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'Middle-Earth: Shadow Of War' Is A Fresh Take On Tolkien

'Middle-Earth: Shadow Of War' Is A Fresh Take On Tolkien
From Uproxx - October 13, 2017

The Lord Of The Rings isnt interested in moral greys. Either youre a noble Ranger or a filthy Orc. Gandalf or Saruman. It doesnt really leave the franchise with many interesting places to go, or so youd think. But a video game, of all things, is proving that Middle-Earth can use some murky ground.

Middle-Earth: Shadow Of War ($60, PS4, Xbox One and PC, out now) is, as a game, largely a refinement and expansion of the superb first game. You play Talion, an undead Ranger uncomfortably hosting the spirit of the elf Celebimbor. Celebimbor, as Tolkien nerds know, forged all those pesky rings, and at the end of the first game, Talion and Celebimbor decided they were going to forge a new One Ring, one without all the evil.

You do this by infiltrating Mordor, killing or enslaving Orc chieftains and slowly undercutting Saurons power base. The gameplay itself is a mix of Assassins Creed style sneaking and stabbing, Batman: Arkham dodging and punching, and open-world collectible hunting. And its more than capable and fun on that level; you quickly collect skill points to upgrade your abilities, and the simple combat controls make jumping into a squad of orcs a blast.

But the real selling point is the orcs when youre not fighting them. The game uses procedural generation to come up with a ridiculous mix of orcs with various characters and personalities, from the brash to the whiny. Literally; one Orc we found in our playthrough was dubbed The Complainer, and he lived up to the name.

The idea is that as you play, these orcs become distinct rivals, even nemeses. If they kill you, they rise in the ranks, and theyll make fun of you for sucking the next time you meet them. And if you beat them and they somehow manage to survive, they come back, ticked off and ready for a fight.

An absurd amount of time goes into making the Orcs characters in their own right. As you sneak through the game, you can hear them gripe about work, make fun of their bosses, comment on events in the game, and whine about the grog. They even have accidents on the job:

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