Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor came out of nowhere and became one of our favourite games of 2014. We’re big Tolkien fans at GameWatcher anyway, but seeing the Middle-Earth franchise receive the same love and attention that Batman got with the Arkham series warmed our hearts. We loved it so much we nominated it for Game of the Year. And now at last we’re getting the prophesied sequel, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, and even better we’ve got to play it. How’s it stacking up? Read on to find out.
The first mission was a memory mission, taking place long in the past as Talion’s wraith companion Celebrimbor tries to stop a keep invasion by Orcs almost single-handed. Normally this would be difficult, except Celebrimbor’s riding a dragon with several others for backup. Which is awesome, and partially helps explain how dragons and dragon-riding have been present in the trailers despite, y’know, the movies, books and lore. We do strongly suspect though that this will not be the only appearance of dragons, wyrms or drakes in Shadow of War. Sauron didn’t have any dragons in Lord of the Rings, and the whole point of The Hobbit was keeping Smaug away from the Dark Lord. Hopefully Monolith will handle this bit with delicacy (heh).
Anyway, lore quibbles aside, I was riding a dragon into battle and blasting fireballs at invading Orcs, which will never ever not be amazing. It was, however, surprisingly difficult, and not just because it took me a while to realize the camera was inverted. I was never in danger of death way up above the battlefield, but my keep still got captured since those Orcs are tricky beggars. My drake could spew a stream of fire or hock up a fireball, but it wasn’t particularly good at moving fast or making tight turns.
I had several goals. Repel the invading forces within a certain amount of time, release the captive drakes so they can fight too, and stop both the Caragor Riders and giant Graug from reaching the Keep. I failed at most of these. The wolf-riders were too fast, and if they got past me and my wall of fire that was it, mission failed. Then when I finally killed them the damn Graug showed up and proved surprisingly resistant to dragonfire. Maybe I should’ve just jumped off and stabbed him in the face.
Undoubtedly fun, but it was time to take on larger prey. A story mission a short hop away promised the appearance of a Balrog named Targaroth, another lore problem mission. This involves a group of Orcs summoning the creature, and of course Talion wants to put a stop to it. But if just Orcs can summon a Balrog, why not the Dark Lord Sauron or The Witch-King of Angmar? I was determined to find out. Still, once again, it’s too awesome though and that beats out precious rules any day.
This was slightly further away than the fire-drake mission, requires some terrain exploration. I fought patrolling Orcs, watched a pack of Caragors get into a fight with Orcs, which I then promptly Dominated and had the pack on my side, entered a cave filled with under-dwelling Ghûls, and hid in bushes. And do you know what I learned? That Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is playing very like the first game. This is in no way a bad thing since generally speaking the first game played great, but I do hope for some more enemy variety in the final game at least.
The final mission took place around a lava pit where Orc acolytes were praying to summon the Balrog Targaroth, with the central priest taking control. Celebrimbor urged me not to tarry and insisted I had to kill them all before the ritual was completed, otherwise bad things would happen. The Balrog certainly wouldn’t kill everyone and everything, Orc or Man, nosirree. Actually, yes, yes it would. So we have to stop those idiots.
The followers were easy. All they did was pray a bit, so slicing their heads off and putting a sword right through their chests was no effort, although I did feel a little bad for some reason. The Head Priest was more difficult. A bit of fire had him panicked, but it was only temporary. He teleported and was more than a match for most of my attacks, including my Ghost Arrows (or whatever they’re called). I was just about to bring him down, then watched as the Balrog rose from the lava below… only to have the demo end. AARGH!
Fortunately for my sanity, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War will be out October 10 on PC, Xbox One and PS4. It can be pre-ordered on Steam now for £44.99/$59.99 for the Standard Edition. Pre-ordering unlocks access to the Legendary Champions War Party and exclusive weapons. Silver and Gold editions are also available, containing new Orc Tribes and even new story expansions.
It’s fair to say that Middle-Earth: Shadow of War has gone through a few controversies, from the odd DLC and pre-order practices that, frankly, have sunk games like Evolve, to the weird lore decisions like having Shelob turn into a sexy lady, Sauron getting a body, or dragons and Balrogs turning up. We’re concerned that players have a certain amount of distaste when they think of Shadow of War, because frankly – the game itself is excellent and a fun continuation of the wonderful Shadow of Mordor.
We’re not sure about all the controversies, but the Balrog bit? According to the High Mystic Priest, it’s entirely Talion’s fault. His resurrection and creation of a new One Ring has screwed things up enough for the Mystic Tribe of Orcs to be able to do stuff like summon a Balrog. Does that work with Tolkien lore? Who knows? At the very least, Monolith clearly have a storyline, a plan, and if all else fails – they do what seems awesome. There were odd lore and DLC decisions in Shadow of Mordor too and everyone forgot about them very quick when the game turned out to be great.
What I’m hoping for with Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is that is has an engaging Tolkien-friendly storyline with imaginative encounters and the same level of fun as the first game. From the little I’ve played, Monolith could be doing just that. I didn’t get to experience the new improved Nemesis system at play and I’m already impressed. Let’s hope the final game lives up to that. There’s good in this game, Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.
You can find our interview with Andy Salisbury from Monolith on Middle-Earth: Shadow of War right here!
Most Anticipated Feature
I want to say experiencing the new, expanded, improved Nemesis system, but in all honesty it’s finally being able to go against that Balrog.