Reviews Daniel Stroński
Review: Middle-earth: Shadow of War
Śródziemie: Cień Wojny in the game database
Review: Middle-earth: Shadow of War

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, a continuation of one of the biggest surprises of this generation, returns in an excellent shape. The only question is: to what extent did the microtransactions impacted this wonderful adventure of Talion…

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War was condemned for success. Shadow of Mordor from 2014 was a big surprise mostly due to its very playable combination of “borrowed” mechanics, which combined the freedom of exploring the world from Assassin’s Creed with the well-known and proven fighting system from Rocksteady’s Batman, which was joined together by an original system of orcs’ army called Nemezis. The new entry was supposed to deliver more of the same, only without the predecessor’s flaws like dull, grey Mordor or terrible final fight. I’d even consider the highest rating, but the publisher’s greed (actually – only that) is a problem.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War #1

Our undead ranger of the Black Gate has returned to continue his vengeance upon the forces of Sauron, who made him lose his family. Talion is facing a much bigger challenge now –his spiritual companion, Celebrimbor, has forged a new ring, which is supposed to help them defeat the Dark Lord himself. This time, however, it’s a perfect ring, deprived of evil influences of the One Ring known from the original trilogy. The non-canonical tale is a great joint of the Shadow of Mordor and Lord of the Rings stories, although it’s full of extreme solutions which can throw off the confirmed fans of Tolkien’s saga. Apart from the mentioned ring, we have the giant spider Shelob in a shape of a sexy woman, and we also get to know the identity of a few Nazgul wraiths, and among them there is… well, I’m sure you’re not expecting that. Personally, I approach the canon with an open mind and I like what they did, especially after refreshing the director’s cut version of Jackson’s trilogy. But there probably will be those who’ll scream how pointless all this is.

Do these references and fillers of the source material’s plot holes translate into a good story? Well… not exactly. The game consists of a couple of side quests, but neither the heroic protectors of Gondor, nor the assassin-emissary of Galadriel, not even the main theme arouse special interest, since all the characters constantly remind that “Sauron has a great army and we need to destroy him!” with that serious face. The orcs (both plot characters and those randomly generated by the Nemezis system), on the other hand, are hilarious and are too heavily in contrast with the rest. Somewhat casual approach to treason, absurd lines or an improvised song about how hopeless Talion is – if only the screenwriter could find some balance between this and the seriousness of the other characters… I do have to admit though, how brilliantly this story ends and creates the intro for the Fellowship of the Ring. The problem is – this ending (not at all “hidden” but “right”!) is given to us after completing the fourth act – that infamous act which makes us use microtransactions.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War #2

Here, let me explain. The first act functions as an intro – Talion has more or less the same skills as he did before, and this “tutorial” takes place on two wide, open levels. Then we enter act two, where the developer throws all the improvements at us. Suddenly we can fly on dragons (drakes), ride on new kinds of caragors and graugs (including those using the elements) and conquer or defend fortresses. The entire third act is the final battle with a suddenly cut main plot and then act four begins – Shadow Wars. There we have to defend our fortresses about 20 times from more and more powerful enemy armies, until the “real” ending activates. And if there wasn’t any reward – fine, an interesting endgame idea, I’d find the way to forgive the long grind (the alternative is microtransactions). But here they’ve crossed the line and it’s a shame that most players will watch this ending on YouTube instead of putting pointless effort to it themselves. Unless you’re going for the platinum trophy…

What about the core of the game? There we have developed ideas from Shadow of Mordor. Once again we wander across Middle-Earth, but this time it’s divided into smaller open locations. And that’s good, because in the place of the old, boring locations from the predecessor, we get a vast courtyard, giant caves, snowy peaks, and even thick and exceptionally green jungle. Talion moves with agility, running fast across long distances (more options of quick pickups) and jumping on high walls even faster. Heck, we even got double jump! Jumping off edges remains problematic, but even Assassin’s Creed series has problems with it, so I’ll let it go. We can always jump on a caragor or conveniently fly on a drake! There’s really no need to use fast travel, besides there are side quests and collectibles all over the place – and what treasures they are! It’s so worth it to collect artifacts of Gondor with a short, interesting commentary (of course they refer to what we know from books/movies), words for a poem in which we have to fill in some gaps, or memories of Shelob telling us about her past. There are also missions concerning the past of Kelebrimbor with demanding side goals, thanks to which I mastered the drakes (after a dozen attempts, but still…).

Middle-earth: Shadow of War #3

We also have numerous skill trees with various modifications, which allows us to adjust our playing style to a quiet assassin or an agile archer. The first place, however, will always belong to melee, although we can’t overuse being a “tank”, as larger groups of hostile orcs are never a good idea. A nice addition is to look for randomly generated weapon and skill items, or even the legendary sets with special bonuses (depending on the tribe of the orc who dropped it). Additionally, equipment challenges to improve our items, jewels boosting the stats – awesome!

Once again we’re dealing with the fighting system that’s based on dodging, counters and special attacks after performing a longer combo, and the already famous Nemezis system. Information about orcs, looking for their weak spots and letting our own agents into the lines of the enemy still works perfectly, and how many special dialogue lines have been recorded here is truly amazing. It’s not the simple “aaah, I killed you before and I’ll do it again!” anymore, it’s for example an orc of the Assassin class commenting our unsuccessful attempt to poison the grog, or an uruk returning with a mechanical hand because we cut his real one off during the last meeting. Every captain has his own personality, although in further stages some of the weaker commanders we’d want to kill on sight, and every time we have to listen to a few inevitable introduction lines.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War #4

The loudly announced fortresses are entirely different matter. Each of the open levels has a huge fortress and its ruler. Our task is to collect our own captains and lead a siege. We then choose leaders of our units, buy advancements (e.g. shields for orcs that make it easier to hold one’s position, caragor or ballista) and we charge the fortress with our army. There we get some points, kill a few leaders and in the end we fight a battle with the ruler himself. And no, it’s not just a cosmetics, we can really feel the clash of two armies, especially when we’re standing on the other side of the barricade and leading the charge. My only complaint is the mentioned fourth act and Shadow Wars. Demanding tasks enforce a long training the orcs and it’s just easier to use the lootbox and get them randomly. In this act I still have over 10 fortresses to defend, so how much grind there really is – I’ll answer after obtaining platinum, right now it’s getting pretty difficult. For sure I won’t spend any actual money but we can get the special currency in daily challenges. I intend to portion this mode, the full report will be on the website in the nearest future.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War #5

The technical aspect is positive – loading times are exceptionally short, graphics and violent fighting scenes are easy on the eye (photo mode is back as well!), and music and all the sounds are pure class. Only when buying lootboxes, there’s a long server connection time, so it’s another reason not to touch them. On PS4 Pro I haven’t noticed any fps drop. All in all, we got a decent, fine continuation of the brand that is a joy for the fans, which completely unnecessarily closes the door to a brilliant ending right before our faces. On the other hand – no one forces you to watch it in the game. There’s no point in harming the developer by focusing on the publisher’s greed. Middle-Earth: Shadow of War won’t be named the Game of the Year, because there’s too much controversy with those wretched microtransactions, but it’s definitely one of the strongest productions of this year.

Śródziemie: Cień Wojny
Out rating: 9.0/10
Daniel Stroński
An almost perfect sequel, only it closes a fantastic ending behind the wall of grind/microtransactions. No worries though – you’ll watch this final somewhere else, and the brilliant rest of the game doesn’t need it.
  • Pros
  • Advanced core of the Shadow of Mordor
  • Developed Nemezis system
  • Added elements of equipment and random loot
  • Vast terrain divided into smaller sandboxes
  • Harsh attempts to influence the canon
  • Great (though hidden) final of the story
  • Cons
  • The real ending of the story hidden behind grind/micropayments
  • Sometimes too serious, sometimes too comical
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