Middle-Earth: Shadow of War — 5/5 Stars
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is an action role-playing game from developer Monolith Productions. The story is set in the world of The Lord of the Rings and continues the story of Shadow of Mordor, its 2014 prequel. You play as Talion, a human ranger who evades death by sharing his body with the spirit of an ancient elf named Celebrimbor. Through this supernatural connection, the player has access to ranger martial skills, alongside elf magic.
The gameplay in Shadow of War consists of hack-and-slash combat against the Orc armies of Mordor. The swordplay feels smooth and satisfying, rewarding skillful blocking and timing. Shadow of War also features a robust stealth system, allowing players to play aggressively or sneakily.
The game features a unique “nemesis system,” in which the Orcs you face change and evolve as characters, depending on their interactions with the player and each other. If an Orc defeats you in combat, it will become more powerful and receive a promotion. Eventually, you gain the ability to convert Orcs to your side and pit them against one another in combat. As you slowly take control of the armies of Mordor, you discover Orcs who have rich background lives, holding grudges, forming blood bonds, and even singing songs over grog. This creates a dynamic world that reacts to you and feels alive, as you guide the story of your own character, as well as the stories of the Orcs.
Shadow of War’s visuals and dynamic character interactions create a deeply immersive world. The story follows Talion’s attempts to turn the armies of Mordor against the Dark Lord Sauron, while being assisted by the elf spirit Celebrimbor. However, Celebrimbor’s obsession with power leads to a constant temptation to take Sauron’s place as tyrant. Talion may be turning the enemy’s weapons against him, but he struggles to use the tools of evil without becoming evil himself. Talion faces the classic struggle of sacrificing his goodness for worldly power, as laid out in Matthew 16:26 (NIV) where Jesus asks: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
Diehard Lord of the Rings fans might dislike the storytelling liberties Shadow of War takes with Tolkien’s world. While this is certainly a different Lord of the Rings story, I feel that it still respects the vision of Middle-Earth as a hyperbolic battle between good and evil.
The gameplay is exciting and engaging, and the story is complemented by the stories that emerge organically from the nemesis system. I would highly recommend Middle-Earth: Shadow of War to fans of fast-paced action, stealth, and The Lord of the Rings.
Check out Chris’ video while playing Middle-Earth: Shadow of War at youtube.com/user/YSTV2011.
Chris Clark | Portland | Northern New England