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Game Review

Like 2014's Shadow of Mordor before it, Middle-earth: Shadow of War is an M-rated adventure game that's loosely based on the famous fantasy world created by J.R.R. Tolkien in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. And when I say loosely, I mean there are rings of power and some names and places that you might recognize here, but don't go in expecting a true Tolkien epic.

In fact, this game is closer to an Assassin's Creed type of sneaking-and-killing campaign—with tons of beasty orcs and goblins; dark consuming magic; and lots of black, flowing ichor chucked in for texture.

The Ranger and the Elf

Shadow of War revolves around the troll-hacking journey of two closely linked protagonists. One is a human ranger named Talion, who's been on a never-ceasing quest for revenge since his beloved family was murdered. And though he's technically dead, too, he's kept alive by a spiritual/magical link to an elf wraith named Celebrimbor.

This ghostly creature is the spirit of the guy who reputedly forged the rings of power in the Lord of the Rings tale. And though Celebrimbor is really no more than a power-hungry madman himself, together these two pursue their mutual goal of defeating the Dark Lord, Sauron.

To maintain the semblance of a L.O.T.R.-like story, this game adds in lots of rambling narrative, the creation of a new power ring and the machinations of a creature named Shelob. Now, you may remember this monster from Tolkien mythos as a massive black spider. But here, she spends most of the game in the far more slinky form of a beautiful, scantily clad woman who gives Talion visions of the future while seductively whispering in his ear.

Sneak and Gut …

All of that scripted stuff aside, though, the real, uh, thrust of this game centers around something called the Nemesis System. Essentially the game's primary objective is to disrupt Lord Sauron's power structure by systematically undermining the fiendish leaders beneath him.

But these captains and warchiefs aren't just run-of-the-mill, scraggle-toothed grunts that you can cut down with a single blow. Instead, they're generally surrounded by scores of orc soldiers and bodyguards who will attack en masse. And they are each randomly generated by the game to come packing their own combination of strengths that you must counter, as well as weaknesses that you must exploit.

To counter effectively, you grab and interrogate underling orcs to learn about their boss's weak points. But you can also strategically plot attacks using explosive barrels, nearby caged animals and other environmental elements. Or you can leap around giving battle with Batman-esque fighting moves. And you can also scamper up high towers to take out foes silently with hidden arrow attacks. The death-dealing possibilities are wide open.

However, the Nemesis System also makes sure that your foes have a very long memory. And that's something that can come back to bite you. Literally. If, for example, you badly wound an Uruk captain but he escapes, he'll return later with improved weaponry and the fiery light of revenge in his eyes. And even though Talion will always resurrect if he's taken down in the heat of battle, the creature that lands the killing blow will be promoted in the monster ranks, pumped up with a set of new dynamic skills and a heady thirst for blood the next time you charge in.

Given that this game is primarily focused on revenge-fueled battles to the death, there's plenty of bloodlust to go around here—on both sides. All of your stabbing, hacking, impaling and slashing ways result in lopped off limbs and spouting globs of black beasty blood with every kill.

That flesh-carving and goop-spewing combat is particularly showcased, however, when Talion gets into a protracted battle with a warchief or captain. The killing blow always features a slow-motion finishing flurry that severs a snarling head from its body, jams a blade into some tender-looking facial orifice or cuts a foe clean in half with gunk-gushing glee. And the massive trolls and Uruks aren't averse to grabbing a human by the ears and ripping a head free either.

… or Take Control

On top of that, a victory against a boss baddie will also often give you the choice to mentally torment your foes if you are so inclined. So rather than gutting an opponent on the spot, you can use magic to violently crush an enemy's will and recruit him to your army. You don't acquire his valuable weapons, but he joins forces to fight in a creature corps that's willing to hack and slash on your behalf when you lay siege to your next objective.

All of that makes for a roaring, crush-of-battle trek that certainly gives you a sense of what it might be like to fight on a L.O.T.R. battlefield, to rip open an orc and be drenched in his black bile while he breathes his gamey-carrion last. You even get to see, by game's close, how the corruption of dark evil power can lay waste to one's soul in this magic-fueled world.

But if you're looking for a happier, more sanitized, good-versus-evil Tolkienesque adventure—you know, one with pipe-puffing Hobbits and wizened wizards carrying staffs—well, that's a different game and story altogether.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range







Record Label


Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC


Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment


October 10, 2017

On Video

Year Published



Bob Hoose

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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