Monolith Productions lives up to its lofty moniker by going big at every opportunity.
Back in 2014, it harnessed the overwhelming mythos of J.R.R. Tolkien's universe to produce an epic, branching-paths adventure that transcended both the books and films. The innovated Nemesis system had you forge rivalries and alliances with opponents that would come back to haunt you or even pay off positively in endeavors down the line.
Despite its ambitious reach, Monolith's vision exceeded its grasp, largely due to technological limitations of the time. Now with experience and advancements on its side, Monolith goes in for the glorious kill with "Shadow of War." Once again taking the reins of human-wraith hybrid Talion on his obsessive quest to get back at Sauron, the saga lives up to the lofty expectations left by the predecessor. In many ways, this was the game that the original promised to be but didn't quite achieve.
Although the architecture of the RPG elements can be intimidating, the level design has a comforting way of presenting you your tasks in a piecemeal manor that helps you master them without being overwhelmed. You can go from a someone who has no idea what they're doing to a masterful, bast-dispatching, orc-enslaving ninja of vengeance in minutes.
The world-building aspects come later on, tasking you to conquer the realm by setting up and maintaining feifdoms lorded over by submissive rivals. The game soars higher in its action and visual aspects than it does in its franchise mode-style amalgam, but the total package meshes well and makes sense.
Although weighed down by everpresent microtransactions prompts urging you to cough up a stream of money as continuous as Mordor's orc battalions, "Shadow of War" provides a path to victory for those who refuse to play ball. It seems that you don't need to buy anything to win, although spending big on loot boxes and premium orcs will ease your bath to endgame triumph.
But don't expect to make it to that point any time soon. Loaded with sidequests and bursting with things to do and places to explore, "Shadow of War" is more of a place to spend time than a point-to-point narrative to barrel through. Monolith's realm is even more engaging than the Tolkien books and films that came before, as well as its original game.
Publisher provided review code.