Middle-earth: Shadow of War Hands-On Preview – A Much Different Beast

Dave Aubrey
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If you’ve already visited Middle-Earth with Talion and his ghostly pal Celebrimbor, you might be wondering what the big changes are moving over from Shadow of Mordor to Shadow of War, the increasingly darker and more violent kind of shadow. Well, the hint is in the name: Talion and his Uruk pals (mind-controlled slaves?) are now at war, and that plays a big part in the game.

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In the demo I played I was atop of a giant fire-breathing Drake, maneuvering him around a castle complex as we burnt enemy Uruks to death. That’s… Cool, I guess? Only, being so far removed from the action while up in the air, I couldn’t even tell if my flames were having an effect.

A change of strategy was required. Instead of attacking from on-high, it was time to get down to the ground and hunt down some Uruks for myself. After spending many hours in Shadow of Mordor riding Caragors and Shadow-Striking Uruks I was confident that I was ready for the task.

Then I discovered that, in Shadow of War, everything I really liked about Shadow of Mordor was pretty much gone.

Don’t get me wrong, everything about Shadow of Mordor’s combat was here, but in a messy castle siege, it acts against you. The fancy moves Talion uses to distract, disquiet and dismember his Uruk foes are all accounted for, but instead I was being forced to use them in a cluster of foes, instead of quietly picking my moments from atop rooftops in Shadow of Mordor.

It all reminds me that, at its core, Shadow of Mordor was exactly the kind of game we’d seen before in the Assassin’s Creed series, complete with towers to uncover the map and side quests - but Shadow of War is here to do something entirely new with the foundations they have created with their previous game. But it gets what was so amazing about the original so wrong.

Here, battle is a spectacle; Drakes burning towers, your army marching forward, gone is any semblance of lurking in the shadows and murdering an enemy captain before they’re even aware of your presence - instead, everything is overt, loud, to be looked at, but it never felt like it was to be enjoyed.

It could, of course, be that I’m terrible at the game; as I was waging war on Uruks, my own army kept dying or quietly bleeding out in some sorry corner of the map - the staff at the demo booth did mention, after several had died, that I should go and revive them, but the game never actually told me (or made it clear) when I should be helping who, or where, or why for crying out loud.

Those moments of methodical murder in Shadow of Mordor are seemingly completely gone in the louder moments of Shadow of War. And with that, so is my personal interest.

Still, that might not be much of a problem for those who weren't that much interested in the stealth portions of the game, to begin with. Shadow of War is out on October 10th for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

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