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

Ori­gin US

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

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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

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