Middle-Earth: Shadow of War – One Does Not Simply Play This App

Nov 18, 2017
Role Play

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is a remarkable title. Imagine a merging of Tolkein’s epic setting and Monolith’s juggernaut sequel to Shadow of Mordor with… Office Space: Idle Profits’ sheer lack of engagement and grinding. Although, to be fair, Idle Profits at least had decent controls.

I chose this game for review because the Middle-Earth titles are known for their high quality mark, and so are Warner Bros.’ mobile games. Injustice 2‘s buggy handheld launch notwithstanding, they put out solid adaptations of their most popular games for mobile gamers to enjoy. Injustice 2 even offered its story mode for us, something unheard of for most ports. So you can understand the shock I felt when Shadow of War was possibly one of the sloppiest strategy RPGs I’ve ever endured.

The game’s design is, in a word, Frankenstein-esque. You have the lane pushing of a Clash Royal-like, but no towers or any real strategy besides basic commands. There’s a team assembling system, including a rough approximation of the domination element of the console game’s Nemesis system, along with slivers of other elements that amount to little more than flavor text. What this means is you can recruit orc captains to your side for use later. The game’s tutorial describes an endgame system where you fight over fortresses like in the main games, but in reality this just means you’ll face auto-generated boss fights that will be nigh indistinguishable from each other. Regular characters, meanwhile, are either one note or ludicrously overpowered.

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You can direct your heroes around the field of battle, but only in a small area, and sometimes they’ll act of their own accord and waste their sole unique power when you were saving it for later. You can choose how abilities are fired off, like targeting a healing spell’s area of effect, but often there’s little need as everyone lumps together so closely. Movement isn’t even so much for strategic planning as it is the world’s slowest form of dodging. In fact, it’s rather hilarious when you see a “dodge” text appear over a character as a sword plunges through them regardless. That’s… a precious moment you got there.

It got to the point that I just gave up trying to direct anything, letting the game sort things out for itself - and often times, it did!

In addition to all this, the game makes Gollum look responsive. It got to the point that I just gave up trying to direct anything, letting the game sort things out for itself – and often times, it did! I’m not kidding. Shadow of War will gladly play itself, which was a depressing realization. Look, you can automate some features, but you have to still engage your players. Removing one element should highlight another. Shadow of War would do well to take note from Cover Fire and Nonstop Chuck Norris. In fact, a Nonstop Chuck Norris style game starring protagonists Talion and Celebrimbor would be a vast improvement over what we’re looking at here.

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And, somehow, it gets worse.

Shadow of War‘s difficulty curve ranges from tepidly easy to spontaneous stonewalling. This typically results from a character’s stats being artificially pumped up. To make matters worse, the rate you earn upgrade items is painfully slow, meaning you’ll have to revisit the incredibly easy areas over and over just to get one of your party to be decent enough to deal with the next arbitrary spike in stats. Expect to spend the vast majority of the game watching low-poly versions of characters, from a better game that you could be playing instead, repeat the same two animations over and over until you’re victorious.

Even the story is a total waste of time. While our heroes return in all their undead, wraithy glory, they’re barely given an introduction. Shelob appears out of nowhere, and suddenly you’re faced with awkward exposition before the game shoves you out the door like you’re a week old newspaper. The mobile game’s story angle is that rather than just becoming the chaotic good to baddie Sauron’s chaotic evil, you need to recruit all the heroes of Middle-Earth to walk in a straight line to fight some orcs that Talion could kill by himself. Yeah, that’s it. It doesn’t tie into the main game either, so it doesn’t even offer a lore expansion.

the rate you earn upgrade items is painfully slow, meaning you'll have to revisit the incredibly easy areas over and over

Every now and then, you see a nod to its console counterpart, even showing part of a cutscene, before awkwardly presenting you with stiff text that will bore even the most ardent fans of the franchise. It gets extra eye roll worthy when characters that aren’t present in the level suddenly appear in story bubbles and you’re expected to roll with it. This is either a result of some post-launch updates or someone genuinely just tossed up their hands at the idea of correcting the script.

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If, despite all this, you’re still interested in playing Shadow of War on your smart device, then you’re in luck because it is loaded with content to grind. Collecting characters. Upgrading characters. Crafting new items. Recruiting your orc underlings. Multi-tier fortresses full of mindless battles to plunge through.  Multiple currencies. Though, even then there’s an energy charge system! It seems more forgiving than most at first glance, but at four or more charges per-battle, only 95 charges maximum, and the game’s short levels; expect to burn through those quickly.

I hoped that, today, I’d be recommending Middle-Earth: Shadow of War to you. Instead, I do this review as a warning. Stay away from Middle-Earth: Shadow of War on mobile devices. Do not pay it a second glance. Do not answer Celebrimbor’s call. Cast it into the flames of Mount Doom, and head back to the Shire.

Our Rating

ProsCons
Attempts to integrate the Nemesis system's mechanics into a mobile game is inspired, especially when traditional console games still have yet to mimic it. Good to see Warner Bros. continuing to try to bring single-player experiences to mobile.A completely missed opportunity. Nearly every aspect is either awkwardly executed, unpleasant, or completely pointless. It makes the old license tie-in games of yore look like Shakespeare.
Rating
3/10

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Elijah Beahm

Elijah is a man who can't stop talking about games, geeky things, and to the chagrin of his colleagues, horrible puns. He's been working as a game journalist for several years now, and in addition to Appolicious, His other work can be found at GameCritics.com, I Need Diverse Games, and The Unabridged Gamer on YouTube. When not reviewing games, you'll probably find him ranting on Twitter, writing, or replaying Dead Space 2 for the zillionth time.

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