Deadly com­bat

Mid­dle Earth: Shadow of War, a dis­ap­point­ing se­quel

The Gulf Today - Time Out - - BUDS & BLOSSOMS - Jack Shep­herd/The In­de­pen­dent

Mid­dle Earth: Shadow of Mor­dor was ex­cel­lent. While the com­bat and stealth game­play was very As­sas­sin’s Creed — just with some added ghostly pow­ers — Mor­dor had some­thing truly unique: the neme­sis sys­tem. Play­ers would al­most for­get the main sto­ry­line as they were caught up bat­tling with other Or­cish lead­ers who had be­come sworn en­e­mies.

With Shadow of War, lit­tle has changed. Again, the neme­sis sys­tem forms the most in­trigu­ing part of the game, of­fer­ing more va­ri­ety of Orc thanks to an in­creas­ingly di­verse voice cast. Col­lect­ing in­for­ma­tion and try­ing to as­sas­si­nate en­emy lead­ers you recog­nise re­mains fun, re­cap­tur­ing that magic. Un­for­tu­nately, though, there’s some­thing else amiss about War.

Thanks to the orig­i­nal’s story, our hero — Tal­ion — re­mains in­fused with the elf lord Cele­brim­bor, the pair hav­ing forger a new ring of de­struc­tion. How­ever, things go amiss as Sh­elob has cap­tured them. Sh­elob’s no longer just a spi­der, as within the books, but an en­chantress, able to show our pro­tag­o­nist vi­sions. From these, Tal­ion un­der­stands that the all-see­ing stone, the Palan­tir, must be kept from Sau­ron’s grip.

By the first act’s end, things have not gone well for Tal­ion, nor have they gone par­tic­u­larly well for the game it­self. A few hours in and War feels re­mark­ably like just restart­ing Mor­dor, the start­ing ar­eas look­ing very sim­i­lar and the char­ac­ters hav­ing to re­learn their pow­ers, such as how to con­trol orcs.

For those who fin­ished the first and wanted to jump straight in, this will prove a frus­trat­ingly long pro­logue to the ac­tual new me­chan­ics. When you do make it through the first slog, War re­mains dis­ap­point­ing.

One of the much-talked-about fea­tures has been be­ing able to con­trol en­tire Orc armies. Yet, do­ing so re­quires very lit­tle tac­ti­cal skill.

Al­most ev­ery siege bat­tle you end up charg­ing an en­emy fortress, guns blaz­ing. Few times are these a chal­lenge. The bat­tles should have played more like chess matches but are de­funct of any real tac­tics apart from build­ing the most pow­er­ful and strong­est army.

Mean­while, the story lacks any­thing par­tic­u­larly en­gag­ing. Per­haps be­cause I’m a ma­jor fan of Tolkien’s books, ma­jorly di­verg­ing from the lore left me slightly bit­ter.

Even ig­nor­ing this, War stays on par with Mor­dor story-wise, per­haps slightly less en­gag­ing, of­fer­ing lit­tle more than what you would ex­pect. Still, there re­mains the neme­sis sys­tem, which stays ex­cel­lent, even im­prov­ing a lit­tle. What stood Mor­dor out against the tide of As­sas­sin’s Creed and Bat­man games re­mains the se­ries big­gest sell­ing point. The ar­eas in War also vary enough to keep ev­ery­one in­ter­ested, although they still don’t ex­pand on the orig­i­nal as much as they per­haps should have.

Con­sid­er­ing how in­no­va­tive Mor­dor was, War has been a dis­ap­point­ment. The be­gin­ning feels like a slog, the mid­dle im­proves some­what, but by the end, you only care about ri­val Orcs and not the story. A shame con­sid­er­ing the Lord of the Rings has, and re­mains, one of the great­est tales ever told.

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