I’ve been ambivalent about Shadow of War. I had a very good time with Monolith and Warner Bros’ Shadow of Mordor, but I felt that that was enough. A sequel seemed unnecessary, especially if it was going to be similar in style, breadth and scope. That it turned the ancient evil Shelob into an attractive woman and threw micro-transactions and loot boxes into a game that didn’t need them, didn’t help much either.
That changed yesterday. I got to sit in a live-demo presentation by Creative VP at Monolith Productions Michael de Plater, who explained a little more about the game. He says that the point was to make something epic that would pit you against iconic enemies from the world of Lord of the Rings – like Sauron and the Balrogs, and become something that lives up to the scale of the Battle of Five Armies. And while it all sounds like digital Tolkien fan-fiction, it somehow works.
The scale of the game really is impressive. Often with sequels we’re bombarded with messaging about how the new game is bigger, better and more badass – and that’s certainly the case in Shadow of War. For starters, the role-playing aspect has been greatly expanded, with Talion having access to a wide range of new skills. This time around, you can’t unlock absolutely everything either, and you’ll have to be selective about which of Talion’s spectral powers you want to carry through with you. There are more abilities to enable you to play the way you want to, whether you want to focus on agility, range or stealth. With that expanded scale comes greater verticality, and greater options for mobility around the battlefield. They’re all terribly important when it comes to the game’s Fortress Assaults.
The premise is for Talion to overthrow the leaders of these seemingly impenetrable fortresses, which allows him to break their control over the surrounding areas. The ruling orc’s tribe will have distinct effects on their immediate surrounding world and the fortresses themselves. It’s a perfect demonstration of the expanded Nemesis system and its related systems. Each fortress is protected by a handful of war chiefs as well as an overlord, and you’re able to choose to either pick off the chiefs to weaken the fortress slowly, or attempt an all-out offensive – akin to a suicide mission. Each of the chiefs has an increasing complexity of traits, which have been augmented by the mirrored upgrade and complexity of Talion’s new skills. A War chief might be deathly afraid of spiders, as an example, so a skill that lets Talion draw arachnids into battle would be beneficial.
Before you begin an assault on a fort, you can bring in your own generals – an army of high-level dominated Orcs – to help you. Using the in-game currency, you can purchase buffs and abilities for each of them before you begin your siege. It’s an added layer of strategy and tactics to the game that help it feel more dynamic than the rinse-and-repeat gameplay from the first game.
Capturing a fort requires that you capture a handful of points within the fortress, and there are many ways to tackle them. You could scale the outer walls, to take down the defensive siege beasts first, or dominate them, using it to destroy other armaments to give your army a clearer entry in to the fortress to fight for you. The Nemesis system comes in to play again here, as your own chiefs can be overcome, and if you don’t manage to save them from death, they remember your failures. They can also be killed, adding a bit of permanence to the system.
Once you’ve captured all of the points, it’s onwards to the tower to take on the fortress overlord in a battle that will test all of the skills that you’ve amassed so far. At the end of it all, I was a lot more excited for Shadow of War than I was before I went in.
It’s coming to PC, PS4 and Xbox One on October 10, 2017.
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Last Updated: August 24, 2017