A few years ago, Geekswagg deemed Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor the Game of the Year. The amazing inclusion of the Nemesis System to an Assassin’s Creed styled clone all wrapped up in a Lord of the Rings package made for an unforgettable playthru. While the ending was a bit of a let down and the final boss a bit too easy, the randomization of the captains via the Nemesis mode made replayability high and battles challenging.

In steps the sequel Shadow of War and the Nemesis system has upped the ante along with the variation of many of the best parts of the first game. Orc types are separated by different tribes which leads to more regular orc variations like Defenders, Hunters, Savages, Archers, and Warriors. These orcs are also accompanied by Ulogs who are large giant like creatures who also have joined the captain and lieutenant aspiration. Each have their own special weaponry and tendencies. As before, they manage to surround and attack you at just the right time when in hectic battles against captains which can be defended against by countering or simply dodging. If these opportunists manage to slay you and move up the army’s totem pole as a captain, lieutenant, or warchief, you’ll even see them gain special attacks like chain hooks that will catch you as you run away, cannons, elemental grenades, traps, throwing daggers, mounts, and more. As you battle them all you’ll be once again forced to make the choice to ‘dominate’ or decimate your opponent as your final blow. If dominated, they become a part of your army and can be told to do a number of tasks from becoming a spy to ambushing other captains to even becoming your bodyguard.

Just as in Shadows of Mordor, captains and lieutenants that you encounter will have strengths and weaknesses. Now, the variation in these lists are expanded to show the tribe the orc is from, some have blood brothers (who will take revenge on you if they are killed), some are specialists at killing beasts, some have gangs of orcs or mounts that surround them, and other traits and weapons as well. Add these characteristics to immunities to certain attacks and elements and you have the potential for a wicked nemesis that can make your adventures quite difficult. Not only that, defeating these orcs will typically lead to a necromancer resurrecting them into a stronger and more vengeful form. The results can be quite intimidating.

Captains also have situations that enrage them. Some may get enraged by fire or acrobatics or cowardice. If these events happen to or around them, they go into a powerful rage that can be accompanied by unblockable attacks, higher running speeds, and powerful strength bonuses. This can make a seemingly easy opponent almost unbeatable if you rely on a particular attack to take down your foes.

This new Nemesis mode includes a lot of differing personalities into the mix as well. Your foes will moan, sing, taunt, mumble, and babble their way into and thru your encounters. Doing so makes each foe that bests you an entity that you’ll desperately want to get revenge on. As in the first game you can either take on the task yourself or assign one of those from your army to do so. The addition of this personality to the game really ups the replayability of the game and keeps the battles fresh and interesting.

Once the awe of the Nemesis system subsides, the issue of battle fatigue and questionable Tolkein lore settle in. Beyond that an even darker gameplay tool looms large as well.

When it comes to how this game progresses, you are expected to battle through multiple cities or strongholds complete with a disappointingly shallow Siege battle that ends with an Overlord battle within their unique chamber. After the third time overcoming an Overlord, the process feels a little repetitive and kind of fails to inject very much strategy into the so-called war you are raging. Once you complete an area, there is little to no threat of losing hold of that area. While there are rumors of adding that threat in future updates, the have been none at the date of this review.

Then there is the question of the significance or even credibility of the lore presented in this game. Staged between the events of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy once again, you now leap into this well documented struggle along with the fabled Shelob the spider who takes on the appearance of a seductress. Her intentions unknown, the whole journey feels a bit untrue to the Tolkein spirit according to many die hard Tolkein fans.

For some, the existence of the ‘domination’ feature in the game is likened or equated to slavery and has caused many to avoid the game outright. It would only be fair as well to reveal that Tolkein’s work has often been debated as racist considering white supremacists often use the trilogy as a recruiting tool. This is done in light of the use of light skinned men as good and dark skinned men following Sauron who is evil. One opinion on this debate is even explained at length by Hugo Award winning fantasy and sci-fi author N.K. Jemisin concerning the troubling racist descriptions and purpose of orcs as a literary tool. Whether bigotry and hatred towards others was his intent or not is still debated and should be considered when approaching this game. Still these demon-like female-less magical creations are without a doubt the central focus of the conflict within and outside this game.

With that said, if you fall on the ‘fan’ side of this troubling debate and the game still piques your interest, the game is without a doubt chock full of personality and intensity. The additions and expansions beyond Shadow of Mordor are well structured and expand the fun of the Middle Earth: Shadow of ‘whatever’ franchise.