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I talked about Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor before, and I quite liked it, because I thought it was a very succesful take on Middle-earth, and great fun to play. Eventually, I also got around to picking up the sequel, Shadow of War. John Howe: Shelob , 2000. ** To start with the least surprising stuff, the timeline is still all over the place, as it was in the previous game. The watch on the Black Gate ended in the year 1640 of the Third Age; Minas Ithil falls in 2002. So 360 years separate the initial events of both games. In Minas Ithil, Idril (again everyone, even Gondorian warriors, have high-elven names!) is told to take some items to the refuge of Henneth Annûn; quite a task, seeing as how it was built nine hundred years after the fall of Minas Ithil. The player character finds artifacts from Rohan in a city that fell hundreds of years before Eorl the Young was born. They even manage to mention Eärnur, the last king of Gondor - who died in Minas Morgul. So, y'know. The plot is also just a complete mess. There's a new ring, but there's also Shelob, who readers of the Lord of the Rings will know as a giant fucking spider, but who is represented in the game by a bizarrely beautiful barefoot woman. I mean it makes sense that she's barefoot, because a spider wouldn't wear shoes, but the rest of it I'm not so sure about. Another interesting character is Baranor, who was the subject of some hype for being the first person of color in the Lord of the Rings "universe", which is certainly not true as Kahliel beat him to it. But more diversity is always appreciated! Now, I certainly don't think any kind of justification is necessary for including a person of color in a Tolkien-derived work - the "all-white" Middle Ages are a white supremacist fever dream and nothing else - but interestingly, there is one in Tolkien's letters. Namely in letter 211, where he briefly describes Gondor: The Númenórans of Gondor were proud, peculiar, and archaic, and I think are best pictured in (say) Egyptian terms. In many ways they resembled "Egyptians" - the love of, and power to construct, the gigantic and massive. And in their great interest in ancestry and tombs. ( Letters , 211) Minas Ithil in this game is quite Roman, but I would absolutely love to see a heavily Egyptian take on Gondor. All obelisks and pyramids and giant mortuary temples. Baranor is also a very proper Gondorian name, which is refreshing. Unfortunately, that was the good stuff. Shadow of War has started taking considerably larger liberties with the background material, and it's just plain silly at times. We learn the identities of several Nazgûl, for instance, and they're completely ridiculous. In general, where Shadow of Mordor mashed up the chronology to tell a story that was surprisingly Tolkienian, Shadow of War throws together a hodgepodge of elements lifted from the books and makes a mess of it. This becomes a problem for reasons that I'll return to. ** As for gameplay, all the good stuff from the previous game is there: the combat system is brilliant, the orc-captains have even more personality, and the settings are very well done. A particular peeve, though, is that the designers seem to have fallen in love with their dialogue: some of the orc-captains give massively long speeches that feel like they take forever. At first, the game is great fun, just like its predecessor: roaming around the different areas, fighting orcs and being ambushed by captains while picking up collectibles, is wonderfully diverting and probably worth the price of the game on its own. What lets the whole thing down are the missions. For starters, there's so much going on and the plot is so incoherent that at times it's difficult to understand what it is that you're supposedly doing again and why. The far bigger problem, though, is that the missions become repetitive. At a point not that far into the game, you've fought the Nazgûl so many times that it becomes boring. You know how to parry their attacks while fighting orcs, and it just stops being interesting. So yes, they've managed to make Ring-wraiths boring, but it gets so much worse than that. There's an entire questline where you fight a Balrog, and it's... boring. There are several quicktime events, a couple of bossfights and eventually a sequence where you fight a Balrog while riding a dragon and it's boring . Honestly, that's kinda impressive. About halfway into the game - at least in terms of my completion percentage - the problems of gameplay begin to meet the problems of plot. The game is drifting further and further from Tolkien, which means my interest in the plot is dying, and the repetitiveness of the missions begins to make them into a chore. What ended up happening is that I never finished the damn thing. I couldn't be bothered. ** So, to sum up: Shadow of Mordor 's bigger sequel is more bloated, less Tolkien, and a lot more boring. There are hours upon hours of fun to be had, so if you finished Shadow of Mordor and were left wanting more, then you'll definitely get that here. But in the end, the incoherence of the plot, the loss of theme and the sheer repetitiveness of the missions got the better of me. This could have been a great game, but in the end it collapses under its own weight. I've understood that there's a bleak and dramatic finale, but sadly, I can't be bothered to find out.
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