In 2014, I had the immense pleasure of playing Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and experiencing an addition to the world J.R.R. Tolkien told of through the course of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in a gap in the lore that had remained largely unspoken of. A canvas for Monolith Productions to paint upon; introducing us to a new protagonist, bringing light to old names, and telling their own story of what happened between the well-known stories. They also got really creative with the subject matter, sometimes adding to established canon and sometimes butchering it.
Shadow of Mordor, for all its narrative flaws, was without a doubt one of my favorite games of 2014. The combat, the sense of adventure, the introduction of the Nemesis system that insured frequent special encounters AND the quite real possibility of earning a true nemesis to fight time and time again made it a special gem. And from the moment the game ended, with practically a guarantee of a sequel, I’ve wanted more. Once Middle-earth: Shadow of War was announced, I felt similar to how those who are craving the Ring of Power must feel; a deep longing, an intense desire for this new game. As another shadow encroaches, I stand ready to take on the orc and uruk hordes once more.
Friends or Foes: A Stronger Narrative
Shadow of War picks up nearly right where Shadow of Mordor ended, shortly after Talion’s victory over the Black Hand of Sauron and looking to the horizon, the gravewalking ranger declares that it is time to craft a new ring of power. A solid statement, considering he and the greatest smith of the old ages Celebrimbor, the crafter of the original ring of power is now one with him.
Shortly after successfully forging the new ring, Celebrimbor and Talion are separated from each other and Celebrimbor is whisked away by an enshrouding darkness. Talion, ring in hand, first moves to track down his elven ally only to find him captive by the mysterious, terrifying, eater of light Shelob; also known as the giant spider that, like normal sized spiders, is everything in my nightmares realized. But, in a curveball twist of creative interpretation, Monolith and WB have taken to heart the phrase, “evil thing in spider-form” and applied it in such a way as to imply that the daughter of Ungoliant is a shape shifter capable of different forms but only seen as a massive spider; until now.
Shelob shifts in a shadow, similar to how Sauron is shown to switch between a fair-skinned and white haired elf and the towering armored juggernaut, but Shelob’s other form is show to be a raven haired, pale skinned, and sultry voiced woman. It may be a cause for debate, but honestly this is a creative interpretation I can get on board with. It adds a deeper layer to the ominous character, and her portrayal doesn’t come across evil, but more as an insightful neutral. She is both friend and foe, in a similar way to Celebrimbor has been both friend and foe in the past during Shadow of Mordor. They both guide Talion for their own aims, while Talion pushes forward in both a lust for revenge, and to stop the forces of evil by any means necessary. Shelob and Celebrimbor, and their interactions with Talion, make the overall story much more enticing than that of Shadow of Mordor. They’re not the only interesting characters either, as a full case of memorable side characters come into play over the course of the game; but often your time with them is short lived, with little mention of them afterwards much like the side characters of the first game.
Narrative has more substance, Nemesis and Ally systems have been revamped and improved upon, environment variety and game length are drastically increased.
A Grindfest of a 4th Act will not be appealing to most people, dangling microtransactions to quicken the pace in front of the consumer is pretty insulting.