Monolith’s sequel to 2014’s award-winning Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is known in the gaming industry as an idealistic image of how not to implement micro transactions into games. When fans realized that both loot boxes and paid loot boxes were to be a feature in Shadow of War, they declared that they didn’t want anything to do with it. However, just this past Tuesday, an official update from Monolith was released, an update which entirely removed both the loot boxes and micro transactions from the game. As a result, we can properly judge the game now on its own merits rather than the greedy qualities of a financial company in the gaming industry. While it may take strong liberties with the established lore of Tolkien, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is a riveting game that builds on the legacy of Rocksteady’s Arkham franchise and creates a revolutionary and interactive fantasy experience that rivals and even tops its superb predecessor.
As mentioned before, Shadow of War takes multiple significant deviations from the original Tolkien lore, lore that has been built up through countless books that thoroughly detail the history of Middle-Earth. However, while some Tolkien scholars may criticize the game for practically being ignorant of the established mythology, I personally found the changes refreshing, similar to how the story of the recent mobile RPG, Hogwarts Mystery impacted me. It is a fresh take on a fantasy world and adds interesting concepts in order to make the game feel more interactive. However, while there are some interesting concepts on display, the actual execution of the story is somewhat muddled at times. For instance, during the second act of the game, when the player is given a wide variety of missions to complete, I found the pacing to be somewhat slow and lead to a rather dull experience in terms of storytelling. It features multiple storylines that never weave into the actual plot. The inclusion of such missions are most likely to boost the game’s length but leads to multiple instances where there is satisfying narrative reward for spending an hour or two of gameplay in these said missions. As an open world game, the story never takes the forefront of the experience but additional supplementary narrative material such as an extra character or plot twist could have emboldened the story of the game.
But while the story itself may leave some things to be desired, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War relies on a more practical approach to its storytelling, similar to that of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. What that means is that the game gives all the tools necessary to the player to create their own, personalized adventures. This is mainly due to the revolutionary Nemesis system. Improved from the predecessor, the system takes a stronger focus on the allies of the player, creating multiple dynamic cut scenes involving the player’s Orc followers when they betray, come back from the dead, or even come to fight at your side. While it may never live up to the expectations that its initial gameplay demo prompted, the system is still an iconic feature of the game and is possibly worth the entire price of the game.
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