[First Impressions] Middle-Earth: Shadow of War

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There were many games presented by the countless amount of developers during the 2017 E3 Gaming Show. However, one of them stood out among the rest. The XBox and Playstation booths ran by ‘Warner Brothers’ were decorated with different eye-catching neon lights, but their fancy presentation wasn’t the reason it stood out. Their unique method of presenting their game is what made Warner Brothers so appealing. There were men dressed up as orc warriors running among the crowd and interacting with them; the booth was successful in creating an atmosphere that made the audience feel like they were in the universe of Middle-Earth.

However, Warner Brothers didn’t prepare a stage for the audience to play and review the game for themselves. I always attend E3 Gaming Shows fully expecting to try the game for myself, as I truly believe that is the biggest merit E3 can offer. But despite the lack of a playable demo for attendees (the game was only demonstrated through trailers),  the amount of attention the game got was surprising. Its popularity wasn’t as big as ‘Call Of Duty’ of course, but I still had to hold my place in the waiting line for several hours.

I was considerably despondent at the thought of never being able to try the game for myself; but an opportunity arose. There actually was an area kept secret from the public where the media could try the game hands-on. After some twists and turns, and with the help of ‘Inplay’, a company partnered with Warner Brothers, I was able to secure a spot. Sitting in front of a huge television screen with a controller resting on my hands, I suddenly felt that my decision to become a gaming journalist was paying off. A sequel to the game that completely stole my heart was right in front of me.

▲ "Come this way!", "Thank you!"

▣Middle-Earth is back, and it's more charming than ever

As I was readying myself for the game, the guide asked me, “Do you want to try the nemesis system first, or try and attack a stronghold? You can simply roam around the map if that is what you prefer to do.” As the place was prepared for people from the media, we weren’t limited by time during our trial. However, the E3 Gaming Show was coming close to its closure, and I had to quickly gather as much information as I could on the game.

First, I looked into the the newly refined ‘Nemesis System’, the game’s core feature. It isn’t an over exaggeration to say that the Nemesis System is what makes the Middle-Earth series “Middle-Earth”. Many of the Uruk-hai Captains in the game universe are linked to other captains in one way or another. Some absolutely despise a certain figure, while some may have good ties to them. Because of these different ties and struggles, the society within the armies of Sauron constantly evolves. Some of the captains go and kill their opposers, and cause rebellions, while lower-ranked Uruk-hais simply get killed in an execution. This Nemesis System also affects the protagonist of the game, ‘Talion’, as even a common soldier can receive a promotion into a captain if they can manage to harm him.

▲The Nemesis System

The goal of the game is to take over and conquer multiple strongholds and expand your legion. However, heading straight into a stronghold packed with enemies is suicide; that is why you have to pull some strings behind the scenes beforehand. You have no choice but to ally with some of the Uruk-Hai captains in order to be successful in your invasions.

You gather troops by turning them on their former allies, and that is where the Nemesis System shines. You can order your troops to strike Sauron’s; and amidst the battle, you can either kill or ally with the captain of the troop. Talion’s forces grow in numbers as the enemies’ decline. As you repeat the process multiple times, you slowly become prepared to attack a stronghold.

▲ "Uhm... Talion, sir?"

Every stronghold has unique ways of hindering invaders. Examples can be seen in the Warlord’s chamber, a room belonging to the highest ranking officer in a stronghold. The chamber can house many obstacles or hindrances, such as poisonous gas. And so, you have to make smart tactical decisions if you want to be successful in your invasion, as some troops are weak to certain attacks and elements, such as fire.

As you continue to plan for the attack, you can support your captains by adding special units to their troops. These “special units” come in all colors; some come in the form of a dragon, while others are simple hunters. As an experiment, I chose units who reminded me of the ‘Sapper’ goblins from ‘World of Warcraft’. As the preparation comes to an end, the actual battle unfolds.

▲ You can also hire Olog-hai without having to hire Sappers

Although every stronghold is structured differently, you have to go through multiple sections of the stronghold in order to get to the Warlord’s chamber. The strongholds are separated into 4 sections: The outer wall, outer fortress, inner fortress, and the Warlord’s chamber.  As soon as I sent in my troops, my Sapper friends ran towards the stronghold and took down the main gates in a self-sacrificial explosion of flame and smoke. And as you take down the Warlord, the troops of the stronghold merge with yours; and new captains and warchiefs are chosen.

Now, ‘Shadow of War’ isn’t the first game to feature such mechanics in a game, as ‘Dynasty Warriors: Empire’ is played in a similar way. But what differentiates the two games for me was the difficulty. In Dynasty Warriors, as you get used to the combat mechanics, the fights become more simple and easy, even without receiving aid from your troops. On the other hand, even the weakest of enemies in Shadow of War can take full advantage of your mistakes and punish you, which earns them a  promotion to captain. But fear not! If your individual gaming skills are lacking, you can always just spend more time during the preparation stage gathering more information. Finding and exploiting an enemy captain’s weakness by sending in a captain of your own that can counter him is just one of the things you could do.

▲ I really enjoyed the cutscene before the battle

To be frank, I honestly can’t tell you which genre this game belongs to. As both tactics and action are involved, do I have to call this game a tactical action game?


▣The same game, but much more intense

The core feature of the game, the Nemesis System, is very unique compared to other games on the market and is presented as the game’s best quality. The developers have improved the system from the last game and added a little more spice in this new title. However, the main attraction of ‘Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor’ was from the slashing, the dodging and countering, and the occasional jaw-dropping executions the protagonist performs during fights. The battle mechanics of the previous game were already near perfect.

This new title features the same battle mechanics, but somehow even better. In the previous title, ‘Talion’ and ‘Celebrimbor’ forge a new ‘Ring of Power’ in order for Talion to become a powerful king. Due to that process, Celebrimbor has even greater importance in this new title. When fighting in Shadow of Mordor, he would appear here and there as you attack, but it was very faint. With Shadow of War however, it felt as if Celebrimbor took control of at least half of Talion’s body! Mounting on top of an orc and seeing the protagonist pound away at its head with spiritual attacks; it felt very satisfying.

▲ The Protagonist shooting an arrow while sliding

The end game of the previous title was ‘rune farming’. However, the entire rune system was removed from this new title; instead, the game introduced an entirely new item system. Now you can collect different type of weapons and armor. You can also enhance the equipment that you favor by adding special gems to it. You no longer have to wear tattered clothes as you take on the Dark Lord.

The character development system has also changed. Unlike the previous title, which featured multiple skill trees, the new title features something similar to ‘Diablo 3’s’ rune system; allowing you to enhance a certain skill by adding in secondary effects. Through this new system, you can customize your character to be like a trained assassin, a spiritual warrior that takes full advantage of Celebrimbor, or make him into a simple, but extremely deadly, swordsman.

▲ You can ride on a Caragor as if it's a personal vehicle

I expected action-packed combat in this new title since its predecessor provided so much of it; but I didn’t expect this much improvement from the last game. Many games in the market that are categorized under the “tactical” genre usually lack proper combat mechanics. But Shadow of War patched up its flaws and improved what they were already good at.


▣I can't find any flaws in this game!

In my honest opinion, I would say that this game is flawless. Over the 20 minutes I was playing, I had zero complaints. Its controls were a little bit clunky, but it’s fully expected to be refined before its release.

The biggest problem Shadow of Mordor had was its lack of late-game content. As the game’s storyline is limited, you eventually start playing the main quests, bringing the endgame to you relatively faster than other story-heavy games. Allying other orcs, or inserting strong runes into your weapon means nothing if there isn’t anything meaningful you can do with them. Solely because of this, ‘Rune Farming’ became the only meaningful late-game content for its players. It can be comparable to a dinner table with all the utensils provided; forks, knives, and a spoon, but with no food present on the table.

But Shadow of War completely fixed that problem. As you constantly conquer different strongholds, Sauron does the exact same. The warfield constantly shifts; never staying the same, increasing the randomness and the game's replayability. The series’ biggest selling point, the combat system, has been enhanced while its tedious features were either changed or completely removed.

▲ Everything is fun on this game...

On the last day of E3 2017, when I was sure I saw everything I needed to, I got my chance to play Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. I can also say with confidence that this game left the biggest impression on me despite the many I played during the event. It was pure fun. Assassinating enemy captains, bolstering my own army, tactically preparing my army for an attack on a stronghold, and actually playing a part in those battles I planned; everything was enjoyable.

What makes a game perfect? Many things can factor in, but for me, this game provided me with everything that I wanted. The previous problems its predecessor had were fixed, with its already praised mechanics enhanced. 3 years have passed since Shadow of Mordor; are you ready to play the new title?

▲ "You better be ready."

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