When Shadow of Mordor came out in 2014, it blew everyone’s minds – myself included. Everyone eagerly anticipated the sequel, but when it finally released it seemed to be dead on arrival. Heck, even I hated it the first time I played it.
A few years later I played it again, and quickly realised just how wrong everyone had been. The game may have been flawed before, but after some updates it’s now one of the best games of this generation.
I’m going to review Shadow of War in the same format that I always do, and hopefully along the way I can convince you that it has changed for the better.
You can check out some of my related blog posts below:
The story of Shadow of War sees you pick up straight where Shadow of Mordor left off, with Talion and Celebrimbor forging a new ring to take on Sauron directly. After an initial Act 1 that drags on for a bit, you get to the proper good stuff in Act 2.
All of the Eltariel, Carnan, Bruz and Gondor sides quests are pretty great – nothing that blows your mind, but enough to keep you invested. My favourite thing about Shadow of War was its main story, though.
Talion and Celebrimbor are such compelling characters that are acted to perfection, and their bromance / bitter rivalry is the driving force behind every set-piece and conflict. Their saga takes them to every corner of Mordor, and I loved nearly every minute of it.
The only weak part of the main story was its ending. The twists were fine, and it was a resolution that made sense, but I guess I was just a bit disappointed by the tame ending. I’ll get into the nitty gritty in a later section, but for now I’ll just say that the majority of Shadow of War’s story really impressed me.
The whole appeal of Shadow of War is the gameplay – specifically, the Nemesis System. It’s more in-depth than ever, and I’ve had countless unique encounters with wacky orcs that’ll stick with me forever. On top of that, the Nemesis System really complements the fantastic siege missions.
All of the various side quests are great, and they each give Talion a chance to display his intuitive combat and stealth prowess. The Carnan quests, which sometimes involve mounting a Graug or Drake, are personal favourites.
The last thing I’ll talk about is the skill tree. There are loads of different skills to buy, and it can lead to a fair few different playstyles – but not many. After a couple of playthroughs it becomes clear which are the best skills to use, and after that there’s effectively no incentive to switch things up unless you want to give yourself a challenge.
When booting up the game again, I was surprised by how much DLC they’ve added since the original release.
By far my favourite aspect of all the DLCs was the Outlaw and Slaughter Tribe additions – these confrontations were great, and they added to my armies in fun and exciting ways.
On the other end of the spectrum, the actual story-driven DLCs were both a bit tame. Neither the Eltariel nor Baranor adventures captured my imagination, and on my recent playthrough I opted to just skip them entirely.
Not a bad set of DLCs, but I think they could have added some more substance to an already stellar game.
No game is perfect, and Shadow of War’s faults were so egregious on launch that many of its playerbase left and never returned.
The main offender is Act 4, also known as “The Shadow Wars”. Pre-patch was a humungous grind of taking and defending fortresses, and it was almost unfeasible without paying for microtransactions to boost your army. It’s still not great after the patch, but it’s only about 3 cycles of fortress defence rather than 10. Because of that, I’ve only ever truly beaten the game once – I tend to quit after Act 3 on subsequent playthroughs.
That being said, Act 3 isn’t perfect either. The final assault on Sauron has some great character moments and fights, but the confrontation with the Dark Lord himself is a little underwhelming. It’s far better than in Shadow of Mordor, but I still don’t think they’ve done Sauron justice in these games.
Act 1 is also a bit of a slow start, so it’s only really Act 2 that’s worth the price of admission (although that ends up being around 90% of the playtime). On the whole, there are too many faults with Shadow of War for it to be an all-time great game.
Arguably the most important category is the amount of fun I had whilst playing the game, and my half dozen playthroughs of Shadow of War speak for themselves.
It’s very replayable, and every questline is designed well enough for multiple attempts. The combat and Nemesis System never got stale, and the siege missions always felt like the culmination of your hard work and skill.
On the whole, it’s some of the most fun I’ve had while gaming in the past decade.
Shadow Of War is a fantastic game, and one that deserves to be played by both Tolkien fans and casual Action / Adventure lovers. The Nemesis System is the best it’s ever been, and the world of Mordor has never been more realised.
FINAL SCORE : 8.5/10
|+Nemesis System leads to fun encounters and infinite replayability||– Final Act of the game drags on for way too long|
|+ Open world is expansive and jaw-dropping||– Final confrontation with the villain left a slightly sour taste in my mouth|
|+ Story and side quests are so much fun, with siege missions being a true highlight||– Act 1 can be a little slow on replay|
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