Coming in as the sequel to the critically-acclaimed Shadow of Mordor was going to be a tough task for Middle-earth: Shadow of War, but it’s one that has been delivered impeccably well. Improving on the original tenfold, there’s a more complex experience here for fans who were just begging to jump back into the world of Middle-earth following their Shadow of Mordor completion.

Talion returns for Shadow of War

Talion returns for Shadow of War

The first thing that’ll strike players is just how gorgeous the environment around you at every point truly is. Fine details are etched into walls, armour and weapons, and when using the game’s brilliant ‘Photo Mode’, you can zoom out extremely far and really take in the grand scale of what’s on offer. Of course, there’s only so much a gorgeous game can give you if there’s no meat around the bones, but fortunately that’s also something that’s successful here.

Thrust back into the world of Mordor, Talion and the Elven Wraith Celebrimbor immediately face an upward battle, after the latter is captured by the giant spider entity known to Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit fans as Shelob. Offering his return to Talion’s body in exchange for the Ring of Power the two forged at the end of Shadow of Mordor, a deal is forged and the player is once again sent out on a mission to save Mordor from Sauron and his forces. It’s something they can’t do alone, so building an army is integral to success.

This is where Shadow of War really stands out against other games in a similar lane. Using the Nemesis System, members of Sauron’s Army are generated completely at random, with unique personalities with each and every playthrough. This means that no two people will have the same experience with the game. A player’s actions through Talion will affect how his adversaries go up against him, and with Talion so well known amongst the legions of Orcs, if an Orc of a low rank manages to take him down, they’ll gain a promotion and you may run into them again a little later in the game. In fact, you’re encouraged to do so with a ‘Vendetta’ side mission that often offers up powerful and extremely useful gear.

When it comes to combat, it’s a very fluid and simple thing, even when going up against a gang of multiple enemies. Going up against Orcs of a lower rank is an easy process, with button mashing working most of the time and a single button working to block incoming attacks. Captains are a little trickier, and before battling them you’re encouraged to gain intel by draining it from low-level Orcs. This opens up Captain information and helps the player focus on taking them down by honing in on their weaknesses and straying away from attacking with abilities they may be immune to.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War's new character Forthog Orc-Slayer
Middle-earth: Shadow of War's new character Forthog Orc-Slayer

You’re not the only one who wants to take down Captains however. In-fighting amongst the Orc ranks is more common than Sauron would like, and so you’ll often be given the option to engage in a battle between two Captains, fighting alongside one of your enemies to take down another, or watching how it goes down before launching an attack against the victor.

Then of course, you come back to filling out your own army. Finding Orcs that are easily turned to your agenda rather than that of Sauron is a fairly simple process, and fleshing out your ranks is one of the most satisfying parts of the game.

Then there are the Warchiefs and Overlords; ranks even higher than Captains and filled only with the best fighters in Sauron’s Army. It takes a lot of careful planning to take these on, so our best advice would be not to go running straight into these battles if you want to come away successful.

Comparing Shadow of War to any other game on the market would be foolish. There are hints of Arkham Asylum and Assassin’s Creed in the way Talion moves around the lands of Mordor, but when it comes to the meatiest parts of gameplay, you may be better playing the board game Risk to fully comprehend exactly how everything works here.

Battles are fairly simple, but get more difficult depending on your enemy's rank
Battles are fairly simple, but get more difficult depending on your enemy's rank

With so many layers, it’s easy to get lost in all of the action, but for those who pay attention and learn from their mistakes whilst playing, the end result is extremely satisfying.

Aside from Loot Boxes which can be bought via micro-transactions, including items that are mostly easily unlocked by just playing the game, Shadow of War delivers a stellar gaming experience that anybody from a casual gamer to the more hardcore players should take on at some point.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War is available now for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

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