Completed: Middle-Earth: The Shadow (of an endless) War

This is another difficult one. Difficult, because I loved the first game (Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor) and I tried to love this one too. But, it simply did not work out for us this time. And I think this game explains in its overall experience, what is wrong with monetarization and ‘open-world’ish’ game design in general.

Overview

I have played for 71h, with 65% achievements; I completed the main story and the Blade of Galadriel DLC; I started the Desolation of Mordor DLC, but stalled early after approx. 2h, because I was just too burned out from all of this.

Also, I played this game after the big update that removed the loot boxes and currency (deployed on July 17th, 2018), so I won’t comment at all on this. The mechanics are anyway still in the game and give a rough overview on how this should have played out.

Gameplay

The game itself has several Acts, that separate the game, also mechanic-wise. After the very story-driven introduction and the fall of Minas Ithil (Act 1), the game opens up and you are tasked with conquering different regions in Mordor (Act 2), in order to challenge the Dark Lord (Act 3). After the big confrontation, the game continues and follows a more jRPG’ish style of endgame, where you can grind further and increase your might and engage in various increasingly difficult challenges to ‘keep the region under control’ until Frodo comes along.

In retrospect I enjoyed Act 1 the most. There was good story progress, and the sense of dread and pressure, that will befall Minas Ithil, Tolkien afficionados (like me) know anyway that the city will fall and called Minas Morgul later, is interesting and Monolith really tried to fit a nice story into these events. But then comes Act 2 and … oh my… the game looses focus and most of all … all the fun that was Act 1 and even my good memories of the first game passed into a depressing reminiscent fog of ‘But… but… why?!‘.

So you capture these regions, you do your main story quest, side quest, and collect a lot of crap that needs to be found. More or less the same as Rise of the Tomb Raider did, and how they turned the game into an orientation less scavenger hunt.

So in the end my circle of grind went like this:

  • Track down Orcs on your map.
  • Ambush and turn these orc captains into your army.
  • Collect garbage.
  • Upgrade your weapons with stupid tasks.
  • Ambush and turn more orc captains into your army.
  • Oh! There is some shiny garbage, let’s collect this quickly!
  • Move to Online Vendettas and kill more orcs, and get this stupid currency to ‘buy’ more orcs.
  • Train your orcs.
  • Let them challenge the fortress captains to weaken the fortress.
  • Rinse & repeat the above 4-5 times, depending on the fortress.
  • Damn, there is still some garbage out there to collect.
  • Attack the fortress.
  • Do that again for the four other regions.
  • Oh hey look: a fifth region! What? Celebrimbor notes, this region is not necessary to capture? What does he know! (Yes I captured even the fifth one… not sure why I did that…)

I don’t know. I was so bored after completing the second region and when I went to the next, I almost quit the game. I really had to force myself through to the end of Act 2. I wanted to see the end of the story so.. so much, hence I endured – a lot!

Grinding at the walls of these fortresses.

Who in his or her sane mind, would rely so much on their gameplay to sustain this long boringly repeating grind – four times!!?? The reason why I liked the first game so much was its snappiness: two regions and a nicely told and very straightforward main & side stories with limited amounts of what to collect and upgrade for. Perfect: First game 33h, second 72h.

So what happened is, that I turned into a berserk and just killed everyone and everything along. I charged right into groups on my Graug, all weapons and skills blazing, hacked the orc captain down and turned him. Oh, they sounded the alarm? All right… let’s take it on! Then on to the next, and next and next. And still it took me so … so … so(!) much time!

But, when I reached the end of Act 2 and returned to Minas Mogul to start the grand finale, the game – finally – got better due to much more stay focus and guidance. Only to then again stall in a quick end boss battle (bit like in the first game) and strange finale of a story (which is not the end of course). Actually similar to myself, loosing my breath along the grind, the game lost its breath to the end and came up with this strangely unfinished – and not really Tolkien-lore fitting (surprise!) – end story twist. But that was neither expected by me nor dreaded. It was fine, for what it was. And, still a tiny bit of cool!

Cast of Characters

Like in the first, there is a set of characters following you along. Below a quick overview on the main & side story characters:

  • Talion is still a great main character. Good story and reasoning. And I love Troy Baker’s voice.
  • Idril comes across as strangely artificial and I felt very detached from her motivations and sorrow. Too much idealism for the world she was growing up in. This just did not fit.
  • Shelob is so much out of lore, that I really had trouble to actually accept her. Somehow a Yennefer’ish character with a strange and inconclusive agenda. Very poorly delivered with some fan-service along those … legs.
  • I never could connect to Baranor. Maybe also a reason, why I did not finish his DLC, because I could not care less about him. He is just there and most of his scenes are just annoying. Another idealist, which makes not much sense, considering his story background (explained in the DLC).
  • Elthariel is very well delivered, also out of lore, but for her I can get over it. The DLC featuring her is actually really awesome. And Laura Bailey is a great voice actress. I did not like her cape / hood which seemed difficult to place on the character model. It felt off most of the time. Also her alternate skins are just not good enough to select.
  • The Orcs are all awesome. The variety of them is really fun and they all have their mostly unique lines. The Fate system is pretty decent. Lots of chuckling done and lots of hateful emotions felt on my side.
  • Ratbag and Brûz are really funny too. I enjoyed all of their ‘screen time’.

Overall though, I did not care much about these characters, compared to the first game. In the first, all of them were actually really nicely placed and introduced. Even Gollum. Not much worked out in the second part with these characters. Not even Gollum. Shallow, no depth, too much misplaced idealism, and just not much convincing(!) reason for being there and doing things or doing stuff for them.

Elthariel and her story DLC showed the more powerful aspects of the game.

So, what remains is the feeling, that I just invested too much time into this. Neither the story finale nor the DLCs would convince me to actively recommend this game to anybody. The online sieges and vendettas are uninteresting and, as artifacts of the removed loot box mechanics, useless to do.

If they would just shortened Act 2 by one region, stayed a bit more to the main and side stories and removed half of the – often uninteresting – lore objects, Mordor would be a way better place to spend time. And honestly I am quite sad, that another game (after Rise of the Tomb Raider) was over-ambitiously ruined for the wrong reasons. If something is not fun, even high production values obviously won’t change that.

And the endgame grind to the top? One quick thought spent, I really thought: Yes let’s go! Then, another thought spent … ok, but what for!? I do not see much fun anymore in yet another round of fortress captures and orc-captain turning. I had plenty of them already; thank you very much.

A lot of wasted potential and a complete useless mid-game grind, ruined this game for me. Only with exceptional high-strains of – do not give up – I made it through, because I just wanted to see the finale.

And OK, I now have seen it.

I can confidently report, that even for a big fiery eye on a tower, there is nothing interesting to see. Move on. Please … just move on.

The Incompletionist

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