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Middle-earth: Shadow of War hands-on — fighting an orc swarm in a huge citadel

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The more I play Middle-earth: Shadow of War at preview events, the more I realize how fun it could be, as well as how challenging it could be to play. There’s nothing wrong with a challenge. But the latest gameplay event I attended show me how I’d probably have to fight some battles over and over again.

Now some people probably have no faith in my ability to judge these things. But I played the 2014 game, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, for a good 80 hours before I finished it. Shadow of War is much bigger, and the Gorgoroth level that I played at Microsoft’s recent event showed me that it could also be much harder and more of a time sink than Shadow of Mordor. I captured video of my battle and you can see it above.

The game from Monolith Productions and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment debuts on October 10 on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows. The second in the series to be set in the fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Shadow of War carries on an original story where you play Talion, a Ranger who has become the Bright Lord. He challenges Sauron, the Dark Lord, for the throne of Mordor.

Above: The orc lords taunt you before you assault their fortresses.

Image Credit: Warner Bros./Monolith

While you had to fight orc bosses in Shadow of Mordor, the task is much bigger in Shadow of War, as you use orc armies to assault fortresses, fighting multiple bosses within each fortress. Back in May, I assaulted an orc fortress that was relatively easy to take over. With Gorgoroth, which was much deeper in to the game, I had to face a much bigger citadel and a lot more orcs and bosses.

Shadow of War continues the narrative about Talion, a Ranger of Gondor who challenges Sauron during the 60 years between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Talion teams up with a wraith, or ghost, of the former great elf Celebrimbor, who forged the Rings of Power in an earlier age. Talion uses his own ring to gain power over orcs and get them to turn against Sauron and his minions, instigating a big civil war.

You can build up a lot of powers on your way to Gorgoroth, and I was able to add them to Talion’s capabilities. For instance, I could jump over an enemy orc and then freeze him. He would stay frozen just a few seconds, but long enough for me to eviscerate him with swift sword strokes. And I could build up a power where I could blast everyone all at once and take out a bunch of enemies  quickly.

Above: Drakes keep you above the fray in Shadow of War.

Image Credit: Warner Bros./Monolith

The game still uses the innovative Nemesis system (a hierarchy of Orc leaders that you must dominate). Under Nemesis, you slowly learn who your enemies are by taking out the lower-ranking Orc leaders and finding out to whom they report. Nemesis dynamically creates enemies who remember you and grow with you. Tuhorn, the leader of the Gorgoroth citadel, tells me that he killed me once already.

At the beginning of the battle, I saw the huge trolls with siege engines on their backs. They were firing down from the towers. I fired at the explosive barrels around their necks as they rained down fire rocks upon me. I had to dodge and then I pointed at one and magically landed on top of the beast. At that point, I controlled the beast and used it to bombard the fortress. Sadly, the Siege Beast was wounded and didn’t stick around for long.

Above: Fortresses get bigger and harder to take over as you progress into Shadow of War.

Image Credit: Warner Bros./Monolith

Fortunately, my orcs had broken through the front gate, and I drove to a capture point. Once I captured it, an occupied part of the city and moved on to the next capture point. Only I found that there were many more orcs than I could deal with. I shot some at long distance with my bow, but the creatures just kept on spawning to drive me back.

I managed to convert a few bosses to my side, using my powers as the Bright Lord. But I also lost some of my captains, and one of the orc bosses eventually killed me. Then I had to continue anew with the orc assault. One of the challenges with Gorgoroth was that there were so many orcs running around that I couldn’t tell who was on my side. Occasionally, I went after the orcs who were on my side.

In this battle, I didn’t have a drake, or a small dragon, to help me stay above the fray. In this battle, I probably needed to sit back and study Talion’s powers more to see how I could maneuver around the fortress without getting caught up in trying to kill every single enemy orc.

The PC Gaming channel is presented by Intel®‘s Game Dev program.



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