Breaking my Back(log): Middle-Earth Shadow of War

First Thoughts

I’ve attempted to write about my first thoughts on Shadow of War before. This game blends everything I am supposed to love: RPG elements, with Tolkien, plus a healthy dose of story; and the acclaimed Nemesis system its predecessor both created and perfected.

While the game feels more robust than its predecessor, there sometimes feels like there is almost too much to do. That could be a personal issue, but when I see too many options and directions to run off into, I can easily find myself putting down a game for something more concise.

I first picked up Middle-Earth: Shadow of War when it released. The first game (Shadow of Mordor) was easily my favorite game of 2014 and much of 2015. Just about anything with that Tolkien attachment will pique my interest, but Shadow of Mordor was so good, that I knew I would purchase Shadow of War without much thought for the reviews.

In the time I’ve owned the game, I’ve logged about 15 hours, spread out over three attempts to start the game. Something about it just always seems to drive me away. The first time, I got to the point where I unlocked the double-jump. I instantly quit the game and didn’t pick it up again for weeks. When I picked it up the second time, I tried starting a new game, only to again be turned away about four hours in. I just couldn’t convince myself to play. About a month ago, I again decided I wanted to return to Middle-Earth (after having spent a week watching The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Hobbit Trilogy, and the appendixes for The Hobbit). This time, I was able to get just a bit farther and began to explore the second region (Gorgoroth). Unfortunately, again, I hit a wall with the game, this time due to illness and work, but I just couldn’t get myself excited to continue playing.

Graphics

Shadow of War took everything great about the aesthetics of Shadow of Mordor and improved it. The developers (Monolith) seemed to have listened to their fans and made the game more vibrant than the first. Playing on a 1080 GTX (purchased long before this crypto boom thank the gods), Middle-Earth never looked so good while playing a game (New Zealand is on an entirely different level).

Story

Unfortunately, this is where I’m weakest. I actually really enjoyed the Shelob aspect of the Shadow of War storyline. I find her character engaging and intriguing. I really hope one day I can continue playing if only to flesh out the main story-line.

As for the Nemesis system...Shadow of War followed up Shadow of Mordor by really not updating this system much at all. Monolith spoke of the updates to the system, and the gameplay can at times feel more fleshed out around specific aspects of your nemesis’ (nemesi?), but nothing drastic was changed. I understand that the “don’t fix what isn’t broken” approach is often wise guidance, but I would have liked to see some evolution to the system. This plays a part in why I haven’t been able to stick to Shadow of War, as I had recently finished Shadow of Mordor for a second time before the release, and I've got a history with having a hard time sticking to games that evolve their systems slowly (looking at you Assassin’s Creed).

Sound

Shadow of Mordor probably had some of the best sounds that when it comes to nature and engagements that I remember in games from around the 2013-2015 timeframe. I became engrossed in the world because of how the music and sound grabbed me. I think the music and sound for Shadow of War are on par if not surpassing that of Shadow of Mordor. I thought the music fit the style and atmosphere relatively perfectly, and found no issues with odd noises while interacting with enemy and environment alike.

Gameplay

Combat is even smoother than the first iteration of the series, but I would like enemies to be killed more consistently without needing an Assassin’s Creed/Batman type finishing move. The number of enemies one must fight in each engagement, as well as their seemingly endless pools of health, make the game much more of a slough than anything.

I can’t speak enough about how much I hate the double-jump animation. Honestly, this is why I gave up on the game the first time, and this will remain a thorn in my side at any attempts to pick it back up. The animation just doesn’t feel right in the context of the game, and really breaks the immersion for me.

Final Thoughts

I really, really, really want to love Shadow of War. It’s everything I am supposed to enjoy a video game. Swordplay, adventure, a story worthy of its namesake, fanboy nostalgia and attachment, and good visuals/sound. Unfortunately, I just can’t focus myself on the game. I really hope I will be able to, and that right now (all three times I’ve tried) I’m just not in the right headspace for it. Maybe I’ll have to write another entry (or update) into my Backlog if I can give Shadow of War another chance over the next few months, but for now, I’m content looking at it in my steam library while playing other games.