Calibrating; our affiliate code is attached. Should you opt to buy through our link, Constantly Calibrating earns a small percentage of the sale, at no additional cost to you.