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Middle-earth: Shadow of War Hands-On Impressions – Fighting Sauron

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Jul 12
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Heralded as a surprise hit of 2014, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor introduced gamers to a darker take on JRR Tolkien’s mythos where one man (well, a man and a dead elf) had the ambition to take on Sauron himself. The Nemesis system created a new mechanic where the player’s own combat styles and tendencies gave way to an all new manner of arch-enemies. Not one to let the newfound technology linger, Warner Bros and Monolith Productions have once again teamed up to bring about another chapter in Talion and Celebrimbor’s story: Middle-earth: Shadow of War. We had the recent pleasure of getting a behind closed doors experience seeing what’s new in the works for Shadow of War.

In Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Talion is no longer the one-man army that he once reigned as. Instead, his newfound powers and persuasion are enough to turn minions of Sauron’s army into his own personal fighting force. Having the additional forces fighting on your side turn what was once a singular experience, where Talion would have to methodically eliminate warlords and generals one by one, into something on a much grander scale.

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Before the skirmish that I was both shown and given the opportunity to play, Talion had to use the information that he had scouted to learn more about the tendencies and weaknesses of the enemy forces. This is in many regards building off from the Nemesis system from the previous title, and Warchiefs are among a number of ranks that can take advantage of this. Each category of troop you bring in has tactical importance depending on what defenses need to be overcome; some fights might call for more ranged support to cover Talion’s advances, others might need a more direct approach and bruisers that can charge headfirst into the enemy fortifications. Beyond that, each can be given one of a number of special perks that help min/max that particular unit’s strengths and weaknesses.

Combat plays just as you would have expected as a follow-up to Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. That tried and true combat flow swaps between pressing the advantage and relying on quickly timed counters or dodges. Having pledged his life to be entwined with Calebrimbor, many of the abilities that players were accustomed to in Talion’s arsenal have returned, as well as quite a few new abilities to craft the combat to each player’s personal style.

Early on, I noticed that many of the enemy orcs I faced had phobias regarding fire or poison. This was perfect, as I had just the right troops available to take advantage of those temporary weaknesses. Just as the Nemesis System built upon previous failures and victories for the orc armies, expect to see the same adaptability present itself in Shadow of War. These orcs will routinely return for Talion’s head, not just slain after a single encounter and sent off to the Halls of Mandos.

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Having played Shadow of War on a fairly powerful PC, I could easily see some of the new graphical tweaks implemented into this highly-anticipated sequel. Draw distances and improved graphical fidelity on the character models popped out from the rundown Orcish settlements and strongholds. The game will feature Xbox One X support with native 4K and 30fps; HDR support should be available on all compatible platforms.

The action certainly felt faster from its predecessor, and that could be in part from the much more fluid movement systems at Talion’s disposal in Shadow of War. Through the use of Elven Agility, Talion was able to scale fortress buildings and dash across the battlefield with the greatest of ease. Assaulting a keep can be both exciting and a test of patience as you try to break the enemy’s defenses; being able to dash into the thick of battle and bypass these defenses if you so desire can lead to some pretty quick victories, I’m sure.

Overall, Shadow of War already has the markings to be an improvement over the previous Middle-earth title, Shadow of Mordor. From the increased traversal abilities to having a small army to aid you to take on Sauron’s forces, to the always flashy combat, there’s plenty of reason to be excited to take up Talion’s blade once more. Expect to see more of JRR Tolkien’s fantasy worlds when Middle-earth: Shadow of War arrives on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on October 10th later this year.

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