Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor was a strong game that borrowed heavily from Rocksteady’s Batman games to deliver its vision. Though the story was tough to swallow for Tolkien fans, the game’s many mechanics, especially the Nemesis System, were well loved by fans. Mordor was able to capture the imagination of wandering around Mordor and picking off orc scum. What the game wasn’t able to do was capture the scale of both the books and Peter Jackson’s films. That’s something the sequel, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, is attempting to remedy.
After seeing an exhilarating Fortress Siege at GDC 2017, we were finally able to go hands-on with the game at E3 2017. While there were story and side missions to play, the crown jewel of our hands-on time was the Fortress Siege, which aims to replicate the epic action we’ve seen from Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films.
To accomplish this, Shadow of War utilizes a heavily upgraded Nemesis System. In Mordor, the Nemesis System was primarily used to create in-fighting amongst the orcs and further the campaign. In War, Nemesis is put to a much more practical use, war. Dominating orc captains and war chiefs is all about building a vast army to wrest control of Mordor from Sauron. Considering how many fortresses there are in Shadow of War, players are going to need a variety of war chiefs to counter Sauron’s.
Shadow of War’s sieges requires a more tactical approach compared to other mission types in-game. Players will need to study the fortress’s defenses, observes the strengths and weaknesses of the war chiefs and warlord, and carefully decide which of your war chiefs are best to bring into the fight. Players can bring up to four dominated orcs into battle with each on leading battalions of soldiers. Furthermore, players can spend in-game points to recruit special units. These include siege beasts, venomous spiders, and even dragons. After making all your assignments, it’s time to kick off the fight.
A Fortress Siege is much more than just running straight into a mass of orcs and chopping off their heads. Before you can kill the warlord, players will need to play a game of domination and capture three ‘victory points.’ These points are heavily fortified and typically guarded by an enemy war chief. These fights can be extremely tough, and death will come quickly for players who just rush in. We found it best to take to the rooftop, observe the situation, and then make a move. After defeating the war chief, and scattering the enemy’s forces, Talion/Celebrimbor can claim the point and move to the next one.
Combat in Shadow of War is lifted wholesale from Mordor. Players will build up combos by attacking and parrying incoming attacks. Once your sword glows blue, players can have Talion perform an execution, or have Celebrimbor use his Wight powers to carry out a ground pound. Tougher enemies, like shield-bearing orcs, require different techniques to beat them. The only real downside to Shadow of War is that the camera is pretty bad. It’s too easy to lose sight of Talion in the masses of orcs when participating in a Fortress Siege, and the new Olog-hai enemy types are large and take up a lot of the screen. The combat is fun in small encounters, but when they start piling up the camera becomes a major nuisance.
After capturing all three points, the gates of the citadel swing open, and the final battle with the warlord can commence. We were excited to capture this land and install our own warlord finally, but then the worst possible thing happened. Our Shadow of War demo glitched, sending us back into the open-world. The glitch made it impossible to re-enter the siege, and, for some reason, removed the bow’s reticle from the screen. It was a disappointing way to end an exciting demo. Monolith Productions assured us that something like this is rare, and hopefully, the team can isolate the incident to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is building upon the solid foundation of the first game to deliver something on a much larger scale. The Fortress Sieges add a sense of epicness that was sorely missing from the original, providing a sort of test of the player’s mastery of the game’s mechanics. While the camera can be hard to handle at times, the combat is still solid, and there’s nothing more exhilarating than bringing down a fortress. Thanks to the extra delay, hopefully, Shadow of War will be free of any major issues.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is out October 10 on PS4, Xbox One and PC.