Middle-earth: Shadow of War is Monolith Productions’ latest entry into their Lord of the Rings franchise, and so far, it’s leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. From an advanced Nemesis system, to dozens – if not hundreds – of Ocrs to slaughter and activities to complete, the game is full of exciting things to do! Stepping back into the role of Talion is like easing back into your favorite pair of boots, except these boots come with knives and have a ghost inside them that can obliterate your enemies.
Shadow of War continues on from Shadow of Mordor with its story, but with a lot of the features added into the mix. One the best things about Shadow of War is its ability to sound and feel exactly like Lord of the Rings. Having seen Aragorn and his amazing blade skills, it’s pulse-pounding to be able to experience Shadow of War’s combat. From sword play to daggers, ranged attacks and spectral abilities, you’ll end up feeling like a god, dispatching Ocrs with slices, thrusts, twirls, arrows, and ghostly head explosions – and it all sounds bloody amazing.
You’ll find yourself completely surrounded on a battlefield, with grunts and underlings screaming at you, baying for your blood. When using a gaming headset such as the Stealth 700, these sounds will echo around your head as you furiously attempt to reposition to find an edge over your enemies, and when you do, everything clicks together.
Sword attacks blend seamlessly with your wrath abilities as you flicker around your foes. Each sound, whether it’s the sword slicing through an Orc’s gut or an arrow piercing its skull, has its own visceral and deeply satisfying sound.
But some of the greatest moments occur when assaulting an enemy-controlled fortress. The Overlord will have something to say about your presence, because they have a memory, a grudge, and now, significantly more power. These are incredible setpieces that can shift and change depending on the choices you make or how you want to approach a fight. As seen in the video above, unleash the drake and you’ll have a fire-breathing beast screaming across the sky, filling the battle with its fire and deathly roars.
Whenever you encounter an opponent or character who is afflicted with a curse from Sauron, voices and ethereal sounds follow them and assault Talion. It creates a real sense of urgency, as not only is this enemy a physical threat – thanks in large part to the excellent Nemesis system – but a mental threat.
Hearing Sauron whisper is unnerving, and if you’re not focused, you’ll quickly lose your footing in the battle, take too many hits, and if you make too many errors, your enemy will only grow stronger. The whispers and noises that come with these enemies is reminiscent of the incredible audio design in Hellblade.
Beyond battling, the simple act of journeying between locations offers its own rewarding experiences. Every township, castle, and outpost has its own feel and style, and no matter where you go, there will always be grunts and worms for you to control and break. More importantly, the soundtrack that plays as you wander the world highlights your experiences. Some breath-taking moments can be spent on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the world you’re slowly freeing from the shackles of the dark lord, as the music swells around you.
We mentioned briefly before, the Nemesis system. Its implementation in Shadow of Mordor was a bold new mechanic that hadn’t been included in a video game before, and Shadow of War takes it a step further. Not only will your enemies grow more powerful, so will your allies. This is a double-edged sword – they can become your friends and your most trusted allies, but some will turn on you, betray you, and attempt to strike you down.
Every Nemesis will have their own story depending on your actions. An Orc whose arm you sliced off might come back with some fancy new gadgets. A burn victim will tell you how you left them for dead, and now they’re back to burn you. It’s this mechanic that leads to unique encounters throughout the entire game. You’ll want to share with your friends a clip of an Orc’s monologue about what you did to them and what they’re going to do to you. The dialogue takes what Shadow of Mordor achieved and raises it to new heights.
If you’re a long-time fan of Lord of the Rings, an avid player of Shadow of Mordor, or perhaps someone looking to get into a new action RPG, Middle-earth: Shadow of War should be the game you’re playing this holiday season. Everything about this game is fantastic, from the combat and story, to the gritty soundtrack, bloodcurdling war cries, and the visceral sounds as orcs get chopped to pieces.