Middle-earth: Shadow Of War
There’s more to Talion’s return than playing capture the castle
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer Monolith Productions
Publisher Warner Bros
Format PC, PS4, Xbox One
Release October 10
Monolith’s latest assault on the Tolkien universe sees each Orc leader’s traits and foibles writ large in the fortresses that loom over every region of the world. Assign a member of the Feral tribe to run a captured keep, for example, and he might decorate the walls with butchered firedrakes, attracting beasts to the vicinity – a peculiarity you, as immortal ranger and latterday general Talion, might exploit to acquire a new mount. To date, press for the game has focused on the act of conquering (and defending) these structures, whereby you’ll pick your lieutenants, choose between such troop types as troll demolishers, venomous spiders and agile Caragor cavalry, then drive your foes back from control points to the innermost sanctum and a clash with the overlord. Shadow Of War’s evolution of its predecessor’s famous procedural Nemesis system isn’t, however, just a question of taking territory from realtime strategy. It bleeds down to every facet of the game, including the expanded loot mechanics.
“It’s not just, ‘Here’s some classic RPG gear that changes your look and playstyle,’” design director Bob Roberts explains. “It’s actually an extension of those Nemesis systems, the relationships and interactions. So, the properties that are going to drop on a gear piece aren’t totally random – if the guy’s afraid of Caragors and you summon a Caragor to chew him up, there’s a much higher chance that what he’ll drop will strengthen your beast skills or damage.” The tale doesn’t end there. “You’ll have to complete a challenge to upgrade it, another quest that continues that character’s story even though he’s dead. The system remembers who you’ve got it from, and once you’ve fully upgraded and perfected that item, it’ll have a little quote from him, a recollection of where this came from.” If the original Shadow Of Mordor’s procedural elements helped make up for its reliance on repetitive open-world structures, furnishing you with a lively antagonist wherever you turned your head, this sounds like a terrific antidote to the monotony of the gear grind.
In the hands, Shadow Of Mordor is immediately familiar – an ornate hybrid of Assassin’s Creed’s agility and the Arkham games’ open-ended brawling, though spoiled a
bit at this point by some wooden animations. Talion remains a master of parkour, equipped with a new aerial dash and the ability to slow time in mid-air; you can also use opponents to cover space quickly by teleporting straight into an execution, care of your mystic bow. Brawls are built around simple combos and finishers, a delightfully over-powered counter, stunning blows and crowd-control spells such as Elven Wrath, which spawns a group of wraiths to aid you. As before, the battles are most fun when a ranking Orc appears, jeering at you about past encounters in a manner more befitting of soap opera than epic.
Individual Orcs thrown
up by the Nemesis system will, we’re told, be more consistent in Shadow Of War. “We have a lot of randomness going on, obviously, but we align certain ideas,” Roberts says. “Like, if a character rolled with a certain look or title, we make certain traits more likely to happen because they join up nicely.” The Orcs are wilier, too: underlings can now betray you, stabbing you in the back as you lead the charge, though its likelihood can be reduced by reviving downed lieutenants to increase their loyalty. You can also shame enemy overlords rather than killing them to reduce their rank and leave them open to hypnotic possession, or break their sanity to unlock some particularly volatile behaviours.
Mordor itself is a more visually arresting environment this time, though there’s obviously a limit to how eye-catching it can be. “That’s a hard challenge, to make something bright and colourful and still authentic to Mordor!” Roberts says. “So we did push down to the coastal areas in the first game, into Núrn. We’re still down in Núrn in
Shadow Of War but we’re pushing the ecology and vegetation a bit farther. We also go up into the snowy mountaintops at the borders, and we’ve got the human city of Minas Ithil that’s just outside Mordor’s boundaries, a big Gondorian city.” We’re keen to discover what the developer has made of Middle-earth beyond Sauron’s realm, but between the chaos of siege battles and the quieter brutality of grooming Orcs to supply choice weapons, we suspect that you’ll be perfectly happy on this side of the border.
“It’s not just, ‘Here’s some classic RPG gear that changes your look and playstyle’”
Swapping out world elements based on the Nemesis system is Shadow
Of War’s major technical challenge, but Monolith has also made upgrades in every department, including an overhauled lighting pipeline
Each Orc lieutenant can field a bespoke selection of troops. Caragors can scale walls to shut down siege weapons, while shieldwielding Defenders are for advancing at street level through projectile fire
Xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxxx
The megafauna of Middleearth are yours to ride, once you break them in. Graug are excellent against fortifications but may do as much damage to your troops as the enemy