Middle-earth: Shadow of War (Xbox One) Review

By Gabriel Jones 11.11.2017

Review for Middle-earth: Shadow of War on Xbox One

Working under the intense heat of Mt. Doom, Talion and Celebrimbor forge a Ring of Power. Though Middle-earth is no stranger to these incredibly powerful rings, all of them are linked to Sauron and his reign of evil. However, this ring is pure, and it could spell destruction for the dread tyrant. "The One Ring to rule them all", or at least that's the idea. Still, a man with both feet in the grave sharing a symbiotic relationship with an elven wraith is no match for Sauron. They need to raise an army, but the last Gondorian stronghold has already fallen. Thankfully, Mordor is teeming with Orcs. Perhaps they could be convinced to join Talion's cause. Become the Bright Lord and seize victory in Middle-earth: Shadow of War.

There is something of a plot holding Middle-earth: Shadow of War together, but it falls by the wayside early on. The only constant is war and bloodshed. As Talion, Ranger of the Black Gates, players will raise an Orc army and conquer Mordor, one region at a time. In many ways, this open-world adventure is much like a superhero game. Thanks to the powers gifted to him by his ghostly friend, Talion can run at the speed of light, and slay countless enemies with magical abilities. If the situation ever becomes truly dire, the Ranger can retreat, regain his composure, and then devise an alternate plan of action. In short, the level of agency on display is quite impressive. The player has the freedom to engage enemies in their own way.

The numerous unlockable and customizable skills add a decent amount of variety to Talion's repertoire. Summoning Celebrimbor to assist with stealth kills is always handy. A camp fire can be the catalyst for a magnificent explosion. The modifiers for each skill are clever as well. At the expense of having a smaller window of opportunity, the Ranger's counters can be fatal. Those camp fire explosions could also cause venomous spiders to crawl from the earth. The beastly Caragors can be devastating in numbers, but sometimes the help of a gigantic Graug is necessary. Skill points are very common, so there's no harm in splurging on any special ability that catches the player's eye.

Screenshot for Middle-earth: Shadow of War on Xbox One

When entering one of the many war-torn regions of Mordor, there's usually a fairly standard process by which the player accomplishes all of their objectives. First off, they'll scout the area, making sure to grab all of the collectibles. Then they'll complete any and all story missions, which tend to involve following an NPC to a specific location while killing Orcs. Although, it's fair to expect a few surprises. Flashback missions place one in control of a younger Celebrimbor, as he defeats numerous foes under special conditions. Once all of the quests are accounted for, then it's time to focus on recruiting an army, for a massive assault on the nearby enemy fortress.

Keep in mind that slaying an Orc requires the bare minimum of effort. They're either too blind to see a Ranger speeding towards them to slice their throat, or too unskilled to win a duel against one. Nevertheless, when it comes to numbers, they do enjoy an overwhelming advantage. This is an advantage that they'll exercise regularly, so try to avoid prolonged battles. Also, there's little if any profit in killing a nobody. An everyday Orc doesn't drop experience or currency when they're killed. Usually, it's best to treat them as flies, swatting them only when they get too close. Of course, there's always a possibility that one of these losers could kill the Ranger, which would result in them getting promoted to captain.

Screenshot for Middle-earth: Shadow of War on Xbox One

As with the previous game, the Nemesis system tracks Orcs of some merit, prompting players to decapitate or dominate them for bountiful awards. Depending on various circumstances, such as the tasks they complete, Orc Captains can level up, making them more valuable prizes for Talion. Each of these brutes is unique in their choice of weapon and skill set, as well as strengths and weaknesses. If one is immune to poison, then there's a possibility he isn't fireproof. Any and all weaknesses should be exploited quickly. As duels wear on, the nemesis will begin to adapt to the Ranger's attacks, making them harder to defeat. Upon death, they'll leave behind a piece of equipment, even if Talion isn't the one who kills them. As is often the case of action RPGs, common drops are scarcely worth considering, while legendary weapons or armour are as rare as they are valuable.

The fighting system resembles Batman: Arkham Asylum, but fails to take into consideration its more refined aspects. There are the necessary buttons for attacking, countering, and dodging. However, as the enemies increase in number, their attacks overlap, creating an indiscernible mass of sharp & heavy objects. Combat scenarios quickly devolve into chaos, forcing players to scramble for opportunities to do damage. A number of special attacks, such as the aptly-named executions rely on meter, which is acquired by landing melee hits on someone. That's hard to do when one can't even get close, without three or so enemies attacking at the same time, all requiring different inputs to counter or avoid. This isn't really a problem in the open-air portions of the game, as running away and taking a different approach is a viable tactic. Furthermore, there are numerous methods for obliterating several foes at once, such as exploding barrels of grog. Destroying adversaries with a single explosion is one of the few actions that don't get old.

Screenshot for Middle-earth: Shadow of War on Xbox One

Where the unpolished fighting system really becomes an issue is in the Overlord battles. Picture this; the assault on the fortress has reached its climax. All of the points have been captured, and Talion is about to face off against the ruler of the base. It's just him, the overlord, and his endless supply of Orcish guards. These fights are positively insufferable. Without fail, the player is accosted by several flavours of Orcs, one or two giant Ologs, and some banner-waving jerk. Whenever a banner is placed, all of the nearby enemies go into a frenzy, which makes them especially troublesome. There are a few crowd control options, but replacements arrive almost as quickly as they're killed off. It's not uncommon for Overlord battles to last longer than the actual assault!

Still, there is an admirable quality to these flawed encounters, they're memorable. They require a level of aptitude and patience from the player that rarely occurs in the rest of the game. Over time, the constant battles, slaughters, and engagements with Orc Captains become a blur. The idea of a never-ending war loses all of its excitement, and all that's left is the usual business. Character progression becomes a hamster wheel. Players will keep grinding away for new and better gear, but none of it really changes their style of play.

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Simply put, Middle-earth: Shadow of War goes on for far longer than it should. By the twenty-hour mark, it has exhausted all of its intriguing aspects and quality content. Afterwards, it's the same old song and dance. Kill Orcs, acquire gear, build an army, and then assault the fortress. Though the scenery and the names are subject to change, everything else remains the same. The sometimes amusing monologues and personalities of the enemy do little to distract from the tiring repetition.

As far as this reviewer is concerned, the paid loot boxes aren't a serious issue. Why? It's simply because they don't offer anything of value. Someone who has played this game extensively isn't going to agonize over the weaknesses in their troops, nor will they consider new tactics for their next assault. This is the definition of disposable entertainment. It's only compelling when it's onscreen. Nobody is going to think about this title when they're in their car, watching a movie, or engaging in practically any other activity. Although, there is an online mode where players can attack each other's fortresses, and it offers some purpose to finding (or buying) the right combination of Orcish troops. Still, the idea of dealing with more fortresses just isn't all that enticing.

Screenshot for Middle-earth: Shadow of War on Xbox One

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Middle-earth: Shadow of War has high production values and is a fun open-world slashathon, but it's stretched thin. The storyline starts off promising, but all of the interesting characters get pushed aside to make room for nothing of consequence. Hours upon hours are lost to the abyss as players engage in a relentless cycle of gear upgrades and Orc recruits. Assaulting fortresses and conquering territory loses its appeal a bit too quickly. The game is pretty entertaining in short bursts, especially when Talion can make full use of his powerful abilities. Still, the lack of finesse when it comes to combat will make fighting feel a bit bothersome. The Ranger is at his best when he's eliminating the opposition with surgical precision, or making use of hazards in the environment. All in all, this title is worth a look; just don't expect to grow too attached to it.

Developer

Monolith Productions

Publisher

Warner Bros

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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