More than a full week before its highly anticipated release, Toronto gamers had the opportunity to get their hands on some play time with Middle Earth: Shadow of War, and to rub elbows with some real life orcs. Put on by Xbox and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, the event had the soon to be released game running at 4K resolution meaning those ugly orcs were a little bit prettier.
Speaking of orcs, the night was interrupted by two orcs who had been taking in the sights and sounds of Toronto earlier in the day. While they put on a mean face they also made a few Drake jokes and posed for pictures with the attendees. The quality of their look was on par with the fabulous Thrak commercials currently running for the game.
I had the opportunity to spend roughly 30 minutes with the game and my initial impressions were nothing but positive. The open world had an embarrassment of riches in missions I could pursue. Each mission I played came down to slaying huge numbers of orcs. During my playtime, I never found the combat and the fights to be repetitive as the goals were varied as were the ways I could approach missions.
In Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor I felt that the same enemies were thrown at me in baffling numbers and that the solution to making levels harder was to just add more orcs. I did not get this feeling in Shadow of War. The variation in the orcs themselves was far greater as were their abilities. I don’t know all of my orc hierarchy and their names in the Tolkien universe but I know that I found multiple giants that were several times larger than Talion which was very cool.
Talion’s combat abilities are also far more varied with multiple meters that signal devastating attacks that are available once full. I was particularly fond of Elven Rage which saw Talion enter berserk mode unleashing huge damage to a group of orcs that had surrounded me.
Celebrimbor also appeared to have far more arrows at his disposal increasing the ranged attack options available during combat. The limited number in Shadow of Mordor was a particular sticking point for me as I prefer to dish out death from a distance in games.
Overall though what I found to be the best part of the combat in Shadow of War was the ability to interrupt attacks and other motions to block an oncoming enemy. Many games are guilty of having the protagonist’s animations continue regardless of whether you select a new button to press. Shadow of War appears to have solved this issue allowing for blocking of orc attacks with the Y button even if you are in mid attack with the X button. The result is that you lose far less damage to cheap shots and the back and forth of the hand to hand combat is far more organic.
The nemesis system was one of the most touted features in the Shadow of Mordor game and Monolith has promised a lot of improvements to the system. My first experience with the system was when I laid a serious beat down on an orc Captain such that he as “broken”. By holding the B button I was able to dominate him with my mind and have him become a follower. I could have also decreased his rating or continued our fight until one of us was dead. Those deaths, by the way, look incredibly amazing with executions appearing particularly grisly.
While my time with the game was limited early indication is that the title fixes what was problematic with its predecessor and delivers a game that is a beautiful dance of violence and brutality. I am looking forward to having the opportunity to spend more time with the game to see if my excitement level holds throughout the huge world Monolith has created.
Be sure to check back to the site for our official review of Middle Earth: Shadow of War when it releases for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android, Microsoft Windows on October 10th, 2017.