Earlier this year, Monolith Productions and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment surprised LOTR fans everywhere when they released an announce trailer for a direct sequel to their 2014 critically acclaimed action role-playing game Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. In what has already been an incredible year for gamers and video game releases, Middle-earth: Shadow of War is destined to keep that trend going strong while also cementing its place as another potential 2017 game of the year candidate.
During PAX West 2017, I finally got to spend some hands-on time with Shadow of War and walked away impressed by both the brutally satisfying combat and notable changes made to further enhance the overall gameplay experience. Here is a brief overview of my thoughts after spending 90 minutes playing alongside the development team.
Shadow of War continues the storyline introduced in the first game as Talion and Celebrimbor attempt to use their newly forged Ring of Power to eliminate Sauron and his Nazgûl forces once and for all. In order to pull this grueling feat off, the duo must work together to create the ultimate army. Players can expect to encounter plenty of new allies, monsters, and orc tribes on their quest for power. Sadly, none of the single-player story missions were available to explore during my play session but this is fully understood given the need to keep spoiler details secure this close to launch.
My entire demo consisted of me attempting to complete a Fortress Assault in all its chaotic and fascinating glory. After seeing earlier gameplay footage of these siege attempts, my initial thought was that the overall spectacle looked fantastic but way too easy to do. I learned very quickly that this wasn’t the case as I fought valiantly but was ultimately humbled on the battlefield. Even with a leveled up character, unlocked abilities and numerous orc allies, players will still be pushed to your limits. This is a good thing because it makes you rethink your strategy instead of going all in right from the start.
During Fortress Assaults, the relationships that you’ve formed with your orc allies are even more important. Once branded, they will remain loyal to you for the most part and if you happen to brand an orc who is on the opposing side before the showdown begins then that same creature can be used as a spy, instantly turning on his leaders as soon as the assault starts. You also have the ability to heal your orc allies while they are wounded and bleeding out and they can return the favor by rescuing you in gravely dire situations with last-minute execution kills. There are certainly more changes to the nemesis system that I didn’t get to see given the time, but I definitely look forward to discovering them all once the final product is released.
Another exciting aspect about the Fortress Assaults lies within the fact that you can use wild drakes to aid you in your destruction. These massive flying creatures are similar to dragons in the sense that they can hover above enemies and breathe flames all over them. They are even more unpredictable if you aren’t controlling them as you too can be burnt to a crisp right alongside everyone else. As I stated before, the Fortress Assaults are filled with endless anarchy and physicality so adding other creatures into the mix only makes things even more dangerous and entertaining.
When it comes to gameplay and controls, Shadow is War is essentially the same as its predecessor but with a few key points of emphasis. Monolith has gone on record saying that they learned a lot from Shadow of Mordor and that this game will benefit greatly from a larger focus on open world aesthetics and large-scale epic battles. Fortress Assaults are very much reminiscent of battles that I’ve seen in The Lord of the Rings feature films and the map definitely is bigger than the last game. On the surface, the setting feels even more active than ever before and it will be interesting to see how much more has changed since Shadow of Mordor concluded.
Graphically, Middle-earth: Shadow of War looks absolutely breathtaking. From the immaculate detail of newly acquired armor and weapons to the sadistically gratifying animations of chopping off an adversary’s head, it’s clear that the team has devoted a ton of blood, sweat, and tears into making this title look as good as it possibly could. Shadow of War will hit 4k natively on the Xbox One X while the PS4 Pro version is still not yet guaranteed to hit the same resolution. In all honesty, the game will look fantastic regardless of which version you ultimately decide to choose.
Based on my brief time with Middle-earth: Shadow of War, I’m very confident in saying that this is one action-packed title that should definitely stay on your radar. The adrenaline rush gained from enduring challenging combat scenarios and an evolved nemesis system is unlike anything I’ve experienced before and I’m very curious to see if the story delivers on that front too. Stay tuned for more of our thoughts on the game and an in-depth review early next month.
Middle-earth: Shadow of War launches worldwide on October 10th for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Are any of you planning on forging your own army starting early next month? Please feel free to let us know your thoughts on the game and more in the comments section below.