Shadow Of Mordor was an excellent game, one of the very best third person adventures set within a popular IP that introduced the fantastic nemesis system. Because the system was never copied people have been crying out for a sequel. Now it is here but the dial has been turned up to 11 with mixed results.
Booting up the game is an overwhelming experience even for experts at the first game. You are thrown into a nicely rendered cutscene before heading into a small scenario that acts as a tutorial. Unfortunately, this tutorial highlights some of the weaknesses of the game rather than the strengths. Movement can seem plodding without using sprint, yet sprint is not highlighted in this tutorial so I honestly forgot all about it being the same button as the jump control. The grunts you face also are spread out in single units before a group at the end. Your natural instinct is to stealth kill and sneak your way through but at the end, there isn’t much chance of doing this so you end up just getting into another brawl. Again mixed messages abound. Despite this when in a fight the satisfaction gained from the Arkham combat style is still there and you dispatch the foes with a little too much ease.
After this, you begin to see some of the new features that Shadow Of War unloads upon you. You assault the under siege city of Minas Ithil which fans will know becomes Minas Morgul. This bit serves to show the size of the opening area and the number of combatants on screen. Unfortunately, the color palette is very brown and the whole thing looks like it is lacking some of the fidelity of the first game. Unfortunately, some parts of Shadow Of War are not pretty.
After a few simple follow and clear area tasks you are left with the unveiling of the first tower that adds quests to the maps. Instead of watchtowers, these are explained as mini Palantirs or such that you cleanse to stop Sauron being able to spy on the area. Once there you look around as if using a periscope and expose more secrets on the map. So if you are playing correctly you get to the first tower and immediately expose 3 side – quests that are each 1 of 3 and a story quest. So by hitting one point you now have 10 tasks you can do. Built into this is also the nemesis system so as well as the 10 tasks you have around 20 Orc captains and commanders to work your way through as you did in the first game. So immediately you see that you aren’t going to be short of tasks.
Then after a few more tasks more and more levels of detail unfurl themselves, you get access to the loot crate system for building your Orc army. Naturally, these Orcs come in varieties of rarity. Then there are weapon drops, training cards, mounts and more and more details just for giving your character buffs and upgrading your army. It is actually an amazing achievement to be able to build so many systems into the game.
Unfortunately, all these systems have a detrimental effect on the core game. This is a problem as the core game is as good as it was before, stalking and killing Orcs, scaling up buildings and firing arrows remains as relaxing and infectious as ever but rather than the stripped out and focussed nature of the original we now are in the middle of the bloated sequel. In film terms, this is Chronicles Of Riddick To the original’s Pitch Black. It isn’t bad in any way just bloated and not focussed.
No more is this highlighted than the convoluted storyline involving Shelob. First, we have to get past the fact that they have allowed Shelob to be a shapeshifter and turned her into an attractive brunette. One minute horrible spider next minute object of beauty. It takes a bit of getting used to but once you do it is fine. Her storyline is a bit strange, rather than being an ally of Sauron she looks to be in these things for her own gain. She casts a nice shade of grey on your character and makes some of your choices seem less binary. After all, you are in this for revenge and the combat acts you carry out border on the gratuitous. I mean Talion doesn’t just murder the Orcs he butchers them. In fact, the brutalize kill method makes a return where you kill an Orc so violently that his friends run for cover. A character like this isn’t built for a completely heroic storyline.
My takeaway from this game is slightly mixed. On the one hand, there is a huge amount of content for a game type and world that I love on the other hand it doesn’t feel as polished as the previous games. The uneven graphics even on PS4 Pro, the confusing map screens where the PS4 pressure pad opens the map yet the start button is needed for other things, the poor tutorial sections and the sheer multitude of non-prioritised tasks make it a very strange package. One minute you are infiltrating a fortress to recruit an Orc captain, the next you are controlling a very poorly implemented siege machine before flying a drake into battle in a scene that wouldn’t be out of place in Game Of Thrones. The rollercoaster of excitement doesn’t get boring it just feels bloated and less streamlined. Add in the loot crates and the developer has thrown everything behind the game.
Maybe less would have been more.
You can get it here
Middle-earth: Shadow of War (PS4)