Revisiting Middle Earth: Shadow of War

This post started as a paragraph for the monthly recap but it kept growing and growing. Then I found myself with an unexpected pocket of free time. So here we go.

Middle Earth: Shadow Of War is a game I’ve been meaning to give another go for years. I absolutely loved Midde Earth: Shadow of Mordor and what’s better than more of a good thing, right?

So this month I finally decided to jump back into it. You can only have one save file so I deleted whatever progress I’d made whenever I’d previously played and started fresh. Initially I was delighted and really enjoyed Act 1 which plays pretty much like a typical open world RPG. You have a fairly linear main quest line, and lots of side activities. It was fun and I felt like I made pretty good progress.

Talion aims his bow at a pack of orcs
Stealth is easy when orcs are this oblivious

Then I hit Act 2 and everything changed. Now you have a smattering of quests but mostly it’s an open world for you to conquer.  That sounds great in theory but in practice I am finding it kind of exhausting. The star here is the Nemesis system where the game throws various Orc captains at you over and over and you develop a (mostly hateful) relationship with them.  As cool as system is, it can also be rather annoying (to me). There was one orc captain who did nothing but scream these incoherent screams. Just hearing him made me super irritated. I made a point of seeking him out and killing him so I’d never have to hear that scream again. And he came back (orcs frequently come back from the dead, visually mangled but generally higher level). I fought him again, but he retreated. Then a third time and I killed him…but he came back again. All this time I was just getting madder and madder because every time I encountered him he’d just SCREAM that incredibly annoying scream of his.

He FINALLY stayed dead (I hope…it’s been a long time since he popped up) but the damage was done and from then on every time an enemy would come back from the dead or betray me, I’d just mutter “fuck this game” to myself. Every time you encounter an orc captain the action pauses so the orc can say something (or scream incoherently). Originally I found these captain quips amusing but after a while they became grating — they really excel at breaking whatever combat rhythm you may have found.

So I was feeling frustrated, but it’s a Lord of the Rings game so I kept playing and hoping it would get fun again.

This went on for a couple weeks of on and off play before I just accepted that I spent more time annoyed with the game that I did enjoying the game. In addition to my grumpiness about the Nemesis system, if I had a nickel for every time I aimed for one orc only to have my highlight shift to a different orc at the last second, I could retire and spend the rest of my life writing grumpy blog posts. Then there are frustrations with trying to climb a building and instead rolling into it over and over while a dozen orcs beat on me (the same button is used for climbing and evading).  It finally got to the point where I just rage-quit (after an orc captain magically didn’t die when I beat him one too many times) and uninstalled.

It was such a relief to have this game out of my life.

The next night, I re-installed it and started playing again. And it was JUST as frustrating and I cursed just as often. I should add that I don’t normally get mad when playing a game. I’m not one to fling a controller or anything; they’re just games, why let them get under your skin? Shadow of War definitely gets under my skin and I can’t even understand why I’m still playing it.

I’m not even sure I’m making any progress. Whenever you die, enemy orcs tend to level up. In particular the orc that kills you will gain a level or two, but often some others will as well. (Orcs are always going on missions and things, separate from anything you are doing, and when you die time advances and they complete these missions and earn levels.) So while I am gaining levels slowly, so are the orcs and certainly nothing is feeling any easier.

I feel like I’m missing something but I’m not sure what it is. But I also feel compelled to keep playing, and I’m not sure WHY that is!

I guess I’ll report back if I figure anything out!

An example of the army management interface
The Orc army as it stands today. My spies are ready!