Shadow of War and Shadow of Mordor
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was one of the most surprising games of 2014, giving us one of the best The Lord of the Rings games ever while also garnering multiple Game of the Year awards. Its unique Nemesis system combined with an Arkham-style combat system and Assassin’s Creed stealth, helped give the game a unique identity.
Now, three years later, the sequel, Shadow of War, has arrived, but how does it compare to its predecessor? Shadow of War makes a few important changes for a better overall experience, although it hasn’t entirely erased the small issues present in the first game. We’ll take a look at some of the major aspects of both games, and how they compare to each other.
Shadow of Mordor was our first introduction to the Nemesis system, and it allowed enemies to remember Talion’s actions against them. When you killed them with fire, they might return burned and embarrassed, determined to take you down. It was a two-way street, however, as if enemies killed you the game went on, respawning you but giving the enemy that killed you a promotion, making them stronger. If you were even killed by a grunt, this could end up with their promotion to a captain. You could also uncover orc captain’s weaknesses by interrogating worms or finding intel, and weaknesses were randomized just like the orc’s appearances and personalities. All of these features were what helped Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis system feel alive and unique. Now with the release of Shadow of War, the game contains all of those same features as well as much more.
Shadow of War’s tagline “Nothing Will Be Forgotten” actually fits the game pretty well, as the Nemesis system ensures that each action you take against an orc captain is remembered. Humiliate a captain and they’ll remember it, perhaps even hunting you down in an entirely different part of the world. Early on in my time with the game I even had a captain hunt me down and start a battle, entirely due to the fact that I had killed his blood brother sometime along the way and he wanted revenge. Even better, killing a captain or warlord this time rewards you with a valuable piece of loot, and you can also add to this by interrogating a worm and making them send a threat. This will make the orc you choose to threaten more powerful, but also reap a more valuable reward in the end. In Shadow of War, however, there’s much more to do with the orcs that you dominate and bring to your side.
You gain their loyalty by protecting them, forming friendships, of sorts, and by assigning them as your bodyguards. Your orc captains can act independently, and if you don’t protect them, you better believe there’s going to be consequences. If the orcs on your side die, there’s a chance they might come back from the brink of death, feeling betrayed and bitter at your lack of care, and turn against you. The Nemesis system in total just feels far more fleshed out, with emergent stories popping up everywhere throughout Mordor. It’s an experience you can’t get in any other game.
Open World Activities
While the Nemesis system is great and makes the world engaging, the activities outside of that system are a mixed bag. The biggest problem with Shadow of Mordor was that outside of the Nemesis system the open-world just felt a bit empty with very little to do. There were a few collectibles scattered around, but most of the side content and missions tied into the Nemesis system or provided different weapon and combat challenges to undertake. For the most part, it was typical open-world fare, with the Nemesis system acting as the true driving force.
Shadow of War, unfortunately, doesn’t entirely fix this problem. There is more to do this time around with plenty of collectibles, side missions, Shelob memories, and more. Some of these are interesting, Gondor Relics provide tiny bits of lore or history, and side missions often interact with the Nemesis system. There’s also a host of quests that have you playing as Celebrimbor, fulfilling certain requirements in the past. However, Shadow of War suffers from what many open-world games do after a while. Things start to feel like busywork after a while.
There’s a heck of a lot of running around just to pick up a tiny item here and there, see a few seconds of a memory, or uncover one word of a poem that needs five more. The side content in Shadow of War is definitely an improvement over Shadow of Mordor, it just seems like there’s far too much to do that isn’t rewarding enough. Luckily, there is another addition that makes the side content more digestable…
In Shadow of Mordor there was definitely a lot of running around, traveling to the next mission or area. While the open world wasn’t the largest out there, it could certainly get old traveling to and from various places. On top of that, climbing functioned almost exactly like it does in Assassin’s Creed, with Talion scaling buildings, creeping over ropes, and hiding in bushes. You could get a quick boost of speed by hitting X when you hit the ground after running, but it wasn’t something you could do at will.
Now with Shadow of War, however, by clicking the left stick you can get a surge of speed sending Talion dashing like the Flash. A focus meter dictates this ability and others, but it refills rather quickly. At the same time, climbing is a cinch, as hitting X (A on Xbox One) propels Talion up the wall or object, letting you clear giant buildings in 2-3 leaps. A double jump is also introduced letting you bound across great lengths, and all of these abilities combine to make you feel like a veritable superhero in the Lord of the Rings.
These mechanics in Shadow of War feel empowering, also making it much easier to escape from the hordes of enemies that can surround you. It’s incredibly easy to get around, an absolute blessing with how much there is to do in the open-world of Shadow of War. This means that although the open-world still suffers from known issues of open-worlds, Shadow of War rectifies it to a point at least, by allowing you to quickly get to the activities you want to do. Looking back at Shadow of Mordor compared to Shadow of War, traversal just seems incredibly slow, as you have so many more options now.
Combat is yet another section of Shadow of War that’s seen some slight improvements, although it’s still mostly the same. Shadow of Mordor’s combat was heavily inspired by the Arkham series, letting you unleash attacks on enemies and time button presses to counter attacks, dodge, and stun enemies. In truth, if you know the Arkham games, you will be immediately familiar with it. You also had the ability to shoot with your bow and could unlock abilities like Shadow Strike, which let you warp to an enemy for a blow.
Shadow of War simply keeps the same combat base and applies improvements to it. Unlike Shadow of Mordor, however, there are action-RPG elements added in. This includes a new equipment system that lets you equip different weapons and armor, all of which directly affect your stats and damage. In addition, there’s an upgrade tree larger than Shadow of Mordor that lets you customize to your playstyle, whether that’s choosing stealth options or increasing your capabilities at close range. You also have a few new tricks up your sleeve, like the ability to hold down the attack button and charge a glaive attack that hits all those around you.
These small improvements help with the flow of combat, but you will be facing largely the same kind of enemies as in Shadow of Mordor. Orcs, Uruks, and the captains still make up the bulk of your enemies, and they can come in different classes like before as well. There are a few new additions to change things up though. In addition to new classes for enemies, you’ll go up against the fearsome Olog-hai, hulking creatures that require a different strategy. The Olog-hai are mixed into the Grunt Orcs and captains/war chiefs of Sauron’s armies. You’ll also have to contend with dangerous creatures like Drakes, which can be both a help and a hindrance to your army and the enemies’.
Another big addition for Shadow of War comes with its castle sieges, massive multi-part battles that sees Talion’s army storming an enemy stronghold. You’ll be able to choose units you want to take into battle and can head to wherever you want during the siege to try and help your army out. At the end, you’ll need to face down the Warlord in their throne room, in a pitched boss battle that can be quite difficult. These sieges are something that obviously wasn’t in Shadow of Mordor, and the sheer scale of each battle can be impressive.
Of course, the story of Shadow of War is different, it is a sequel after all, but even the way it’s told differs. Shadow of Mordor was similar to something like the Force Unleashed, in that it told an original story within the Lord of the Rings that takes place between the trilogy and the Hobbit. Although its story started out fairly strong, it felt a bit wandering, and fans were generally unsatisfied by the abrupt ending that lacked any kind of challenge. Without spoiling anything the final boss battle of Shadow of War has indeed been improved, and there’s even quite a few other exciting battles peppered throughout the game.
However, there are positives and negatives here, depending on how you view Shadow of War. On one hand, Shadow of War seems much more concerned with its story , taking for time for exposition and setup, and by and large dropping in more cutscenes than Shadow of Mordor did. There’s also more story attached to side objectives, like how you get lore and glimpses of Shelob’s past from collectibles. This does lead to a downside, however, as Shadow of War plays things fast and loose with the Lord of the Rings series.
The game isn’t afraid to take generous liberties with the series. For example the decision to make Shelob a shapeshifter that can turn into a woman. While the story of Shadow of War isn’t going to go down as one of the all-time greats, it’s definitely fun and the pacing is better than in Shadow of Mordor. However, it’s easy to see that some Lord of the Rings fans might not particularly care for the liberties taken. Shadow of War does create an original story within the Lord of the Rings universe and has plenty of lore to match it, but whether or not you like the direction taken is up to you.