Remember when Shadow Of War was first revealed and it was a pretty cool set-piece on assaulting a fortress? It looked like one awesome moment for the game- action was relentless and the orc interactions via the Nemesis System looks great. And after all is said and done, you get to go in a boss fight, and ends on a high note.
Now imagine that same set-piece, done over and over again, with little variation.
Here’s the thing with Shadow Of War’s fortress sieges, it’s fun, but only the first few times. This is mostly due to how static the whole fortress system is and it is relied too heavily, to the point of using it solely to carry the whole endgame.
In Shadow Of War, each region in Mordor has a fortress where an Orc Overlord resides alongside his warchiefs. The regional Nemesis System hierarchy centers around this and your goal here is to conquer each fortress so you could put your own orc army in control. From here, it’s the standard Shadow Of War/Mordor/Wardor game loop where you can approach the hierarchy in various ways to prepare for the fortress siege. You can dominate the orc captains and have them be bodyguards for a warchief- which they will backstab them at the right time. Or draw out one of these warchiefs and kill them so you can put your own orc to replace him as a spy. Depending on how much (or little) preparation you did, the difficulty of these sieges will drastically change.
Before you assault the fortress, you can buy upgrades and assign the assault leaders. Assault leader slots opens up as you level up, and each upgrade uses the in-game currency mithril. Using the right upgrade to exploit the weaknesses of the warchiefs will help the effectiveness of the siege, but if your orcs are high level enough it should not be much of a problem. The assault then commences, and you have to capture Victory points where each warchief will guard. Stand long enough in the circle and you can capture it and move to the other Victory Points. Capture all of them and move into the Keep for a boss fight. And that’s how you take down a fortress.
Sounds simple, but here lies the problem. Each fortress in Mordor are basically similar (the layout differences are negligible), and follows the same objectives thus making the sieges feel samey. The variety here comes from the Nemesis System, different orcs battling it out can have different results, especially if you sending in low-level orcs to fight the higher level ones. But outside of that there’s not enough of a shake-up to the sieges. Even the upgrades which can be enabled only one per slot, gets repetitive. You’re going to take down four of these fortresses in the main story, which is a decent number, but the endgame is entirely based on doing more fortress sieges.
Spoilers for the endgame in the next two paragraphs.
In the endgame, the fourth act called Shadow Wars, all you will be doing is defend these fortresses. Defending the fortress sounds like an interesting idea, but it plays out like a horde mode. Each wave a few of the assault leaders trickle in, with more coming as time progresses (or you killed all the ones already appeared). Putting the right upgrades is still important. It gets harder if you lost a Victory point (another new warchief emerges). Fail to defend and you lose the fortress. You have to attack the fortress again, but thankfully you don’t need to defend it afterwards.
Now, get this. If doing this four times is a good number in the main story, but in order to see the credits roll you’ll have to go through 20 of these. Yes, 20 times. Each time the new orcs that come knocking at your doorstep get stronger and stronger, which will test your skill, patience, and tolerance for loot boxes. Each time you will be doing the very same thing over and over again. No extra cutscenes. No story bits to interject between stages. Just defend or reconquer the same four forts five times. Each time you will need to get your current orcs up to level- so you will either spending a lot of time sending them to pit fights, duel each other hoping the new orcs that fill in will be up to your current level, or just grab them from loot boxes.
Spoilers end here.
The way the endgame is structured will make sense why Shadow Of War have loot boxes. The endgame is designed to be sort of a games-as-a-service. You jump in a session, do all the prep for the next fortress siege, then end the session once you succeed that. To help save some time, you can just grab some orcs from loot boxes rather than wait for the Nemesis System to repopulate the hierarchy. Grinding XP gets even more difficult as you near the current level cap of 60 so those two-hour XP boosters would help.
It’s not too much content, but it’s repetitive content that also has a micro-transaction hook to it. It makes some sense, but the main problem here is what it is offering as a service is mediocre. It’s not worth paying extra money.
It hurts even more if you are going in blind. The game will make no prompt saying that later fortress sieges are optional content, just late-game stuff for players who wanted more to do similar to a new game plus or a challenge mode. The fact is, it really feels optional. But the game just continues on without making that distinction. Finishing the endgame will net you an ending and a credits roll, but for the amount of time you might spend just to finish the game proper, it’s not worth the time unless you really like doing fortress sieges.
So, if you’re playing Shadow Of War or intend to pick it up sometime in the future: Don’t expect to rush through it, this is one long game. If you’re interested in the main story, it will give you about 30-40 hours of game time, but to see the credits roll will add at least another 20 hours, plus some use of the loot boxes (but not necessarily micro-transactions). It’s safe to call it quits right before the endgame starts if you are short in time and the endgame doesn’t sound fun to you.
Stay tuned for a full review of Shadow Of War soon.