Middle-Earth: Shadow of War Hands-on Preview
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War Box Art
System: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Dev: Monolith
Pub: Warner Bros.
Release: October 10, 2017
Players: 1 Player
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Not yet assigned a final ESRB rating.

We were all taken off-guard with Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, right? How in the world could such a generic-looking Lord of the Rings game be so much fun? Well it was and just like that, the apparent Shadow of X became a brand. Now, Warner Bros. is following up its surprise hit with Shadow of War, a direct sequel that is the most sequel-ass sequel to a AAA videogame I’ve played so far this year. With one of the most substantial hands-on demos at E3 2017 (I had to be timed out by the PR rep because there was more demo than time), Shadow of War showed me that sometimes when a game is successful, doing the same thing but on a much larger scale can be a reasonable approach.

The Shadow of War demo started exactly as you might have expected. You're dropped down into the war-torn Tolkien wilderness, there's an enormous map, and it’s covered in waypoints and bad guys. In particular, the demo drops you right in front of an enormous fortress and immediately tempts you with one of its new types of scenarios. In it, you essentially put your army against the orcs inside the building you're assaulting, seeking to capture points and perhaps a few new allies along the way.

It's overwhelming! Shadow of War was a more intimate affair; while you did attack encampments and the like, it was you against the world. Now you're a general on a battlefield, and chaos erupts all around you as you scramble to get your bearings, find your goals and tell the difference between your army and the enemy.

Before the fight, I got a glimpse at some of the different upgrade menus that will be littered across Shadow of War’s various events. This game seems super menu-heavy, especially now that you have allies. You can bring a handful of people into a fight with you, assign them roles based on their individual strengths, and equip each one with a single power-up.


New also to Shadow of War is a new rank in the opposition, higher than the previous game’s power ceiling. This was where the brunt of the most recent trailer for the game comes from, demonstrating its new sense of personality. As the battle starts to get going, the enemy leader will come out and yell at you for what, in this case, felt like ages. But in a good way, because the orc’s cartoonish ranting and raving was comically hyperbolic. Your allies respond in turn, and the battle begins.

Immediately, the screen explodes. How the action manages to continue to run in a stable manner is an impressive feat. Fortresses have different kinds of defenses, from poisonous liquids gushing from windows to archers and new, giant enemy types that hurl explosives from the tops of towers. Now, this sounds like and is a lot to deal with, but that's where one of the new tools comes into play - recruitment.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War Screenshot

Before, using your supernatural powers was primarily offensive - an alternate type of damage that fed into Shadow of Mordor’s nuance-based systems. Now, in addition to draining health or taking advantage of certain weaknesses, you can also use that power set to… coerce an enemy to your side. You can do this to regular enemies to have them fight for you in a scrap, or you can do it to named enemies and if successful, have them defect over to your army.

It's a little off-putting in a thematic sense. Much of the branding and marketing has referred to it as enslavement, and in the game you appear to be manipulating enemies to join you with brainwashing. It's hard to look at them as allies and yourself as a hero when you're forcing baddies to join your forces against their will.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War Screenshot

That said, it's a neat system in terms of taking what was present in the first game and adding to it on the top - and that's the name of the game here. Everything you'd expect to be here is present, and there's probably something new slapped on top of it. Even your abilities have been enhanced, including a super handy new double jump that, in a brief stealth section I played after the fortress battle, made getting around quickly and efficiently so much better.

Shadow of Mordor was not a game I expected to enjoy when it came or, but I did, a lot. Shadow of War is a game I expected to enjoy, but not to the same extent. These games are tiring, and the lore-heavy Tolkien style doesn't do much for me. That said, seeing the orc leaders yammering and grandstanding put a new smile on my face, and exploring the new mechanics and scenarios made it almost as compelling as playing the first game for the first time. Whether the full game endures as much remains to be seen, but as far as first impressions go, I'm ready for more Shadow of War.

Lucas White
Contributing Writer
Date: 06/21/2017

Game Features:

  • Immerse yourself in the epic scale of Middle-Earth as you forge a new ring and siege epic fortresses to face the Dark Lord and Nazgul.
  • Experience a richer and more personal world full of new enemy types, stronger personalities and deeper stories-anyone you face can now evolve from a lowly soldier to a mighty overlord. Personal nemesis or ally.
  • Go behind enemy lines and use strategy, cunning or brute force to conquer Sauron's fortresses and turn them against him.

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