Updated: We've had a chance to go hands on with Shadow of War at this year's E3 conference. Check out our impressions below.
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We’ve known since February that Middle Earth: Shadow of War is coming and from what we’ve seen so far it looks like it’s going to be a stunning game.
As a launch title for Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox One X and a hotly anticipated sequel in its own right, we got a good look at some more gameplay for the game at this year's Microsoft E3 conference.
In the meantime, though, we’ve gathered everything we know about the game so far including its release date, trailers and all the gameplay that’s been revealed so far.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? It’s the sequel to the 2014 action role playing game Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
- When can I play it? October 10 2017 in the US and UK, with a release date tbc in Australia.
- What can I play it on? PS4, Xbox One X, PC
So far we’ve had four big trailers for Shadow of War.
The most recent is a gameplay trailer that was shown at Microsoft's E3 conference. The trailer showed off the game's combat with an orc, of which there will apparently be seven new kinds. It also went on to show how players would be able to establish relationships with their generals and rely on them to direct forces while they perform sieges on enemy fortresses.
Prior to this there was a mammoth 88 minutes of gameplay with developer commentary which showed off Talion conquering an Orc fort.
Prior to this in April IGN released an exclusive gameplay trailer which showed off the game’s 4K visuals.
In March Warner Bros Interactive also released a 16 minute gameplay trailer which talked players through the upgraded Nemesis system as well as the new follower recruitment system.
Naturally, the first glimpse of the game we got, though, was the cinematic trailer that was released in February which certainly seemed to promise epic battles in an expansive open world.
After being pushed back from its original August release date, Middle Earth: Shadow of War will be released on PS4, Xbox One and PC on October 10 2017 in the US and UK (no Australian release date has yet been confirmed). We also know that the game will be one of the big launch titles for Microsoft’s upcoming 4K console Xbox One X so we can expect a special high performance re-release for this platform when it’s launched in November.
When the game launches, players will have the option to buy the game in either standard, silver or gold editions with the more expensive editions offering access to more content including story expansions.
It’s worth noting, though, that these story expansions will be available to purchase as separate DLC when they become available for those who don’t purchase the Gold edition of the game.
Hands on impressions
From our half hour play session at E3 2017 the game appears to have a very similar feel to it as its predecessor. Combat is very focussed around anticipating and countering your enemy's strengths, whether it's dashing around shield-wielding enemies, or parrying the attacks of faster orcs.
Although story-missions are still present in the game, this time around there appears to be much more of a focus on siege missions, where you use an army to attack an enemy stronghold.
We had a chance to play through a fortress assault for ourselves, giving us a look at how the mission-type works, as well as a nice overview of the enhanced abilities our protagonist has in the new game.
A fortress with stats
You begin the fortress assault like any other mission in the game, by approaching the mission start point and pressing the right bumper on the controller.
Each fortress has an overlord, who you'll need to take down to capture it. Before you get to them though, there are a number of victory points, which are each guarded by a war chief. The assault we played had three of these points, but a representative from Warner Bros suggested that as many as six may be present in larger fortresses.
Starting the mission brings up a planning screen where you'll be able to see the features of the fortress and equip your army appropriately. Certain soldiers will be able to break down walls for example, while others will be well-equipped to deal with select enemy types.
Heading into battle
Although our army was capable, their strength paled in comparison to what we were capable of.
Using our 'Shadow Strike' ability we were able to very quickly teleport up to, and take out, the enemy archers - essentially clearing a path for our army.
Having your own army means that you can spend less time attacking ordinary foot soldiers, and much more time on the higher level enemies. Before long we had used our Shadow Strike once again, this time to mount a dragon, allowing us to rain down fire on our enemies.
The war chiefs
Much like Shadow of Mordor, the new game places a lot of emphasis on knowing your enemy's strengths and weaknesses before you take them on. Our first war chief was a bow-toting orc that was resistant to us vaulting over time.
This meant that we both had to keep nice and close to him to keep him off-guard, while also dodging around, rather than vaulting over, him.
Once a chief's health is down to a certain level you're given the chance of dominating them, which recruits them to your army. The process takes a couple of seconds, which leaves you vulnerable to any other enemies in the vicinity, but it's worth it if you want to boost your numbers.
Unfortunately, at the moment there doesn't seem to be any means of giving this information to the soldiers on your side. Once I got the war chief's health down enough to dominate them, they were promptly offed by an orc on my own team. Clearly my managerial communication still needs some work.
Gotta get that loot
Although loot was present in the previous game, it's been much expanded in Shadow of War. You're able to pick up new swords, daggers, bows, armour and cloaks, and you're also able to augment your ring with different special abilities.
A developer also teased that there'll be legendary armor sets which will give you an ability bonus if you equip them all simultaneously.
With a new legendary dagger equipped, we headed toward's the fortresses boss, the overlord.
Getting over the overlord
After so much buildup, the overlord fight ended up feeling a little anti-climactic simply because it was so similar in many ways to the war chief fights that had proceeded it.
Sure, the overlord had slightly more health and some pretty beefy minions, but the fight was very similar in structure to those that had proceeded it.
We spent the ten minute fight keeping our distance and picking off the enemy's health with our bow, while intermittently having to dash away to drain some enemy archers and refill our health.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, the core combat in Shadow of War is still exceptionally solid, and you've got a lot of different abilities at your disposal to allow you to vary your fighting style.
But at the end of the day the overlord felt similar to what had come before, albeit with slightly higher health.
Victory! For now...
After a few more well-placed shots, we were eventually able to dominate the overlord and bring them over to our side, triggering a short cutscene where we emerged victorious from the fortress to greet our cheering army.
Much as being killed by an enemy war chief causes their level to go up, winning battles in Shadow of War causes your army's level to rise. We get the sense that you'll grow quite attached to your band of orcs over time, as you fight alongside them in tougher and tougher battles.
Shadow of War feels like it's retained everything that made its predecessor one of the more surprising hits of 2014. The expanded nemesis system is thoughtfully done, and we appreciate the additions made to the loot system.
Our one reservation was that the overlord fight we played felt a little too similar to what had come before it. Then again, with a core combat loop this strong, this might not end up being such a bad thing after all.
What’s the story?
Once again, players will enter Tolkien's world and take up the role of Talion, a ranger killed by the Black Hand of Sauron whose body has bonded with the wraith of the Elf Lord Celebrimbor.
Having recently forged a new ring of power, this game will follow Talion and Celebrimbor’s original story during the midst of the battle for Middle Earth as they attempt to use the new ring’s power to face Sauron and the Nazgul. Aside from the fact that it’ll follow on from the events of the first game, not too much is known about the narrative of Shadow of War.
Despite following on from the first game, though, it doesn’t look like you’ll have to have played that before picking up Shadow of War as the developers have said that they’re keen for this to be an entry point into the series for new fans.
Gameplay is something we’ve had an extensive look at for Shadow of War both through its various trailers as well as our hands on session detailed above. .
Like Shadow of Mordor, this will be an open world third person adventure though this time it looks like the game will be much larger in terms of scale with more of an emphasis on personalization, role playing and large battles.
At its core, though, the gameplay will very much build on Shadow of Mordor’s gameplay, bringing back the Nemesis system and similar melee combat mechanics.
Nemesis returns bigger and better
The Nemesis system that was such a big and highly praised part of the first game is unsurprisingly returning. For those unfamiliar with it, the Nemesis System was an innovative method of enemy design which involved pitting the player against procedurally generated but personalized bosses who had learned from the player’s previous defeats in the game.
This time the Nemesis System will be even bigger and as well as influencing the enemies you fight it will also apparently have an impact on the larger game world around you so that entire fortresses are molded by your actions as Talion.
This time around, Monolith has said that it wanted to step slightly away from the highly single player focused experience of the first game and create something that captured the epic scale of the battles in Tolkien's world, giving the player the opportunity to be at the center of them.
This will be done through sieges and battles. The player will be able to capture a fortress through instigating a siege with their army and it’ll be up to the player to kill the fortress Overlord (boss) and essentially clinch the battle. There will be many ways to weaken the fortress before attacking it (assassinating the bosses for example) but it’ll be up to the player what approach they take.
A new feature that will appear in Shadow of War is ally recruitment. This is something that appears in many games but it looks like it could offer serious depth in Shadow of War; different allies will be useful in different ways and players will have to balance their benefits with the risk that they could betray them at any time.
These recruited followers will be important, then, as players will have to use them to manage the large armies they build in order to attack enemies fortresses while they concentrate on their own close-quarter combat.
New enemies and skills to fight them
New skills and skill trees will also be introduced, giving the player more control over how they play in this larger and more responsive game world.
As you’d expect, this time around players will encounter brand new orcs and trolls (seven new kinds of orcs, apparently!) as well as new kinds of Garug and entirely new creatures called Drakes, which are essentially fire-breathing dragons.
Players will also apparently take on Balrogs, Sauron and the Nazgul so it appears the plan to increase scale extends across every aspect of the game.