Absolutely orcsome: Middle-earth: Shadow of War (PC) review

by stubat
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I think, starting off this review, it’s a good idea to say if you’re a big fan of Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s lore, try to put it behind you for the time being, because this game seems to run riot with it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I feel it’s worth being warned in advance.

Shadow of War is an ‘Action, Adventure, RPG” from WB Games, I feel the best description of this game, one a lot of people make, is to say that, if you took a pot, threw in the free running aspects of Assassins Creed, added in a splash of the Batman Arkham series combat, topped it off with the grungy graphical style of Dark Souls, then had it served to your table by the moody waiter Celebrimbor, on a plate made from the finest gold forged in Mt. Doom, you would have what has turned out to be Middle Earth: Shadow of War and boy is it a meal fit for an Elven king.

So I guess we should tackle the plot first, where does Shadow of War lie in terms of lore? It sits somewhere between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Our story starts with the return of Talion and Celebrimbor, our favourite Ranger/Wraith duo, setting out to forge a new ring of power, free from the evil touch of Sauron, but upon completion, you find your Elven friend held at ransom by the giant spider Shelob and what is the cost? You guessed it, one ring of power. Talion agrees to give the ring to her as he believes they have a common enemy in Sauron. We find Shelob guiding our hero Talion to various places in and around the last stronghold of Gondor, Minas Ithil, where you’re left to try your hand at halting the ongoing war. As it turns out, war is unavoidable and so is the collapse of Minas Ithil, eventually, you reclaim the ring from Shelob, which is where the real game begins.

Your mission, if you wish you accept it, is to travel Middle Earth, using the power of this new ring to dominate and control Orcs in the hope of building an army big enough to push back the forces of Sauron. There are some fantastic characters amongst these orcs, my favourite being the very unsure sounding Agonizer voiced by Kumail Nanjiani, when I bumped into him on my path to reclaim the world, I couldn’t help but laugh and also dominate him, he’s coming with me. Not only does his voice stick out like a sore thumb, but the dialogue is brilliant, in fact, all of the orcs have brilliant dialogue., it really does make you feel like you’re in a very diverse world.

I bumped into orcs with Irish, Scottish and Australian accents, as well as a large variety of typical English accents with so many personalities. You meet Orcs that seem to want nothing but blood, some see you as a stepping stone, some aren’t particularly bothered by you but hey, a fight is a fight and some want a bond with you, in my case Ogg the Bard who turned up from time to time to serenade me with his axe, no matter how many times I seemed to kill him the guy constantly turned back up. Eventually, I decapitated him, I was hoping he would return, but he didn’t. He will be sorely missed.

Graphically, I think this game is beautiful, I believe they have knocked it out of the park, of course, this is all a matter of personal opinion and in some cases, the power of your computer. The Steam store page recommends the following specs;

  • Windows 10 with creators update (Minimum Windows 7 SP1)
  • AMD FX-8350 @ 4.00ghz or i7-3770 @ 3.40ghz (Minimum AMD FX-4350 @ 4.20ghz or i5-2300 @ 2.80ghz)
  • 12GB RAM (Minimum 6GB RAM)
  • AMD RX 480 4GB or nVidia GTX 970 4GB (Minimum AMD HD 7870 2GB or nVidia GTX 660 2GB)
  • 70GB of free space (Which turned out to be 90GB for me for some reason, will touch on this later.)

The game ran really well on my system (i7 5820k @ 3.3ghz, 16GB RAM, nVidia GTX 980Ti 6GB) with only a few, occasional frame rate drops. Which is to be expected at times, given the sheer amount of enemies and effects that can be present at any given time. On the whole, from general gameplay to the cutscenes, all I can really say is that this game really does look fantastic. But what is a good looking game if it sounds bad? Thankfully this isn’t a worry with this game. They did wonders with the music and general sound engineering on this and while your mileage may vary depending on multiple things such as, dedicated sound card, what speakers/headphones you’re using, in my case, using the onboard sound card and a Logitech G933 headset, it was awesome. It made playing this game a great experience and one I would be willing to put a hell of a lot of hours into.

Gameplay time! Now, it’s a weird one to describe, as previously mentioned it’s like a mix beteen Assassins Creed and something from the Batman Arkham series that they really did manage to pull off well. It’s fast paced if you want it to be, intense if you want it to be. You really can be the master of your own destiny. While dominating/killing orc captains, you’ll be led first to ‘worms’ who will give you information on a captain of your choice. Each different captain has their own strengths and weaknesses which range from things like, *ahem* MORTALLY VULNERABLE TO EXECUTION, or, the flipped side of the coin which is Immune to Execution too, Haunted (enraged by Shadow Strike) and Bestial Frenzy (enraged after killing a beast). Finding out the weaknesses of any given captain is your key to making this journey as smooth as possible AND helping you scout out the best orcs for your personal army. If you know that a warlord is Mortally Sickly, heavily damaged by poison, you know that you can go Dominate an Orc that has poison based attacks, set him up as your bodyguard, explained by the hilarious Brûz the Chopper, bring him along with you and make things just that little bit easier. Genius, right? Well, it’s a brilliant idea, until 4 or 5 of the Orc Captains you dominated decide to betray you while you’re out on a mission at the same time. That makes for one of the most difficult 10 minute periods of playing this game I had experienced.

My only real quarrel with the gameplay is that it can get really repetitive and while that may not be a problem for some people, I did find eventually it got to be a bit of a chore. However, you CAN avoid this by mixing it up, hunt for collectables for a bit to break up the carnage, there are challenges you can do which have some really interesting goals to hit. I think the amount of life you get out of this game is going to depend entirely on your own personal playstyle. Also, I use a PlayStation 4 controller on my PC, but the controller icons are for Xbox, it has been confirmed that this is being fixed in a future update, but as of writing this review, it has yet to be fixed. I found it got a little confusing at times when things were getting heated, occasionally missing QTEs and ending up losing my head. Minor issues in the grand scheme of things.

I kind of wanted to spend 5-10 hours playing this game, do my review based on my initial reactions and see how it turned out, but after 10-15 hours of barely touching the story, spending my time entirely demolishing Orc Captains and looking for all the hidden treasures Minas Ithil had to offer, I realised things weren’t going down like that. It took me 30 hours of gameplay before I got to the point where I could start taking fortresses, which is a really fun aspect of the game, the same as the much more difficult online conquest. It is definitely one of those games where it is very easy to get sidetracked and spend many hours just exploring the world, killing all the things and having a bloody good time doing it.

Oh, right. Yes, this game has loot boxes… Unfortunately, this is a thing we’re going to see in a LOT of games now as the world has gone loot box crazy, which usually isn’t a problem as they tend to only offer cosmetic upgrades, in this I’d say there are times where people WILL feel like they HAVE to spend money on this game or spend a long time grinding. The good news is you don’t have to spend anything if you want to save some time, the option is there. But, my main issue is that this is, at full retail price, as of 27th October 2017, £44.99 (Steam) for the basic edition. Sure, you get a lot of game for your money there, but, to then also have paid loot boxes in the game that can actually affect your experience, not just making you look cooler seems like a bit of a poor choice. But hey, what do I know right? That being said, I don’t really have that much of an issue with it, it’s not like you’re forced to buy them and if you don’t, you’ll effectively get a lot more game for your money, so hey, silver linings!

To summarise, I’d say, for the money you do get quite a lot of game and what a beautiful game it is. I would definitely recommend picking this one up, even for full price which as of 27th October 2017, console prices from Amazon, currently stands at

  • Xbox One £39.97
  • PlayStation 4 £42.99
  • Steam £44.99

At the end of the day it all comes back to personal preference, personally, I think this game is great and If £40 is a lot of money to you, when/if this game goes on sale, PICK IT UP. I don’t think you would regret it. As far as things go for scoring this game, I’m going to have to give it a solid 90/100, well-done guys, really good job.

The TL;DR:

  • The graphics and sound design are absolutely spot on.
  • The choice of fast chaotic slaughter or slow methodic destruction is always nice.
  • Fantastic writing, as shown by the many hilarious personalities of the orc army.
  • Yes, loot boxes are a thing but they aren’t necessary to succeed.

Review by Stuart Hannon

Twitter @StueyHD

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