by Preston Dozsa
previewed on PC
Monolith Production’s Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor was one of the best and most surprising games of 2014, flying under the radar and exploding in popularity thanks to its open world gameplay and fantastic Nemesis system. By creating named rivals with their own personalities and traits that react to your actions, the game allowed players to experience their own personal stories while still following a linear narrative. It’s sequel, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, takes the system that made its predecessor memorable and aims to make it work on a larger scale. There are more areas to explore, a greater variety of mission types to complete, and an updated Nemesis system featuring new mechanics to better control your allies and bring death to your enemies.
Talion returns as the game’s protagonist alongside resident elf spirit Celebrimbor, though this time around he’s attempting to raise an orc army to wrest control of Mordor from the hands of Sauron. My brief adventure in Middle-Earth: Shadow of War was restricted to one region where I had an hour of freedom to do whatever I wanted, including the option of several story missions. Instead of doing them immediately, I decided to take part in one of the new missions types: a fortress siege. The fortresses are massive complexes that house several high-level enemy captains, including a powerful overlord who controls the region and is at the top of the Nemesis board. Besieging them requires building up a large army through dominating orcs and other members of Sauron’s faction, and when it comes to attacking a fortress, these allies will each offer a special upgrade to make the assault easier. In my case, that involved bringing along a fire breathing drake and fire arrows to better take out a fire-fearing enemy captain. Preparations made, I entered the siege confident that I could take the fortress without too much difficulty.
I WAS WRONG
It may have been because it was my first time playing Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, or maybe because it had been so long since I played Shadow of Mordor that I needed a refresher, but assaulting that fortress felt more challenging than anything from the original game. Shadow of Mordor’s difficulty lessened in the late game: as Talion grew to be a nigh unstoppable murder machine dressed up as a ranger, there was very little in the way of challenge for a player. This is not the case in Shadow of War: the assault featured numerous high level enemies that couldn’t be easily killed, alongside hordes of weaker enemies supporting them all the while. The captains I had brought with me quickly fell to the onslaught at the front gates while I was busy taking out archers in the towers and on the ramparts.
While I managed to destroy a handful of the towers, when I reached the ground I was swiftly killed by a large olog-hai, a new type of enemy in Shadow of War. I watched as my forces were scattered to the wind. If I was to assault the fortress again, I would need to rebuild my cadre of orcs to do so, though the damage I had done to the fortress would remain in order to make any subsequent attempts easier. But I was not dissuaded by my loss. The frantic nature of the fights and the need for strategy was refreshing to play, and I did manage to deal some hefty damage to the enemy despite my death. Sieges feel epic in scale and are intense to play, serving as a climactic conclusion to the battle for each region. While I did not attempt the siege again in my demo, I’m looking forward to playing more of them in the future.