Review: Middle-Earth: Shadow of War

We’ll be taking a look at Monolith Productions’ Middle Earth: Shadow of War.  Should you buy this game?  Should you buy this game for a child?  This is a long one.  I’ll have a TL;DR table of information at the bottom in case you need it.  Scroll all the way to the bottom of the post; it’s just before my disclaimer.

***This is a videogame review and while I make my best effort not to include spoilers, sometimes it happens.  If you have not completed Shadow of Mordor, there may be a spoiler contained in this review.  You have been warned.  This post contains affiliate links.***

Shadow of War General Information

Mommy and Ninja RatingYin_yang 50x50Yin_yang 50x50Yin_yang 50x50Yin_yang 50x50Half Yin Yang 25x50
Available PlatformsPS4, XBOX One, PC
Available FormatsDigital
Retail Disc
Platform Reviewed onPS4
GenreAction Role-Playing
DeveloperMonolith Productions
PublisherWarner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date(s)October 10, 2017
RatingsESRB: M
PEGI: 18
USK: 16
ACB: MA 15+

Parent’s Information

If you’re a parent here looking for whether or not your child should play this game, here’s the place to look.  Not taking into account the quality of the actual game, here’s what you need to know:

Here in the US, the ESRB rated this M for Mature for the following reasons:  Blood and Gore, Intense Violence  Click here for details.

In Europe, PEGI rated this as appropriate for 18 and older.  They stated the following: It contains: Extreme violence – Violence towards defenceless people. (They spelled defenseless wrong…)

In Germany, USK rated this for 16 and older only.  In Australia, the ACB rated this M, which means 15 and older for: Strong violence and online interactivity.

Would I let my child play it?  Well, he’s only 5…so, no.  He has walked into the room while I was playing and expressed a distaste for the way the orcs look.  He said he wasn’t scared, but he said they were scary and gross.  Anyways, mature is a good rating for this game simply due to the extreme violence shown.  You are quite literally chopping the heads off of orcs for much of the game.  In the Fight Pits, your orc may even hold up the severed head of his now dead opponent to show it to you.

If you’re totally okay with extreme violence and you just want to know what else you should know:  there is no foul language, no drug references and while Shelob (an important character) is very sexualized compared to the original media, there is no sex, simulated or implied.  

Microtransactions in Shadow of War

Before we even start a review, let’s just address the giant pink elephant in the room.  Yes, microtransactions are evil and should not exist in a single-player game.  I will not deny that; that is a dispute for another day.  Shadow of War does loot boxes right.  They aren’t shoved down your throat or forced upon you.  Yeah, they are there staring at you when you open your reward boxes and in the pause menu, but they aren’t required and you can actually earn premium currency through daily quests while playing.  You could easily get the same loot boxes your buddy spent his hard-earned cash on with gold earned in-game.

For the weak-willed, disposable-cash-having sort of people…you could spend real-life cash and get legendary orcs faster than the people who simply don’t have cash to burn (or those that refuse to feed the greed).  Those in the second group will still get legendary orcs, just not as fast.  Legendary orcs don’t make it so that you steamroll through the game.  The only advantage is that your followers have better skills and maybe better survivability, maybe.  Some of the legendary orcs will suck, whether you spend cash or not.  That’s the gamble, though, isn’t it?  On that note, an interesting article regarding whether or not loot boxes are gambling can be found here.

Parents:  Do not feel obligated to purchase these loot boxes for your kids.  They are far from necessary to complete or fully enjoy the game.

Plot/Story and Lore Breaking

*Possible Spoilers* For returning fans of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, the story picks up after SoM ends.  Talion and Celebrimbor travel to Mt. Doom to forge a new Ring of Power, this time free of Sauron’s corruption.  Talion uses this newly forged ring to dominate orcs and build his orc army to defeat Sauron.  Talion spends much of the game at odds with Celebrimbor.  I won’t go into more detail as we are about to hit major spoilers.  There are some returning characters this time around with their own questlines.  Ratbag returns in Shadow of War.

Suffice it to say that the story was well-written and engaging.  I think that the open-world gameplay hurt the story a little bit in that I went off and did my own thing for hours between missions and when I finally got back to them, it made it seem disjointed.  My fault, not Monolith’s.

As for the lore breaking, there is some.  Plenty of it.  Shelob is a glaring lore-break.  In the game, she portrayed as a sexy woman who can turn into a spider.  In the lore, she is a big spider, not a woman.  Next is the new Ring of Power.  Wait, what?  They wrote in an explanation, but that doesn’t make it less lore-breaking.  And now onto Isildur.  He is a ringwraith now (so is Helm Hammerhand).  Um…no, just no.  It’s explained away, but that’s no excuse.  There are many more, but that’s enough for this conversation.

Dialogue and Voice Acting

If Talion says something about the Palantir one more time…I swear, I will find the biggest, gnarliest looking orc and just let him kill him.  Over and over and over.  He prattles on about the palantir so much; it’s maddening.  That being said, the voice acting is very good and the dialogue, outside of Talion prattling about the palantir, is well-written.

The orc captains are superbly voice acted and their dialogue can be hilarious.  The orcs have their own personalities.  I saw a YouTube video with a singing orc and couldn’t wait to get my own.  I found one and dominated him, but he was awful and died.  There is also a Rhymer orc.  He speaks in verse.  Some of these orcs say the craziest things when you start a fight with them.  That being said, they are only awesome for a while; they very quickly become annoying.

When you find yourself being ambushed by 3 or 4 captains at the same time, you can simply sit back and when you finally get to play again you think to yourself “three hours later...”  The voice acting is spectacular and Monolith should be proud of the work that obviously went into this aspect of the game, but let me skip these or turn them off if that’s what I choose.  Although turning them off entirely would make the Nemesis System less awesome, they could at least let me skip the ones from captains that I’ve seen already or when they just irritate me.

Contorls/Overall Functionality and Gameplay

The controls are similar to Shadow of Mordor enough that if you played it, you’ll be fine.  Any new mechanics are explained well enough that you shouldn’t struggle.  In fact, if you’ve played the Batman/Arkham games, you will be familiar with the combat system.  If you’ve played Assassin’s Creed, you’ll be familiar with the movement (and the craptastic climbing when it wants to be craptastic, though to a much lesser degree here).

People said of Shadow of Mordor that it was a Frankenstein’s monster game, pieced together from other games…Shadow of War still has many of the features that were Frankensteined from those other games, but it doesn’t feel like a game pieced together from other successful games.  Newcomers to the series, who have no experience with the other games mentioned, fear not.  The controls are simple enough and the tutorials are written well enough that you will be able to pick it up in no time.

An issue that persists from SoM: the targeting system.  The targeting system is wonky at best.  Talion attacks the closest enemy, pushing a different direction might make him attack the orc that is that exact direction…or maybe one that is a completely different direction.  The same goes for domination and draining.  Friendly orc, enemy orc, it makes no difference.  The game can determine friend from foe when regarding human allies, why not orcs?  You might find yourself wailing on your bodyguard or just some random dominated orc.  If it’s just a random, no biggie…they are a dime a dozen; your bodyguard is another story entirely.  This was an issue in the first game and seems to have been ignored.  It’s a shame.

Skill Tree and The Menus

The skill tree has been upgraded.  There are skills for all play-styles.  You can truly build a Talion that suits the way you want to play.  You aren’t forced into a cookie-cutter character.  I, personally, went with a Domination build.  I wanted the maximum number of minions (both orcs and beasts) to be fighting on my side.  The more minions I have, the less my enemies have.  I didn’t go Necromancer (yet), because this build looked intriguing.  There are several different builds out there on YouTube.  Skill points are abundant, so you can get a skill to try it out and not worry about whether or not you like it or it fits your play-style like you thought it would.  You’ll have another skill point very soon to try something else out.

The menu seems a bit of a hot mess since they expect you to change gear as needed when someone has an immunity to your chosen elemental damage (or is enraged by it), but you get used to it.  The menu for the shop takes forever to sync and load.  This is where you find your reward boxes for completing community challenges and competing in the online Fight Pits, so even if you choose not to partake in the microtransactions, you will still load up the store at some point.  It could be my internet connection, hard to say.

Graphics and Performance

This is a AAA title.  I hold AAA titles to a higher standard when it comes to graphics.  The game is visually what I expect from a title from a studio with a AAA budget.  The environment is gorgeous and the orcs themselves are simply amazing.  They have different faces, hair, piercings and scars to go with those personalities I spoke of.  Talion looks…worse than he did in SoM.  I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but he just looks graphically not as good in Shadow of War.

The PS4 version is the only version of the game I have played, on a standard PS4.  I noticed no framerate issues.  The game performed quite well.  I’ve had a few CTD’s (Crash to Dashboard), but it wasn’t excessive and the game saves fairly often and in logical places, so I lost very little to no gameplay on the crashes that I experienced.  There was one upsetting CTD during an online fight pit match.  It would have been my 5th win to make an orc legendary and I was winning and then BOOM!  Crash!  I loaded the game back up and had a win streak of zero.  I mean, I get it…they don’t want you to quit to the dashboard because a fight isn’t going your way and scam a legendary by doing so, but that sucked.

There is an assortment of different armor and weapons, both for Talion and the orcs, that look very well-done.  Here’s the thing, pre-rendered cutscenes suck.  They look awesome, but any gear changes won’t be present.  All of those cool pieces of armor and weapons change the way Talion looks (or at least the gear he wears),  but most of the cutscenes are pre-rendered, so it doesn’t matter.  Now, this is really just a gripe, because it doesn’t affect gameplay at all, just immersion.

The Nemesis System

New and improved, is the Nemesis System in Shadow of War.  The game warns you that playing on easy mode will stunt your Nemesis System.  I can assure you that playing on the normal difficulty will give you enjoyment from the Nemesis System until you get the hang of things and start to become a overpowered.  You can change the difficulty anytime, so not a big deal.

In Shadow of Mordor, I had this archer nemesis that killed me so many times.  He was about 15 levels above me when I finally quit playing; I just couldn’t best him.  I didn’t have this happen at level 1 this time, it happened at level 20ish.  Norsku the Damaged.  Norsku killed me a few times.  He is enraged by acrobatics, has a cursed weapon and is a legendary olog.  I’m a jumper and a roller when I fight captains, so this makes orcs enraged by acrobatics quite daunting to kill for me.  I dominated him at level 29; he is now mine.  The Nemesis System allows for everyone’s experience to be different.  My Norsku the Damaged is different from yours.  You might have a Norsku the Damaged that’s a weak garbage orc that you wouldn’t even want to dominate or you might not even have one.

DLC and The Expansion Pass

Microtransactions notwithstanding, if you want everything the game has to offer, you will have to pony up some extra cash.  The expansion pass is $40 USD.  That’s a hefty chunk of money for a season pass.  Either that or buy one of the special editions available for the extra content.  Individually, the two DLCs that have come out so far, the Slaughter and Outlaw Tribes would cost $30 USD.  For an extra $10 USD you will also get the two promised story expansions after the first of the year.

Is the DLC worth it?  Meh, undetermined.  We don’t have the last two pieces of the expansion pass yet, so it’s hard to say if that $40 price tag is just too much.  As for the Slaughter and Outlaw tribes, the Slaughter tribe orcs have a decent tribe ability, but there armor is just reused assets.  The Outlaw tribe (I’ve not played in-game with them yet) look pretty cool.  Their armor/weapons are not just reused assets.  Are they worth $15 a pop?  That’s a fine line.  I would say no, personally.

Online Play

This game uses the term online play rather liberally.  The “online” component consists of three choices:

  1. Fight Pits:  Your overlord is pitted against a random other user’s overlord of similar level.
  2. Conquest:  You attack another user’s fortress.
  3. Vendetta:  You avenge the death of a random user.

Both the Online Conquests and Vendettas put you into the other user’s game world.  Any orcs you dominate there, stay there when you return to your own world.  You keep your loot drops and any experience gains.  You at no point interact with the other player.  Be warned, if one of your orcs dies in another player’s game world, your orc is dead when you return to your own world.

Online Fight Pits can be rewarding.  You will lose a lot of orcs in the process, but you can actually make a regular orc into an epic or even legendary orc.  At a 3 win-streak, your orc becomes epic and at 5, your orc will become legendary.  The Online Fight Pits seems like a way to try and get you to buy loot boxes for more orcs to keep trying, but it still isn’t necessary.  Each win gives you a loot box that will mostly contain Training and Battle orders which level your orcs by 1 or 5 levels.

Your overlord will defend in the online fight pits without any interaction from you (you might be online or offline when it occurs).  Note that if your orc dies in an attack, your orc is lost; if your orc dies in a defense, your orc will remain in your game world alive and well.

Other Platforms and versions available?

Middle-Earth Shadow of War is available on PC, Xbox One and PS4 (<–Affiliate links).  There are 4 different choices for physical versions:  Standard, Silver, Gold and Mithril.

The Standard edition is just that.  Standard.  You get the game, nothing more.

The Silver edition includes a Silver War Chest (In-game item) and the two aforementioned DLC tribes (Slaughter and Outlaw).

The Gold edition includes a Gold War Chest (In-game item) as well as the two DLC tribes and the two (at the time of this writing) upcoming story expansions.

According to Amazon, Middle-earth: Shadow of War Mithril Edition Includes:  A Middle-earth: Shadow of War Gold Edition with Exclusive Steelcase, Premium Case with Magnetic Ring of Power, an Exclusive Mithril War Chest, the Official Game Music Soundtrack, a Limited Edition 12″ Tar-Goroth Balrog vs. Carnan Drake Statue, a Cloth Map of Mordor, a Collection of Exclusive Lithographs, a Tribe Sticker Pack and a Collector’s Box.  All of that has a hefty price tag, though.  This edition will run you $300 USD if you can find it.

Final Thoughts on Shadow of War

This is an excellent game.  It seems like Monolith took Shadow of Mordor and improved on almost everything imaginable, then called it Shadow of War.  It was disappointing to hear about the loot boxes, but they were actually done really well.  They aren’t required; there is no pay2win requirement.  I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoyed SoM, for sure.  And if you enjoy open-world, action rpgs, you should really give this a shot.

Playing Shadow of Mordor is not required to enjoy this game at all, but I would recommend buying that as it is cheaper.  Determine whether you like SoM and whether you should drop the 60 bucks right now on Shadow of War.  Also, you will get the story of what happened right before you begin your adventure here.  Of course, the price will drop, but as of this writing the price still sits at $60 USD unless it’s on sale.  Shadow of Mordor can be found for $20 USD or less.  Ultimately, it’s your money, do as you wish…

Overall Mommy and Ninja RatingYin_yang 50x50Yin_yang 50x50Yin_yang 50x50Yin_yang 50x50Half Yin Yang 25x50
Overall Gameplay4.5
Sound, Dialogue/Voice Acting5
Pros-Expanded nemesis system
-Expanded skill tree makes for more play style possibilities
-Siege battles
-Relatively easy to learn combat system
-High-priced DLC
-Lore breaking at times
-Can be overwhelming in the beginning
-Orc Intro Cinematics cannot be skipped and are cumbersome at times
Bottom lineI definitely recommend this game for fans of LOTR, action RPGs or Shadow of Mordor. It's a solid game.

***DISCLAIMER***This post contains affiliate links.  That means that, at no additional cost to you, if you click a link in this post and make a purchase Mommy and Ninja will receive a commission.  Mommy and Ninja is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.***

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