REVIEW – We return to the Tolkien universe, and that is always great news. In this review of Middle Earth: Shadows of War I value if the sequel to Shadows of Mordor lives up to the legacy of its predecessor. To achieve this Monolith relies on the Nemesis system making it grow in new directions. Many hours, playable possibilities and joys for another great game about The Lord of the Rings.
The second episodes in a well-known franchise are not easy to do. It is true that from the commercial point of view it is easier to succeed, since, in the end, the titles that preceded them have already consolidated their brand image and the mere fact of existing already guarantees that their proposals continue to arouse interest. However for its qualitative and, above all, innovative value; they are always under suspicion. I have seen many lazy video games as a sequel that has done a disservice to the brands to which they belong, and that is why when I announce many of them I receive with some skepticism. Middle-earth: Shadow of War, on the other hand, did not give me any doubts when it was presented. Why? I explain.
Few now doubt the value of Shadows of Mordor, the first part of Middle-earth, and many, in fact, do so after recognizing that they did not expect too much from it. However, once I enjoyed the fantastic video game of 2014, I realized the enormous potential in its formula when it was time to get huge things in the future. The thing could only grow.
Although even they have tried hard to deny it, it is very obvious to see that there are still inspirations of Batman: Arkham Rocksteady and Assassin’s Creed of Ubisoft. However, and this I have to make clear, they only use them again to create some of their playable foundations. What remains the master pillar of the War Shadows experience is the Nemesis system, but as if it were a leafy tree, it is formidable to contemplate how branches have grown out of their strong trunk as incredible and ambitious as they allow us to control our army or take Mordor by arms. Is it not the dream of every fan of Tolkien?
Improving the Present
Although Shadows of Mordor was a colossal title, the truth is that some misses besides the many hits were obvious in that action adventure. Most of them have received attention from Monolith and were taken care of in forms of patches, the one that interests me to address right now is the narrative. One of the recurring complaints with that title was that of the little stimulants that were the main missions in particular and the scarcely interesting of the narrative arch in general. It seemed difficult to extract something unattractive of a universe as fascinating as the works of Tolkien, but without even being a boring video game, the truth is that you could tell that it lacked a good push on that plot.
How to solve it? I expected an important job from the studio, and it has not let me down. Like almost everything in the title, it takes time to boot. In the beginning, like in a movie or a television series, we see how different characters are presented in what is the branch of missions of Gondor, that is with which we began our journey. Then we witness a relatively interesting plot of betrayals and movements within an intrigue that is followed with interest, and in which the writers have put a commitment that I appreciate so that we know the motivations that hide behind each action. There are no characters too memorable, you will not remember the story a week later, and the charisma of Talion and Celebrimbor is still not at all remarkable, but the presence of the dark and seemingly treacherous Shelob, the „spider-woman”, help to give a tone to the narrative from which the whole game benefits. It is a pity that the final act has a rather artificial lengthening of the video game whose duration already was generous enough so it didn’t needed that plus.
New Army, New Commander
I am not going to waste too much time explaining what Nemesis is; we can settle it in a couple of lonely lines. It was a system devised by Monolith and presented in Shadows of Mordor that made it possible to make the enemy side literally feel alive. How? With a ladder for the Orcs that reflected with ascents or deaths what we did on the battlefield, and also the performance of the enemies. A fascinating tool that made the first game about Middle-earth go from being a more than remarkable action adventure to becoming an outstanding title. Its creators have not been stupid, of course, and far from content to offer more of the same have made it advance much to become again the main point of interest of the adventure.
Everything that worked there is still present in the sequel, and it is amazing to see how our opponents’ army evolves based on what’s going on with us. Now, at the same time as the opposite side is sinking, our own is flourishing. We are going to grow it by recruiting commanders through magic, using Celebrimbor’s talent to alienate enemies by acting on their minds when they are weakened in combat. There are nuances to do, of course. If for example, an opponent surpasses us in level we will not be able to make him join us, and we will have to assassinate him, or we will have patience and humiliate him, make him lower his rank and trust to meet him again in the future and then yes let us be able to unite him to our hosts. If on the other hand, the commander we have recruited is too weak to be useful to us, we can always keep it in our garrison and train it to raise its value. We will do it through fighting in the Wells that we can witness and in which they will measure their forces against other Orcs and in which, of course, we always have the risk of being killed.
What I have to make clear is that we can never forget that they are Orcs, and that has its own problems. It is true that its ethics is easy to take advantage of when it comes to turning some of our commanders into spies and infiltrate them into the ranks of an enemy caudillo so that, without any qualms, they betray him and help us to end him by tending an ambush by the back. However, we must not forget that betrayals work in both directions and that we can also be victims of them. There comes another side of the stories so formidable that we can then share with our friends in conversations like this: “Remember Ugol el Cotilla? Well, on a mission where I was escorted I had the bad luck to run into his brother. Seeing how he threatened the blood of his blood, he betrayed me in the midst of battle, and I had to murder both of them. ” So we have to choose carefully whom we choose to be our bodyguard and whom we choose to be the governor of the fortresses that we will conquer. Such great situations occur in Middle Earth, and it is those little moments and anecdotes that arise in an organic and non-predetermined way that make so great and phenomenal to your proposal. The only downside? As I said, the mechanics take a long time to come into play, although it does not seem to be a big problem considering how long the title is and how many hours it houses. What I find somewhat more questionable is the confused way it has to present some of the novelties, which can cause some desperation in the fewer showers in these formulas.
Of course, not everything that works as a hook in the video game has to do with Nemesis and is that it also carries out a great work progression. On the side of the actual evolution of the character I do not have much to comment since it moves in the standard patterns of a title of these characteristics: It is a way to allow us to progress lightly, and built on the fact that with each level that we get (based on experience points), we can unlock a skill. These are very interesting and allow us to customize a lot how we want Talion and Celebrimbor to fight, so whatever changes are made on that side are welcome. However, what I like the most is how the team has been orchestrated. The thing is divided into helmet, armor, bow, dagger, sword … Moreover, let’s see at a quick glance if what we have in the inventory improves or worsens what we wear. No surprises in this area for menus that allow us to set gems to increase the performance of everything we carry. However, the study has been very intelligent proposing, also, that greater challenge, greater reward, so it is a good way to get great weapons and armor to challenge the commanders and provoke them. That will make them “angry” and be more complicated to finish them, but it will also provide us with legend items.
The Final Warrior
Of course, all this would not work if the part related to the action and the adventures did not render as it should. Moreover, I have good news, continues to play with the effectiveness of a Swiss watch. All bases set in the previous game continue to shine their own light on this occasion, and it is the part where the least changes have been … fundamentally because the formula did not need them. The maximum agility of Talion is justified from the point of view of argument by the presence of Celebrimbor, and at playable level allows to relate to the scenario in a total way that, although it has a modest way of posing it, only admits competition in terms of interaction with heavyweights of the caliber of Breath of the Wild or Assassin’s Creed. Yes, it is true that sometimes everything goes so fast that I have missed a little more precision in certain movements, but it seems a rather vague glitch than to question a production where almost any element of the scenario that we see is scalable.
I like, moreover, that chiefs and warlords can adapt to our movements in combat: I explain: If, for example, we constantly use the tactic of trying to jump over an orc commander to hit him in the back, when he we carry out a few times will learn our strategy and we will not be able to use it more since it will counterattack us hard. Not allowing ourselves to settle is a good way of making sure that we maximize the possibilities of action that the work presents, which are certainly abundant, and also prevents us from always resorting to the same thing over and over again. A very intelligent decision on the part of Monolith.
However, the best thing about combat is its cadence. The rhythm created in Shadows of War with a moderately skillful player is incredible, and it shines especially when we have unlocked the skills that allow Talion and Celebrimbor to fight side by side in a lavish dance of death that does not leave puppet with the head. There is a satisfaction that should not be underestimated when we combine blockades, blows, stun actions, tumbling over orcs, racing through the legs of the biggest beasts, throwing daggers … In just three or four seconds we can carry out an example of every one of these actions, creating a spectacle worth contemplating.
There are also positive conclusions regarding secrecy, although these with some lesser qualification. It still works perfectly well everything about hiding or using the stage in our favor to try to deceive the enemies, to kill them or, now also, to subject them to fight with us. However, although I have already mentioned how positive the behavior of the bosses in combat, the truth is that I have been frankly disappointed with the shortsightedness of the opponents when we try to hide from them. Deaf as walls and with serious problems of vision in the normal difficulty, although something more difficult in the Difficult (but not much more). Not that it is a drama, of course, but it contrasts with how well some parts of artificial intelligence yield in the most direct confrontations.
A Journey Through Middle-earth
If I have to go into evaluations about the visual aspect of Middle Earth: Shadows of War, I have to say that it is a title so perfectly capable of overwhelming me with some impressive sequences as of leaving me surprised with other elements that are at a surprisingly low level. For example, among the most positive things, it is impossible not to mention the scenarios, which were one of the weaknesses of the first part of its rather monochromatic palette and for its scarce variety of locations. Being fully aware in Monolith that it was one of the most criticized elements of the previous delivery has put all the meat on the grill this time to offer a huge diversity. The very construction of the world based on regions to be conquered this work, dividing the map of the title into well-differentiated areas, separated by a time of load and with enormous identity in the visual. There is a snowy map, another rather urban, another eminently volcanic, another marked by the pre-eminence of nature … They are simple ways to satisfy the hunger of variety that many of us had with its predecessor.
Also, the character modeling, both of the protagonists as well as of the secondary ones and the enemies, are quite frankly well. As we have said before when we talked about his attitude, it is not that any of the main proponents of the video game is the height of the charisma, but its graphic execution is of a quality that I can not question. They are not so good when it comes to animations or collisions. Some of these elements we pardoned in Shadows of Mordor because in the end that was an intergenerational title that not only appeared on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, but also on PS3 and Xbox 360. However, now comes the continuation and we continue seeing great movements to combat, for example, but adjustments in the chain of improper actions of the times that run and movements that rub the ridiculous like the interaction of the legs of Talion with the stairs.
Otherwise, the title in its most purely technological part is more efficient. I have not observed any signs of slowing down during the hours I have invested in your proposal for action and adventure. Anyway, the game in PS4 Pro allows you to adjust the visual experience depending on whether we want a higher resolution or higher graphic quality to prevail, so it is up to us to choose one or the other alternative depending on what we want to give priority. I remain at the expense of knowing how it will yield on Xbox One X, a platform for which adaptation will receive some patch to show the glorious native 4K promised by those responsible. What I have to make clear is that the program also has some bugs that are mainly aesthetic and that, from my perspective, do not affect at all the gameplay. I have not seen anything that comes out of what can be expected in titles as hard-polished as the open worlds; but knowing certain members of the community who feel like skimming certain productions as appropriate, it is always okay to make that clear.
To finish it, it is still necessary to talk about the soundtrack, one of which Warner Bros. plays a very important role in the titles it launches. The music maintains the excellent dimensions of finish and inspiration that we observed in the original delivery and the effects offers a great range and contribute to making us feel in their world.
Warner and Monolith take us back to Middle-earth with great success. Shadows of War is no longer the surprise of the first trip through Mordor, but not only treasures all the virtues of his predecessor but also explodes in new directions. It will undoubtedly be one of the most important adventures and action games of this year and will achieve this thanks to experiences as exciting and stimulating as creating our own army and command it in the universe of Tolkien. A dream come true.
+ Founding and building our own army is a fantastic experience
+ Fighting and stunts continue to hit high levels
+ There are notable improvements in the history and main missions
– The best of the game, the recruitment of commanders, takes several hours to arrive
– Some new parts of Nemesis are not as well explained as they should be
– Very isolated problems with handling under certain circumstances and with AI
Publisher: Warner Studios
Developer: Monolith Productions
Genre: Action RPG
Release date: October 10, 2017