Really though, the main storyline wasn’t Shadow of Mordor’s strongest asset either, as that game’s best storytelling moments were found in your interactions with its colorful cast of orc enemies. In that respect, Shadow of War takes the right approach in recognizing that the orcs are the true stars of this series and Monolith should be commended for the strength of the game’s orc dialogue, much of which is absolute bonkers (in the best way possible). One orc captain simultaneously disgusted and delighted me with his long-winded explanation of how his body became infested with maggots and how he can feel them feeding on him at all times. Stuff like that sticks with you and it’s fun to engage in combat with the game’s many, many orc captains just to hear what they’ve got to say. The problem is that orcs as a whole are much more disposable then they were in Shadow of Mordor, as building your army and taking over enemy fortresses forms a huge chunk of what you’ll be doing in the game. As such, getting attached to a particular orc is a recipe for heartache, as they will die on you continually and often.
In this way, building my army often felt like a two steps forward, one step back experience, as I would get to a point where I wanted to be, only to lose a particularly valuable orc in a fighting pit battle or rivalry mission with enemy orcs. This wouldn’t be a big deal if the simple act of actually recruiting orc captains wasn’t so needlessly tedious. I lost track of the number of times I would set up an ambush on an orc I wanted, only for a few other orc captains to show up in the midst of battle, making an already difficult battle even more so. I understand that having other captains show up to make life harder for you is an inherent part of the Nemesis system design but when it happens almost every time, it makes what should be a fun gameplay experience needlessly frustrating. The combat system itself is partly to blame for this. In smaller encounters, Shadow of War’s familiar, Arkham Asylum-inspired mix of attacks, dodges, and counters feels well-tuned, responsive and most importantly, fun, but when surrounded by large crowds of enemies — which happens A LOT — it becomes apparent that the combat system is not well-suited to crowd control.