Features// Middle-earth: Shadow of War - A N00b's Quest

Posted 19 Oct 2017 15:26 by
There's no doubt that sprinkling just a little character into certain enemies can make fights more interesting. I'd usually seen and heard about the mini-boss I was preparing to fight way before we came face to face and while I stood listening to how they thought they were going to leave me in a heap on the ground I was getting pumped for making them eat their words.

It's a system that works and one that I'm surprised hasn't wormed its way into other games. It helps stick otherwise forgettable characters into your memory and the payoff of seeing an already beaten foe remind you of how you killed them later in the game works perfectly.

If you haven't played either of the Middle-earth games then you might not know how deep the Nemesis System is. It's not just a gimmick to make you connect with the enemies you're fighting. There's a hierarchy system here, with some orcs being promoted and others replaced, all in reaction to your play-through.

If someone kills you they move up the ladder. Infighting starts amongst captains and if you're able to recruit someone you can chuck them into the mix. This isn't an after-thought or a cheap trick. This is something that makes these games truly stand on their own and offer something you won't experience elsewhere.

As I've mentioned in previous reviews, having a good hook doesn't mean that the game is a success. The dressing needs to hit home too and it's safe to say it does here, with a little help from the games it's been inspired by.

Most of the gameplay in Shadow of War can be directly linked to other games. The huge crowds of enemies that can be swiped away with ease has a scent of Dynasty Warriors, traversal and the stealth mechanics scream Assassin's Creed, while the combat itself is wholesale pinched from the modern Batman games.

It fluctuates from cheeky imitation to outright copying but never does it feel cheap or a failure. The combat is as good as Batman, the traversal and stealth better than Assassin's Creed. It doesn't drop the ball or feel like a game that takes ideas and doesn't nail them.

Sure, this means that most of what you're doing through the game you've done elsewhere, but Shadow of War manages to tie these things all together nicely while adding its own ideas on top to smooth over the cracks.

There are failings in other areas though, some of which are evident in games that now feel like crime scenes. The biggest of which is jump judgement. In order to make your character parkour around the city, hopping from ground level to top of a tower and onto wires, there needs to be an element of guidance.

If you're close enough to an edge then the game will be kind to you and cheat you onto sticking to it. It's a necessary evil, and though it takes a little away from player engagement it saves on frustration. The problem here, though, is that everything is so condensed. And when you have a plan in your head when approaching a group of enemies, you'll occasionally stick to something when you had no intention to or misjudge the distance by a little too much, making you tumble straight into the group of enemies you hoped to avoid.

It improves the more you play as you begin to notice the game's kinks and adapt to either account for them or avoid them altogether, but there are moments that you simply can't avoid.

There's also an insane lack of care taken with regard to auto saving. Reading articles online that have reported on this terrible oversight it would seem that the game only saves progress on completion of a quest, or when you fast travel. Even then it's not clear that the game has acknowledged a checkpoint and although I understand what's going on by now, there are still moments I'll forget and end up having to replay large chucks of the game to get back to where I'd left off.

It's also far from the most attractive game out there. Understandably so really, when you consider everything that is going on under the hood and how many enemies it can get on screen at any one time but it's still a bit of a shock to see something this far into the lifespan of the PS4 look so average.

These are all things that might have been more of an issue if the rest of the game is sub-par but Shadow of War does enough to leave you feeling satisfied and while I might be well out of my depth when it comes to Lord of the Rings lore, it's clear that this is a good enough game to play without any prior knowledge of the world around you.

You'll still feel a little left out, like a football fan at a board game convention, but the point-to-point moments of gameplay will offer you something worthy of your time.

It wouldn't be fair for me to give Shadow of War a review score. It doesn't seem right personally and I don't think you'd get anything out of a number slapped on the bottom of these words written by someone who has no knowledge of whether or not it serves fans of Lord of the Rings or the original game.

What I can tell you though is that if you're put off by the license, don't be. There's more than enough here to keep you interested and if you're worried that you're only enjoying this game because that thing from the book is in it, don't be. I'm enjoying it as someone who hasn't read past the cover (upon which I judged the contents a looooong time ago).
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