MIDDLE-EARTH: SHADOW OF WAR
Climbing mounts, a new nemesis system, and even a Balrog – but shall it pass (muster)?
Two things remain surprising about 2014’s Shadow Of Mordor: that it was downright brilliant, and that no one since has successfully pilfered its innovative Nemesis system that came to be its hallmark – and standout feature. That’s great news for this sequel, of course, hungry as we all are to dive back into Orc-toppling, Sauronbothering craziness. But Monolith seems keen to push the gameplay in new directions this time, too.
Mounts are just one of those ventures, and a massive Balrogfighting spirit of nature called Carnan is a fine example. Despite his looming stature in drake form, he’s agile as you like when traversing the environment, almost as accomplished a climber as that other famous Drake (brief pause while the pantomime booing simmers down). This newfound verticality for mounts comes in very handy, given that another new feature is those great big fortress assaults. Before embarking on these, enemy fortifications must be studied and captains must be selected to join you in battle. These captains have different abilities; they might give you a dragon in the battle, or provide spiders to overwhelm opposing troops from within their walls, or a troll to knock those walls down, to name but a few. Whoever you bring along, your choices will have visible effects all around you on the battlefield. Rog and roll In our latest look at Shadow Of War Talion interrupts an Orc trying to raise a Balrog from a huge fiery pit. Interrupting him halfway through, a boss fight between Talion, Carnan and the Balrog kicks off in a multi-stage structure. First Talion dodges environmental hazards while firing arrows off into the Balrog’s weak spots, while Carnan adopts the form of a hulking great troll to battle it.
Then it’s time for Talion to climb aboard Carnan as he takes on a drake’s form, and here you can control Carnan himself in the fight, while occasionally also firing off Talion’s arrows. Eventually the Balrog realises it’s in a losing battle and scarpers, whereupon it can be chased down. Plenty of scraps were had in Shadow Of Mordor, many of them memorable, but few as infused with Hollywood bluster as this one. It’s a deliberate effort on Monolith’s part to go bigger with the game’s adversaries. The devs want to pit you against the likes of the Nazgul, the Dark Lord himself (Voldemort, right?) and others.
As for that venerable Nemesis system, it’s wound more tightly into the main narrative now. Unique Orcs that you might organically develop rivalries with through the course of the game can now be pulled into the primary plot arc to play a role there. Everyone’s story will play out at least slightly differently, then. What’s more, the Fortress Assault missions in your campaign place you as leader of several captains, and those captains can, like your Orc nemeses, be killed. There’s a brief window in which to get to them and use your Dominate ability to revive them. Fail to do so and his skills and experience are lost while a rookie takes his spot. Heartbreak.
Hats off to Monolith for pushing the envelope further, when all they really needed to do was turn up with the Nemesis system again. Which of their new ideas will open-world games fail to adopt genre-wide when Shadow Of War releases? We’ll find out this winter, but it appears they’re spoiled for choice this time.
“Your choices will have visible effects all round you on the battlefield”