Monolith Productions’ long-awaited Shadow of War picks up where Shadow of Mordor left off. It follows the undying ranger Talion and the body-bound wraith Celebrimbor in their quest to forge a new Ring to defeat Sauron. From that point on, you can choose to follow the story, build armies and hunt for collectables. Battles come thick and fast, alternating between epic, cinematic cutscenes and detailed one-on-one fights.
Combat is not overcomplicated, but still intricate enough that you can adopt your own play style, choosing from close combat, ranged attacks, stealth, Celebrimbor’s Wraith attacks, or a deadly combination of all four. Aesthetically, the game is beautifully detailed, particularly in the variety of regions that you can explore. Each area has a distinctly different feel, with its own environmental advantages.
One of the features that make this game so interesting is the continuation of the Nemesis system which first earned praise in Shadow of Mordor. Essentially, every encounter with an enemy can be made personal. If you are killed, your enemy will remember you when you come back, and often will have been promoted through the ranks for killing you. They will frequently adapt to your attacks, and will take on new titles that reflect their actions. If you are slain by an orc, you have the option to perform a vendetta mission to get revenge on the orc who killed you. The nemesis system is so effective that it’s easy to get caught up in avenging your own death rather than following the story. Ultimately, this feature adds a whole new dimension to the gameplay that makes it stand apart from monotonous battles and makes your enemies memorable.
While this system is a main point of attraction for unique gameplay, it can sometimes be a bit much. Orc captains can ambush you at any point, which quickly gets annoying when you are attempting to fight a captain, and two more will round the corner and join the fight. Similarly, captains you have already killed can come back a seemingly indefinite amount of times. My arch-nemesis (an orc named Pug) defied death a grand total of 4 times before I finally put him down for good.
Shadow of War also shares a similar problem with the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies regarding its female characters. Fans of Lord of the Rings will remember Shelob as the giant spider that almost devours Frodo and Sam. In Shadow of War however, she is bizarrely turned into scantily clad woman who has visions of the future. It’s such a strange choice that I can’t help but feel that there were so few female characters to choose from in the original lore that they felt the need to make the literal giant female spider sexy, rather than dare to introduce a new female character. However, representationally the game is slightly redeemed by the presence of the first black character I’ve ever seen in any Middle Earth media. To that I can only say, I suppose baby steps are better than nothing.
Despite its shortcomings, Shadow of War is a highly addictive and immersive game that makes good use of its cinematic elements whilst also inviting the player to explore the world their own way. Although it’s definitely not the high fantasy I imagine Tolkien had in mind, Shadow of War delivers on the entertainment aspect that first won fans over in Shadow of Mordor.