Much like Middle Earth Shadow Of Mordor, Shadow Of War doesn’t try too hard to fit into Tolkien’s version of the Middle Earth lore. And that comes with its benefits and drawbacks. However, despite the inconsistent narrative, the core gameplay and the systems revolving around it are really strong, and the overall scope of the game is much larger than the predecessor.
Minutes into the game you are thrown back into the shoes of Talion and Celebrimbor, intent on forging a new ring. Things go wrong almost immediately afterwards, and you spend the rest of Shadow of War trying to build up an army, and protect mankind against from the evil forces of Sauron and his minions. I would highly recommend not taking the main plot with much seriousness or try to hold it up against the canon lore. The game falls short on delivering on a mainline story, but the gameplay around it is really compelling, and the Nemesis system is absolutely masterful. Soon enough you will have your own stories to tell about your fights, defeats and victories, and that’s where the game really shines.
The Nemesis system has been greatly expanded from the original game. There are more tiers of Orcs and more complexity to their hierarchy. They also have a lot more personality, unique quirks and traits, all of which make learning about them and how to defeat them an even more rewarding task. A quest system has also been made that allows you to more easily track Captains and keep an eye on who you want to take down next.
And taking them down is so much fun. The combat flows as freely as in the previous game, and while the basics are similar, there’s enough new here to learn and master. And deeper skill tree, and loot system keep you more engaged in fights. The combat is so intuitive, and it’s easy to chain combos. Jumping across targets, dodging attacks, and weaving through enemies is satisfying, and never gets old even after numerous fights. This is layered with constant XP gains and loot drops. The new Nemesis system also encourages learning about your enemies, and using the game’s various systems to your advantage.
This time around, instead of just killing the captains, you can recruit them to your army. You can then assign to strongholds you take over, which they then defend. There are deeper layers to this system which you keep uncovering even 30-40 hours later into the game. The way these different systems interact with each other is absolutely fascinating, and completely worth getting invested into. Fights can take sharp turns as other captains ambush the fights, while some try to retreat, changing the dynamics and raising the stakes in an instant.
Yes, they are a part of the game, and are intrusive in the menus. It’s really disappointing to see them make their way into a primarily single player game. And yes, if you are trying to mainline through the story, you will hit a point after which there is a bit of a grind. The orcs you recruit for your army come in various levels of rarity. For the final few stages, you need Legendary orcs, which spawn more infrequently, and can otherwise be obtained via lootboxes. So yes, if try to get through the game quickly you will hit a point where you need to choose between lootboxes or grinding. However, if you are constantly engaging with the entirety of the game, then by the end you will organically raise an army powerful enough to beat the game. So that’s that, and you need to decide whether this in-game economy is too egregious for your taste.
Despite the issues, Shadow of War is a strong game, which is a ton of fun to play. The combat never gets stale, and the Nemesis system keeps you going at enemies with a vengeance. Everything good about the first game has been vastly improved and expanded upon here, with some new additions to boot. While the story is forgettable and the introduction of microtransactions is regrettable, the game itself is totally worth playing and has enough content to last around 50 hours if you’re ready to dig in.