A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Middle-earth: Shadow of War is an action role-playing game (RPG) focused almost entirely on brutal, bloody combat involving swords, daggers, and bows and arrows. Talion, who fights the good fight against evil armies of orcs to save the free races of Middle-earth, spends nearly all of his time engaged in brawls against multiple foes, using vicious attacks to lop off heads and other body parts, sometimes violently executing enemies in slow motion. He's a good guy, but his only solution to every problem is to kill the creatures at its root. It's also a hard game, with enemies getting stronger rather than weaker if they defeat Talion. Parents should be aware that while this game originally incorporated microtransactions that let players buy items using real-world money, they were removed as of July 2018.
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What's it about?
The follow-up to Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, MIDDLE-EARTH: SHADOW OF WAR continues the story of Talion, a ranger whose soul is bonded to that of the dead elf lord Celebrimbor. The pair hack and slash their way through seemingly endless orc armies, which are rallying and threatening to overthrow human cities. Action is set on a series of open-world maps teeming with enemies. As players journey through the world to carry out quests to progress the story, they encounter not just minions, but also captains and war chiefs, unique and extremely powerful orcs with specific strengths and weaknesses that can be revealed only by interrogating their followers. Defeating these enemies earns players experience and loot in the form of armor and weapons, but losing to them causes the enemies to grow in power, making them harder to beat the next time they're encountered. Talion's strength slowly grows as well, as he levels up, learns new skills, equips better gear, and gathers new allies, which he can deploy either as bodyguards or as castle defenders. Success depends on players knowing their own skill and ability, learning the strengths and weaknesses of their enemies, and deciding wisely when to take on foes.
Is it any good?
Monolith Productions' fantasy-action RPG sequel is fun but falls just short of being truly great. Middle-earth: Shadow of War manages to re-create the atmosphere of the films (if not the books) that inspired it. Its generic fantasy story isn't that compelling, but characters like the mysterious spider woman Shelob and the likable shield maiden Idril capture the magic of the novels. And the beautifully animated brawling combat, though it gradually grows repetitive, can be an absolute blast, making it seem believable that one man possessed of an elf spirit could counter and carve his way through endless orc armies. The Nemesis system -- which gives many powerful orcs distinct personalities and makes each fight against them a challenging grudge match -- has been subtly refined, forcing players to be even more strategic in preparing for and choosing their battles against the most bloodthirsty foes. And the process of building Talion's group of followers to hold back the forces of Sauron is both complex and rewarding.
All of this said, the sequel carries over some problems from the original -- and introduces a couple of new ones. The world lacks the detail and personality of similar games, such as those in the Assassin's Creed and Batman: Arkham series. And movement through the environment -- including climbing and leaping -- isn't as fluid and natural as it is in those games. It's easy to miss a precision jump onto a suspended line, or accidentally climb up a tower at the wrong angle. The presence of microtransactions serving as progression aids was also a misstep at launch, though this feature was removed months after release following player complaints. There's a ton of fun to be had wading into armies of orcs, and if that's all you're looking for, then Middle-earth: Shadow of War could be one of the most entertaining games you play all year, especially if the designers keep making further tweaks to sand off the game's rougher edges.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the impact of violence in the media. The focus of Middle-earth: Shadow of War is exhilarating combat, but would the thrills be any less if the developers eliminated the blood and gore?
Middle-earth: Shadow of War once incorporated microtransactions that let players pay for faster progress. Do you think microtransactions should exist in games that aren't free to play? If consumers complain about microtransactions in games, do you think more developers will include them to make money, or will they leave them out to please players?
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One
- Price: $59.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
- Release date: October 10, 2017
- Genre: Role-Playing
- Topics: Adventures, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- ESRB rating: M for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.