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How much are you willing to sacrifice in order to defeat an evil greater than yourself? This is the question posed by Monolith’s newest entry into its award-winning series “Middle Earth: Shadow of War,” a video game spinoff of J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings” series.
The game stars Talion, a ranger of Gondor, saved from death by an ancient Elven Wraith named Celebrimbor. He is the one who forged the ring and gave Talion the power to dominate his enemies. It is up to him to build great armies and face the powers of darkness in a never-ending battle to save the realm of Middle Earth.
SOW is the sequel to 2014’s “Shadow of Mordor” and is, in every sense, an evolution of the previous game. The levels are bigger, the enemies are stronger, the combat is more brutal and the scale of enemies fought in this world is unlike anything seen before in an action-adventure Role Playing game (RPG).
SOW functions as a sort of hack and slash mixed with an open world RPG, with more than 100 skills based on the Wraith’s magic powers. The main tools of disposal include a sword and bow for offense, a counter system for defense, and a dagger for the occasional stealth kill or execution for enemies. The combat in SOW is even tighter and more responsive than its predecessor and truly makes the player feel like a powerful and skilled warrior as waves of orcs and trolls are cut down.
However, the main selling point of the game is the “Nemesis System,” which allows every single enemy that Talion fights in the game to be a uniquely titled and voiced character. Every enemy has the potential to become a powerful boss that can be faced again and again as Talion conquers the lands of Mordor. Due to the sheer number of names, titles, armor variants, and weapons, no two enemies faced by gamers will ever be alike.
The story focuses on how absolute power can corrupt even those with the noblest of goals. The first game was a revenge story, but it lacked a central theme. While, at best, they are tenuous allies, Talion and Celebrimbor’s friendship slowly but surely splinters as they discover more about their enemy and the decisions they have to make in order to save Middle-Earth. The final scene between them in the story is something that left me in utter shock. This is one of the few video games to ever make me feel that strong of a reaction.
Story and gameplay aside, there is one factor in this game that might be a point of contention for some players. The idea of loot boxes and micro-transactions in a single-player game. SOW gives players the ability to purchase orcs and weapons to fill in an active army. However, the orcs scale with the current power level, so they are never under-leveled. The game’s free “Mirian” currency is plentiful from how much spare loot can be sold. Finally, the loot boxes are in no way required to beat the end game, “Shadow Wars,” as many have claimed. While bothersome from an industry standpoint, it in no way ruins the experience of SOW.
With amazing gameplay, engaging characters, amazing set pieces and a memorable story, “Middle-Earth: Shadow of War” is a game that I highly recommend to anyone and everyone, and a game that I know I will keep playing for years to come because it ensures that nothing will be forgotten.