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Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor was a huge hit, and rightfully so! Our glowing review of the original didn’t leave much to be desired. So it was quite a surprise when even my brief time with Shadow of War dragged me back in and had me wanting to play a lot more! I’d assumed that, “Okay, this will be fun. Probably not much new and it’ll be a great sequel.” Instead, you can really believe all the hype about the new updates to Talion rallying troops.

Lets just get right into it. So I picked up the controller at one of the stations around the stylishly decorated locale, The Great Hall, in downtown Toronto. Playing on the Xbox One, my preferred console for Shadow of Mordor, we dove right in. Mandy was playing first, swooping in on a drake and burning caragor riders. We both tried out that gameplay for a bit. It took some getting used to but after a few tries we were casually roasting them from the air. I should note too that you could actually dismount and take on the troops at ground level as well.

I took over from there and tried out a mission called “Trap”. One of my orc buddies was tied up in what looked like an arena hidden away in a keep. First off, these areas are far more detailed it felt than most of the ruins in Mordor. The large town section in the original Mordor is a good comparison but this area felt easier to navigate. This really added to the gameplay since I could sneak through traditionally or I could climb up to the rooftops and traverse the area with incredible easy to speed my way to important locations.

Figuring the direct approach was best I went to run right through the main gates. After a squeal of panic I came upon my first caragor rider. Quickly I looped behind the huge doors that typically protected the main gate and waited, hiding in the shadows. Needless to say the orc came around the corner and looked at me since he’d clearly already spotted me. Having already lost my cover I ran directly into the fray and began dicing up orcs. I had a bonus objective of taking out three orcs with head shots so I traversed to the rooftops. I can’t remember if this move was in the original but you can really boost jump while climbing now. Don’t quote me on that since I haven’t played the original in a bit but even leaping out over the massive courtyards below gave me some leeway using that boost move.

Aiming felt quite solid and I was able to quickly take out a few orcs and make my way into the main arena. To my surprise the mission called trap, that Talion assumed was a trap, was a trap! This MASSIVE orc captain and his little buddy who was also a named villain came stomping in after me with an assortment of troops. I wasn’t sure if those were just stragglers I’d left wandering or if they actually spawned in with him. Shadow of War does a great job of making you feel like the amazing hero of Middle Earth that you are. As usual it has the Batman: Arkham Asylum like prompts to let you know when an enemy is about to deal a massive blow that you can dodge. So I was able to slash away at my giant adversary but unfortunately he had a massive pool of hit points.

Climbing out of the arena and to the top of a small pile of crates I began firing down arrows… that harmlessly bounced off the arrow proof boss. His smaller buddy was probably my best bet then. So as they climbed up out of the arena I leapt down upon him to assassinate him! The smaller of the orc captains wouldn’t have any of that though and he brutally threw Talion around a bit before I got free. A few attacks later and he was going down quite well, but so was my health. Finally, Talion was at deaths doorstep. Much like Shadow of Mordor you’re given a prompt to do a saving move to avoid being killed. This time however you’re not struggling madly to get a circle into another circle and slam the button that comes up. Instead you’re just given a circle that shrinks into another that already has the prompt button included. Not a problem. I fought back and managed to scramble away to recuperate.

Clearly I needed to get in there and make the boss suffer. Hoping down into the arena I finally took him on directly. Dodging between his legs and slashing away at his back was working well. With his health halfway down or lower I felt sure of my victory. Then a barrage of strikes later my weakened health had lead to another saving throw… I failed. No! I couldn’t hog this unit longer than this mission. Well I could but that would be rude. Still, I wanted to beat this boss!

Next thing I know… it’s not game over! The game cuts to one of my companion orcs who ends up either shooting an arrow or throwing something at the boss before he can strike me down. I’m saved! Wait, isn’t he immune to arrows? How did a basic arrow attack do that? A second later my confusion was answered when whatever the projectile was exploded and covered the area in fire and brimstone around us. The boss toppled. Because of the new mechanics of Shadow of War I had successfully completed my mission. How cool is that? It’s not like this was staged either. Just coincidentally I was beaten down enough to see this amazing turn around thanks to my companion saving me!

After that I moved along and let a fellow journalist take over. Later on we had a brief introduction that was then interrupted by two amazing actors dressed as orcs from the franchise! I mean, these guys were amazing. They were professionals after all that seemed to have been at the event at E3 and such, but it was surreal to see them. The cool thing was they hung out for the event too! They weren’t just a “Hey, we’re here. Play our game, yay!” kind of thing. Later on I was actually playing one of the story missions and one of the orcs wandered up beside me.

“Kill the one in the middle!” he demanded, fully in character! I laughed, thinking he meant the companion monster I had on screen.

“Him! That one!” he pointed enthusiastically at Talion, the player character. I laughed again and looked up at him, “I’ve been trying to kill him for a long time now!”

Smiling I just encouraged, “You gotta keep trying man! He’s tricky and keeps coming back.”

He seemed happy and then with a roar he stomped off for another photo op.

It really was a stellar event and considering the decent crowd I was surprised just how much game time we got in. Our follow up play that was side lined by my orcish visitor featured a story mission as I mentioned. Well I couldn’t very well not put on a pair of the Turtle Beach headphones that were sitting on the table we were at. First off, those headphones are amazing! I’m sure they were like the top tier ones and they even had the equalizer connected but WOW! Don’t get me wrong, I love my SteelSeries 3 headset but if you’re looking for an elite package and have money to spend on a quality headset, give Turtle Beach a listen! The bass, the quality, just incredible.

Speaking of audio, the game still has those moments where the orcs like to chat you up. You go running in toward a captain, they see you, and they talk smack about fighting you before or what not. In the original those were fun but sometimes campy. Don’t get me wrong they weren’t bad, but the sequel seems to have a more solid grasp on these scenes. Even the story mission conversations were incredibly well produced and felt more like dialogue from the movies than just storytelling. Every roar feels authentic, the emotion feels real, the actors are dedicated and into it. You can see this even in the trailers which is a credit to the animators as well. It takes a lot to really convey sometimes in video games but the audio was spot on with the action. The quality was certainly there.

I don’t want to get too much into the story mission because it does contain some pretty cool surprises. The initial focus was taking out some cultist orcs around a lava pit. Their leader seemed to be a necromancer of sorts and threatened to bring Talion’s enemies back from the dead. Fighting him was quite a challenge since he would typically vanish in a blast of smoke and reappear elsewhere. I was to take out him and all of his followers, disrupting their ritual. Being released in October and on the way toward Halloween this mission felt the most in season to me too which really kind of added to the oomph of the gameplay.

We’ve known for a long time that Shadow of War is improved upon from the original. It’s hard to believe just how vast the game seems. I tried out just one area and I’m already hooked. The game is just fantastic and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s an experience that you want to get deeply into and explore. Considering I spent a ridiculous amount of hours just grinding against the original games nemesis system instead of playing the story, this is something you’ll want to experience the evolution of.

Thanks again to our gracious hosts at LexPR for putting on an amazing event!

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Written by Les Major