Middle-earth: Shadow of War, the sequel to Shadow of Mordor, is nearing its August release date. I recently got some hands-on time with the game and glimpsed how the Nemesis system has evolved and what it's like to try and take on a war chief in his Uruk fortress. 

The answer: It's extremely difficult. During the demo, I was given my own squad of friendly Uruk, controlled by protagonist Talion's will-bending powers, and each of them had their own selectable platoons I could customize before battle. As is expected with the series, each platoon leader had their own respective personalities, like the cannibal who had toes and arms sticking out of a messenger bag and who spoke in rhymes. A pre-battle menu gave me the ability to arm my platoon leaders with special units, like creatures carrying catapults, balrogs, and bomb-strapped berserkers. These units allow you to break down walls at various points in the fortress' defenses to gain entry and provide support from afar.

As someone with hours of experience with Mordor's combat, I decided to try and do a straightforward assault on the fortress, blowing through the gates with a berserker. We tore through the fortress like wildfire, ripping enemies to literal pieces with sword slashes and arrows. Fighting functions primarily the same as it did in the original game, with a focus on rhythm more than anything else. It didn't take long before I was bringing down armored units with a flurry of moves.

To take over a fortress you have to claim three control points, all of which are usually guarded by the warchief's lieutenants, specialized units with more health and abilities that are much harder to take down than your standard grunts. Luckily, my own platoon leaders are there to help me in a pinch, keeping off the enemy grunts off me while I perform a duel with the lieutenant at each point. I killed the first two, decapitating one and setting the other on fire with an explosive barrel, and then mind controlled the other, meaning he joined the fight as an allied platoon leader.

With all the points under my control, it was finally time to take on the war chief himself, a nasty brute who rides a sharp-toothed caragor into battle. I stepped into his throne room. There were archers on the balconies above. The war chief himself had flunkies on both sides. I was alone. Of course.

He rushed toward me, riding his caragor. I killed the beast with a couple of slow-motion arrow strikes to even the playing field. Then, turning, I used Talion's shadow-strike ability to zoom toward the archers on the left balcony. I took down the first by stomping his head in and then used the second as a portable battery, draining him of his health. The archers on the other balcony hit me with a couple of arrows, so I zoomed to them with shadow strike and made quick of work of them while the war chief watched from below.

Using a poison arrow, one of Talion's new weapons, I enveloped the chief's group in green, choking mist. I hopped down and took out the stunned ones as fast as I could before moving on the war chief, but he was a nightmare, blocking my combos and finishers. His one weakness was a stun blast that opened him up to damage from standard combo attacks, but his health constantly regenerated. To make matters worse, his henchmen constantly respawned, meaning it was difficult for me to get a stunner in. Eventually, I lost the battle of attrition, with the war chief beating my head in with a bone.

Despite losing the final battle, I mostly enjoyed my time raiding the warchief's fortress in the demo. Shadow of Mordor showcased a lot of potential with the Nemesis system, and the enhancements here, with you able to pair your allies with squads and powers, shows that Monolith has really bolted on a series of improvements to what was already a neat feature. The combat is as intense and brutal as it was before, with decapitations, bone-crunching, and limb-removal still a constant payoff to each fight. I still have concerns about the open world, which I saw none of during my demo, but I'm hoping Monolith has also made that aspect of the game as interesting as the raid fortress sequences.

For more on Shadow of War, be sure to check out our previous coverage.