Middle-earth: Shadow of War
Monolith's Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was met with praise when it released a few years back. The nemesis system was one of the game's most notable and novel accomplishments, but the game still had issues such as a bleak open world and a lackluster story. With its sequel, Shadow of War, Monolith hopes to tweak those problems, bring in more iconic Lord of the Rings themes, and refine the first game's better elements to make a more engaging entry.
We got a chance to play Shadow of War at Gamescom, and came away impressed and excited for its upcoming release. Shadow of War continues its predecessor's story, where protagonist Talion and the spirit of elf lord Celebrimbor have crafted a new Ring of Power and aim to build an army to defeat Sauron. Monolith teased that the nemesis system and the story would be more connected this time, but didn't give specific details on how.
More emphasis is being put on building a strong army, and orcs can be converted to join your allegiance. The nemesis system is seeing several improvements and is a deeper system this time around. Nemesis Forge is a neat addition that allows you to face off against enemies you have unfinished business with from Shadow of Mordor. The system has also been expanded to include Nemesis Fortresses, where you and your army that is headed by chosen generals invade an enemy castle. Before entering, you can make tactical decisions that will give you an edge in battle. You can weaken the enemy's forces by taking out their war chief beforehand and using the nemesis system to find out their weaknesses. For example, if they're afraid of spiders, you can send in a merciless group of arachnid when you invade, among other options.
Before you stampede through a castle's doors, you can choose buffs to add to your team, such as giving them mounts and having a Drake (a dragon) breathe down fiery hell onto a slew of foes.
Shadow of War introduces a lot of new beasts and refines others from the first game. Fire-breathing Drakes are mountable once you unlock the ability later in the game and Graugs have some new forms, such as fire and ice. These Graugs are fully controllable as you ride them, and they can climb all the same surfaces you can. I had a lot of fun stomping on my enemies relentlessly and climbing my way across Mordor's landscape; traveling was much quicker when seated on a Graug.
The castle raids are thrilling, but I was disappointed to find out that stealth is sidelined in these missions and replaced with a more action-oriented approach. However, there are still many methods to kill your enemies as well as interesting additions. If you fail to capture a castle, the overlord will remember your defeat should you attempt again, and taunt you about it. To successfully raid a fortress, you need to capture different areas on the inside and kill both the overlord and his war chiefs. Orcs remain your primary enemies, but some new classes are introduced such as the Olong-hai, who are troll hybrids that are smarter than other orcs.
Some new skills include Poison Tendril, which allows you to infect barrels of grog by shooting them with poison arrows, all from a safe range. This is an improvement from the last game, where you had to get up close to use poison. Doing this will slowly poison enemies who drink from it, dwindling your enemy's forces during a castle raid. Another new skill is Eleven Agility, which allows for quicker climbing and lets you leap upward when scaling structures.
Monolith is evidently taking a lot of care in bringing several improvements to this sequel, and so far, it shows promise. Middle-earth: Shadow of War releases on October 10 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.