Warner Bros. Interactive and Monolith have re-released the second instalment of their Lord of the Rings game series, Shadow of War, in a new Definitive Edition. We were quite impressed with the vanilla version of the game, but with the Definitive Edition, it packs in all the paid DLC and free updates, but with one major change.
A Barren Wasteland, Riddled with Fire, Ash, and Dust
And that major change is the removal of all the microtransactions. This was actually done back in May and July of this year, after the huge furore over loot boxes and similar predatory practices from many big-name games, most notably EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II. Having not played Shadow of War previously, the very first thing that came up (after the various company logos) was a note from developer Monolith about how the gold, War Chests, and the Market had been permanently removed from the game.
The free updates that came in the wake of the microtransaction removal were tweaks to the Shadow Wars portion of the game, in which Sauron’s forces attack your various fortresses, and the Nemesis System, in which Orc captains that you fight and/or kill and/or flee from and/or die against remembering you when next they encounter you in the world (sometimes even actively hunting you and ambushing you when you’re busy trying to kill another orc captain). There were also some new skins, skill tree additions, gear system upgrades, and progression updates.
The main campaign in the game is an interesting addition to the Middle-earth mythos. You play as the ranger Talion, who has the ringmaker elf wraith Celebrimbor (pronounced “keleˈbrimbor”) piggybacking on his soul. Celebrimbor lends Talion his cool wraith powers as well as fashions a New Ring to get even more cool powers.
The game plays like a fairly standard RPG, with XP and skill points to be gained, as well as better weapons and armour. The truly revolutionary bit is the previously mentioned Nemesis system. Because Talion cannot die, every player death is treated as part of the story, with the Orc who killed you gaining prestige and levels, and taunting you with that death the next time you face him.
It can get quite samey, however. You spend most of your time killing orcs, or dominating them with the New Ring to fight on your side, and taking over fortresses across Mordor. And you have to do this like four times. And then Sauron’s forces try to retake the fortresses, so you end up spending a lot of time taking and defending and re-taking fortresses (especially in the Shadow Wars portions at the end). You can ignore these bits, and just do the main story missions instead, but not taking and defending your forts means you don’t get to unlock the “true ending”.
Elven Assassins, Soldiers of Gondor, and Outlaw Orcs
The Definitive Edition contains all the paid DLC as well, the meatiest of which are the two campaigns: Blade of Galadriel, featuring elven assassin Eltariel, and Desolation of Mordor, featuring Gondorian captain Baranor.
The Blade of Galadriel actually plays fairly similarly to the main campaign, the only difference being that Eltariel will not dominate Orcs. Instead, she does some missions for already pretty friendly ones in order to get them on her side. She also has the Light of Galadriel, which infuses Orcs with light, and then blows them up. It takes about five hours to see everything it has to offer, so it’s a fairly short campaign that really is just mostly more of the same. You battle Orcs and take fortresses in the same locations as the main campaign. The only real difference is that Eltariel also has some optional bosses that have some high-powered armour and weapons left behind by other elves killed in Mordor, but these bosses end up being fairly easy to beat, as you can just spam most of them with blade slashes, light blasts, or arrows.
Desolation of Mordor, on the other hand, is quite different. As Baranor has no Ring of Power or Light of Galadriel, he doesn’t have any of the cool powers that Talion and Eltariel do. He is just a regular person, so all his upgrades come from Númenórean artefacts strewn across the deserts of Lithlad, a new location (which is also playable in the main campaign, but only after installing this DLC). Once you find an artefact, you have to take it to the dwarf Torvin, who will upgrade your shield, gauntlet, grapple, and kite. It’s those last two that really change up traversal, as you can use the grapple to quickly reach the top of buildings, outcrops, and mountains, and the kite to leisurely sail across the sky to your next destination without accidentally drawing the ire of the were-wyrms (aka the sandworms of Arrakis).
As Baranor you have to hire mercenaries with coin, take various Orc outposts, and then take the main fortress, but because Baranor is a regular person, death means a resetting of these things. You get to keep your upgrades and any story missions you’ve done remain done, but your gold, hired mercenaries, Orc captains killed, and outposts taken, all reset as if you were just starting the campaign again. It’s an interesting concept, but it could become frustrating if you die after hiring a bunch of mercenaries and taking a bunch of forts.
The last bit of DLC concerns two new tribes: the Slaughter Tribe and the Outlaw Tribe. They are new types of Orcs that mean some of the tried-and-true methods of dispatching them will not work as well. There are a bunch of new Outlaw and Slaughter missions strewn across the main campaign map that basically just mean more Orc captains to kill or dominate.
The Third Age
Shadow of War’s story takes place between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (and after Shadow of Mordor, obvi), but draws a lot from The Silmarillion, so Tolkien nerds will have a lot of fun. The various Gondorian Artifacts, Shelob Memories, and Shadows of the Past missions to collect and do add to the background of the stories. A favourite collectable is the Ithildin, elven words that open Ithildin doors that are otherwise inaccessible. In order to open the doors, you have to engage in a bit of elven poetry, which finally saw the use of a Literature degree to a certain extent.
All in all, Middle-earth: Shadow of War Definitive Edition adds even more content to an already fun enough open-world RPG, albeit with a repetitive nature. If you have already experienced the base game, the DLC does not really change up the formula with the slight exception of Desolation of Mordor. However, if the meta-battle between you and the Orcs is an attractive prospect, the Definitive Edition is a great way to augment that experience once more.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Fans of Tolkien will definitely want to give Middle-earth: Shadow of War Definitive Edition a try if they missed it the first time, especially now that the microtransactions have been permanently taken out. Just understand that the game might become fairly repetitive after the second or third location.
Gameplay - 7/10
Story - 8/10
Presentation - 7/10
Value - 5/10