Spencer Smith ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
When Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor hit the shelves, it was quite a unique experience. Sure, the story was nothing more than revenge plot with a duo, and yes, the gameplay was fun but altogether a hybrid of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Assassin’s Creed 2. However, that unique Nemesis system was what changed the name of the game in the AAA industry. Naturally, Middle-earth: Shadow of War has been made even more grand than its predecessor, with the whole land (well, most of the land) opened up for the player and a whole roster of new abilities, new enemies, and new problems.
Just to get it out of the way, Shadow of War is worth the money. That being said, it’s much less tight than than Shadow of Mordor, which creates the game’s biggest problem: the plot. The plot, simply put, is a gigantic mess; it’s so all over the place and horribly paced that it practically assaults the player with its sheer confusion. The game never seems to slow down, and none of it feels planned or tight. Characters are introduced out of nowhere, development is forceful, and conflicts are poorly defined. Even previously established characters are changed in bizarre ways; for example, Shelob has been turned into a sexy emo goth chick.
In comparison to the bloated, rushed plot, the gameplay is on an incredibly slow boil. While the game is still fun, it takes away much of your abilities for vague, poorly explained reasons, putting you right back to square one and forcing you to build your arsenal back up again. Thus, you can’t even get straight into the the more complex gameplay elements until the second act of the game. Since the plot is so poorly put together, it’s far more fun to go off the beaten path and explore, but going further in the story is the only way to advance to objectively better game mechanics. It becomes an endurance test in the first act. By the second act, however, the game starts to explore the fun part of Shadow of War: the Nemesis System.
When talking about the Nemesis System, the unique player experience requires me to explain just how deep and rewarding the Nemesis System is. About four hours into gameplay, barely scratching the surface of the land of Mordor, I suddenly was ambushed by an Orc. This Orc was a fearsome beast, yet I held my own against his fury. I was beating him with the standard tactics at first, but suddenly he adapted to and started countering my tactics! After a brutal fight that I wasn’t prepared for, he finally got me, and he ripped me up into tiny pieces with two fist-blade things that emulated Wolverine. Then I felt something, something I didn’t think I could truly feel in a game: pure vengeful wrath. After being resurrected, I interrogated a worm who knew his weaknesses, biding my time until eventually I enacted vengeance on him by exposing him to his worst fear: stealth. I sneak attacked him and he ran away, right through enemy territory, so I tracked him down, whittling away at his health before finally finishing him off. His last words were, “I’m too young to die! I haven’t even tasted pink skin babies yet!” That was a unique encounter for myself, and it wasn’t scripted, yet it affected me emotionally and created a mini-story in the game.
That’s only a sampling of what the System could already do, and it’s been improved drastically. The new Nemesis system is somehow even more sprawling and complex, truly making an Orc hierarchy that feels alive. The management of the Orcs and their fortresses is far more organic than the first. Now, your Orcs can become your bodyguards, they can be shamed out of your army if they do something you don’t like, they can become deranged or betray you when you least expect it, they could even become more powerful than you and attempt to overthrow you. The system was already great in Shadow of Mordor, but this new system fixes problems that most people didn’t even think of before. Now, the system gives the player far more involvement in managing their own system of Orcs and not simply capturing them like Pokémon to use in a future battle. You have a far motivation to micromanage orcs, and it’s somehow even more rewarding than before. Simply put, this system is worth the price alone.
The Nemesis System is what gives the game that unique flavor and makes things interesting, but even taking out the system, even with all the problems, the game is fun. It’s incredibly deep and will ensure 40+ hours of gameplay to sink your teeth into. The mechanics are still solid despite the minimal changes, the world is rich and full of lore, the Fortress battles are fun and rewarding. Plus, despite the incredibly mangled plot, the ability to create your own plot and character interactions more than makes up for it. Even the dreaded presence of microtransactions aren’t too big of an issue as the game never feels designed around it. You can play the game without even touching the marketplace and be able to have plenty of fun. Simply put, Middle-earth: Shadow of War is the kind of game that AAA games should be: big, bombastic, ambitious, and rule breaking. Sometimes it fails, yet for every failure there’s a spectacular win that more than makes up for it.