Thanks to Xbox for the code!!!

Screens for this review are my own from the Xbox One and there's some great Drake shots!

Nemesis 2.0

War they say, War Never Changes. Actually, it changes a lot, especially when you have the Nemesis System sitting there like an Evil Grinning Games Master, rubbing her hands and rolling lots of dice to see which orc is going to do which thing at any given moment, based on just how you interacted with them at the outset. Usually in Shadow of War, it's violence that brings them to their knees and then domination via the power of the wraith or in the case of Shadow of War, a new ring of power.


Allow me to then talk first of all about the expanded Nemesis System in this review, because this is the cornerstone of Shadow of War. Greatly expanded from Shadow of Mordor, yet familiar enough for people to jump right in if they've played the first title.

Let me introduce you to Gubu: the Serpent. An Uruk who seemed decent enough, for an orc. My first recruit with the new ring of power, my first in a mission that was specifically targeted to introduce me to the domination mechanic in the game. Gubu joined my ranks after I slammed my white-hot wraith hand on his face and Celebrimbor uttered the words, "Serve the Bright Lord."

Gubu wasn't the first, but he's important - you'll learn why in a short while.

I should have made him my bodyguard, perhaps that's why he wasn't fond of me. But I chose another Uruk, who was pretty badass. Gubu obviously didn't like this, and the Nemesis GM thought it would be great fun to roll her bones and throw down a little surprise for me an hour of play later.

I was on a recruitment drive, ready to bring more orcs into my new army. I had a Captain ready to recruit, I'd beaten him down to his broken state and I was ready to slap my hand on his face when I get a familiar voice ring in my ears.

"Ranger!" Talion spins around to see Gubu with my bodyguard, knife at his throat. He gives us this spiel about how we should never have trusted him, how we couldn't keep him in line and then he cuts my bodyguard's throat. Do I save my guy or not as he bleeds out? You bet I do!

Only now Gubu is out for blood and I want Gubu's head on a spike. My broken captain is no longer broken, he's got enraged and now he's healing... I have Gubu to contend with, who has poison, and I'm not really high level at the moment, so Talion's pretty weak. What should have been a neat victory turns to defeat, the Captain blindsides me and Gubu gets in the killer blow. He has NO CHANCE, so I don't even get a Last Stand struggle to save me.

Talion dies. Gubu levels up.

I am somewhat irked, my brow has raised a quarter of a notch and I want Gubu's head on a bigger pike now.

What follows is a convoluted tale of Talion's revenge against a bitter nemesis that is the stuff of legends, where Gubu holds a feast to celebrate he's now called: Tark Slayer. So I invade that feast, I poison all his grog and I finally get face to face with him, cut him down.

I notice after this that the Warchief that Gubu was serving is holding a feast to savour my defeat from earlier. RIGHT, time to invade that one and poison all the grog too. Guess who shows up part way through, Gubu again, only he's been rebuilt by the Machine Tribe... ARGH!!!! RAGE!

Three more Captains show up, I get ambushed on the rooftop by Gubu, rip him apart but he's Death Defying now and Talion goes down again. Gubu laughs in my face, prancing about as though he's King Orc. He levels up. Talion returns to life and time passes as it always does.

Gubu is #1 on my hit-list from this point on, forget the rest of the world map.

Gubu is now a Legendary Orc and he's got some sweet loot just waiting for me to pry it from his cold dead fingers.

I check him out, find out a weakness. Hunt him, strike, take him down. He uses Tricky Escape.

Come on GM, what the hell???

I hunt him down again, determined to get my Purple Loot from the bastard. This is it, this is the one I tell myself. Finally, I get him cornered, there's no escape, since he's now trapped without his orc posse or any other Captains to help him. I savour this, carefully rip his health bar to the point he's broken and save up enough for an execution move. Might bar full, WHAM. Talion shares in my satisfaction of revenge, Gubu looks up at us from where he's mewling on the floor.

"I suppose you're still sore about the betrayal huh, boss?"

I beat him in his Last Stand struggle, YOU bet I am!

Off with his head!

Sweet purple LOOT is mine! Thank you Gubu, you were the best Frenemy I have ever had!

That is the best way I can explain the Nemesis System in Shadow of War, it's much more expanded from the first game in every direction. That is a good way to describe Shadow of War itself actually, bigger than Shadow of Mordor in every direction. The Nemesis System creates amazing stories from your orcs interaction and it gets better and better the more time you invest in the game itself. I've had moments of salvation, thank you Forthog! Moments of heartbreak, where a beloved Captain who has saved my ass more times than I can count finally bites the dust. Dush the Unstoppable, you will never be forgotten, especially thanks to the sweet Epic you dropped as you were burned to death by a drake.

Moments of anger, yes, I'm looking at you Mister Betrayer Orc from yesterday who pulled a fast one on me as I was doing something else in the open world.

Surprise when I have been hunted down by a tracker Captain, a ruthless foe who ended up being recruited into my army at level 30.

This Nemesis System is brilliant and even with my time with the game I don't feel like I've scratched the surface of this one.

In the Shadow of Mount Loot

Shadow of War, loot boxes aside, is a brilliant game. It's far more expansive than Shadow of Mordor and that's just the open world, things to do, stuff to find and loot to get. It throws loot at you akin to Diablo and there are various rarities in this action-RPG-lite iteration of Shadow of Mordor. You get Common (White), Rare (Yellow), Epic (Gold), and Legendary (Purple) varieties. All of these are randomly generated and have increasingly better stats.

Rare can be upgraded once, Epic more than once, and Legendary can follow you all the way to max level (60). It's not a case of just paying Mirian (in-game currency) for this upgrade, you need to fulfil the conditions to increase the item's level. Kill x-orcs with fire, and so on.

The Loot also has a named orc attached to it, with a quote. Such as Dush's lovable, "Don't take my stuff, please."

You have gear now, so you have a sword, a dagger, a bow, armour, cloak, and a ring slot to deck Talion out with. These slots can also have gems attached and these gems alter some of the stats. White gems give you more XP when placed in certain items, and red more damage etc, the game does a good job of telling you what gems do what and like Diablo 3 you can fuse gems into more powerful versions.

I have not been displeased with the amount of non-loot box loot thrown at me by the game, or the game's currency (Miriian) which can be used to purchase the loot boxes. Now Gold on the other hand, you get Gold for challenges and you'll get a trickle - usually 50. Sometimes a challenge will reward you with upwards of 500.

Boxing Not So Clever

It's a shame they had to put the loot box system in the game honestly, it's one thing that detracts from an otherwise fantastic experience and whilst I get the reasons behind the concept. Saving time for players who want to just get the cool stuff, they could easily have put microtransactions into other areas of the game and allowed the players to use their in-game coins to buy the loot boxes. Rather than offer that tantalising random OCD loot chest made of gold or mithril for GOLD (aka: real world cash, or heavy grind currency).

Silver chests can be bought with in-game coins, or won via other means (Online Vendettas). I have ZERO issues with that side of the game, but seriously, real world money for RANDOM items just has to sodding stop.

Offer a pack of cool things for cash, aka: DLC and I'll buy it. A set of non-random, sweet orcs, with sweet weapons and gear. I'm there.

Random stuff though, for real cash, NO. I'm not going to buy it. It exploits people who do have an issue with compulsively buying, because hey, there might just be a Legendary Orc in there. Or you know, you could just play the game and get that orc yourself!

I have!

So yeah, for that reason I have my Eye of Sauron looking at Shadow of War and it's unhappy. Until people like me speak up, and sites like Games Xtreme knock a game down for having this frankly irksome real-world for random loot BS nothing is going to change. Honestly though, it's down to the consumer to just ignore it.

You can in Shadow of War. Fail to say YES to the TOS at the start of the game and you'll be locked out from the Market. No Loot Boxes, no issue.

So there you have it.

Playing Orc Chess

I'm not going to hit up any story beats, you can play the game for those. I'm going to talk about what's different in Shadow of War.

Mostly everything. Even the Batman: Arkham style combat system has been revamped. Moves are slicker, there's a lot more of them and whilst it's X to attack, Y to counter, B to stun and A to dodge/vault over attackers there's a lot more nuance and fluidity to this iteration of the Freeflow Combat System. It all comes together nicely and delivers a visceral kind of experience that is unique to Shadow of.

Combat's revamp ties into the expanded skill and progression system. You get levels, you get skill points and there are various skill trees to play with. Once you unlock a skill mod you can freely swap it out, so if you find an orc who doesn't like poison that you want to kill, just find the mod that gives you a poison option and play with that. Same goes for fire and ice.

Freedom of choice is important and player agency doubly so, this game allows for all that and more.

There's a vast open world to play in, each region of Mordor is lovingly created with freedom of movement and maximum orc carnage in mind. Fights can evolve rapidly into chaotic melees with more than one Captain, dozens and dozens of orcs, caragors, graugs, spiders, drakes and more throwing themselves into the mix. What could be a simple Graug hunt could be complicated by lots of random living world factors.

It's great!

There's a lot of open area to explore, things to discover, new loot to get and Legendary Sets to unlock. Then there's the orcs, who bring Mordor to life. Once you get the power to dominate them, things change, you can mess around in Mordor with Orc Chess and life is grand!

Pit them against each other in Orcish Combat Pit Fights, throw them against missions that are generated by the Nemesis System and just watch them live their orcy lives. They'll make their own fun without you commanding them. However, the fun is in commanding them to do things. Like putting one of your best orcs in as a spy in a Warchief's entourage. Swiftly follow that up with a few more and then you're ready for a Betrayal Nemesis mission where your orcs draw out the enemy Warchief and stab him in the back.

If he's too high a level to recruit, well, you can shame him (lower his level), or just murder him for sweet loot.

Win Win!

I had a passing drake interrupt my fun on one betrayal, so I improvised. I broke the drake, then I shadow mounted said drake, rained fire onto the group of orcs and blew the Captain into orc dust. Sweet Epic cloak drop!

I also have to say that the stealth in this game is superb this time around, and the one stealth skill where you can leave the wraith as a trap for unsuspecting enemies is genius!

You can also assign an orc as a bodyguard, summon him, send him to attack people or sneak-stab them. You can do that with Caragors, Graugs and even Drakes. SO much fun messing with the orcs of Mordor!

Fort Smashing!

One of the newest things to Shadow of War is the concept of Fort Assaults, where you can throw your army against the defending army, capture checkpoints and finally take on the Overlord in a brutal end fight to decide who wins the fort. Fail and you can try again, with all the dominated or dead Captains preserved in the world state. You can pick various upgrades for your orc assault force, pay with them using Mirian and you're ready to go. An epic confrontation awaits and if you dismantle the fort's hierarchy to begin with, you take their defences out of the picture. My first fort fell quickly, because I'd stolen all the orcs and made them mine, including the Warchief's guarding it.

My second was the same. My MO is to cut every bit of defence from the Overlord before I go in.

My second was amusing, because the Overlord was not immune to ranged. So... I did this.

After taking all 3 checkpoints in a display of speed and cunning, I arrived at the throne room. Jumped up to the balcony on the left side and dominated all the guy's archers.

I then used Shadow Strike: Pull, to draw the Overlord up there and proceeded to rip him into tiny orcy bits until there was nothing but a broken Overlord. I wanted his Legendary set piece so I killed him for the loot. Fort won.

It's a great feeling, and once you have the fort you can choose who to put in charge of it. I promoted a Marauder tribe orc as the boss, so now that fort brings me in regular cash.


More than Two Tribes go to War

The orcs are a diverse lot, the Nemesis System 2.0 sees to that. They also come from the various tribes, like the Marauders who love loot, the Beast tribe who're really good with Caragors and the like, the Dark tribe and so on. These tribes are great and they all have different things to add into the mix.

Middle Earth Looks and Sounds Great

Shadow of Mordor pushes the graphics on the Xbox One and looks really nice. There's a massive amount of detail across the board, from the environments to the characters, gear sets, and orcs. No two orcs look the same and the detailing is supposedly even more impressive on the Xbox One X. The frame-rate keeps up a consistent clip as you play and I've seen no slow down, crashes and only a few tiny camera issues whilst I've been having a blast with it.

It also sounds great, the music is suitably epic and stirring. The sound effects are rich and varied, the clash of weapons is spot on and it has that Lord of the Rings feel.

The animations are fantastic and there are a whole slew of new ones compared to Shadow of Mordor. My favourites include the new stealth takedowns that are done when an orc gets in range of Talion as he's hanging on a ledge. As soon as the prompt appears press the button, because Celebrimbor will do it for Talion and allow you to remain in stealth longer.

Orcish Lines

Whilst Troy Baker reprises his role as Talion, with suitable gravitas, the stars of the show this time around are the various orc voices and the plethora of lines that they deliver. I've not heard much repetition in the open world as I've been sneak stabbing around. I've had some really chuckle-worthy moments as I've been listening in. Also, Bruz, you are a voice god!

The rest of the cast, superbly done as to be expected. I can't really say much more than that.

Shadow Wars

I don't want to get into what people perceive as a long-winded end game act, where it's been designed to pad out the game, via the Shadow War assaults where the tables are turned and Mordor invades Talion's forts via Sauron's orcish armies. Many folks believe this has been done to focus players on getting better orcs with loot boxes by spending money.

You could argue that, or you could take your time and play the game, level your orcs and adopt a strategy at the end game of: Fall, Retake, Dominate.

Why not let your fort fall to a superior number of orcs, higher level, then kill and dominate the board before you retake the fort again and this time you have a new army of orcs with more power. I'd recommend playing until you level to 60 anyways before you head toward the End Game. Why? So you can dominate all the orcs and enjoy powerful allies that you can put in charge and ensure your forts are safe.

Do so and you'll get the ending that ties into Lord of the Rings.

Single Player with Benefits

It is a single player game, but there are online features. Online Vendettas allow you to get revenge for other players by entering their game setup and murdering the orc that killed them. Do it, you'll get a loot box and the other player gets loot too.

Or you can smash another player's fort. You'll get loot, they lose nothing and basically it's just for bragging rights.

Lore of the Rings

Before I return to the Pits of Gorgoroth and hunt me some more orcs, let me say, if you're a Tolkien Lore purist you're going to find a lot here that you won't like. Some fan-fiction style stuff that Monolith have inserted, though if you dig around the Lore of Tolkien's world you'll also find some references to things like Shelob being able to take different shapes, and well, she's a sneaky spider-being who might just wear a female form to wrap a man like Talion around her fingers and pull him into her web.

That's not the point of this review though, suffice it to say, I'm not too fussed about the lore when the orc chess is this much fun and the game is this much fun! I am fussed about loot boxes and the way they are implemented in Shadow of War though.

Still a Must Buy

I gave the game a Must Buy because of the gameplay, and just how much fun it is. You can ignore the TOS at the start and render the loot box rubbish obsolete or just play for the freebie loot boxes that you get without spending a dime on the in-game Market's gold currency to get the other shiny boxes.

So think of it as: Must Buy with a Caveat.

I really think the game's worth it, so, "Join the Bright Lord!"