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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor vs Shadow of War: Which is the better Lord of the Rings game?

The Middle Earth series are duology of games based on Lord of the Rings (Image via WB)
The Middle Earth series are duology of games based on Lord of the Rings (Image via WB)

Games based on The Lord of the Rings franchise are aplenty these days, with an upcoming title by Daedalic Entertainment based on the character Gollum releasing later this year. Another line of games is the Middle Earth series from Monolight Productions, which consists of two entries: Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War.

Together, these games tell an original story based on the Lord of the Rings world of Middle Earth, set before the events of the movies. These two action RPGs were fun titles to play if you were a casual fan of The Lord of the Rings movies, but for Tolkien enthusiasts, they were the equivalent of heresy.

Detailed below is an analysis of both titles as they are pitted against each other in five categories. These factors will determine which is the better Lord of the Rings game, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor or Shadow of War.

Note: This article is subjective and reflects the writer's opinion.


Shadow of Mordor vs. Shadow of War: Finding out which Lord of the Rings game is superior

1) Story

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Shadow of Mordor is the first game in the series that sees the protagonist Talion, a captain of Gondor, along with the elven spirit Celebrimbor, take up arms against Sauron and his forces in Mordor. With a few interesting twists, the narrative feels surprisingly new and offers an up-close look at the ranks of Orcs and goblins under Sauron’s command.

The second game, Shadow of War, offers up more of the same. It continues Talion and Celebrimbor’s attempts to thwart Sauron’s efforts to regain strength. The two amass an Orc army of their own to challenge Sauron’s might, along with another ring of power.

Of the two, Shadow of Mordor will take the win here, as it was the original game that came up with the concept. Shadow of War does not do anything new in terms of the story, aside from a few minor details and new enemies. This keeps aside the title's blatant disregard for the Lord of the Rings lore, which will come up in a later section.


2) Gameplay

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In terms of gameplay, Shadow of Mordor plays pretty much as an action-adventure game should. The combat system was more or less lifted from the Arkham series with a single button for attack and another for a counter. Fighting can be entirely avoided, with stealth being a valid option sometimes.

Shadow of War once again offers up more of the same, albeit this time, it does offer up a new concept. The nemesis system introduced in the previous game makes a return in a much more polished way. In addition to this, the mechanic to command orcs and recruit them into the player’s army is quite freeform and offers a lot of flexibility to the player.

For improving on the previous game's basic gameplay formula while still retaining what made it great, Shadow of War takes the win here.


3) Open world

A part of the open world seen in Shadow of War (Image via WB)
A part of the open world seen in Shadow of War (Image via WB)

Shadow of Mordor’s open world was Mordor, meaning much of the landscape was dark, dreary, and mostly unappealing to roam around in. Thankfully, the game does offer mounts that players can tame and ride, which makes travel much more bearable.

In contrast, Shadow of War opened up the game to another location in the Lord of the Rings lore, Minas Ithil, and its surrounding region of Ithilien. This was a much more lush and vibrant area to explore. Traversal was made even easier with a few additional gameplay features that increase Talion’s movement speed and mobility.

Another point goes to Shadow of War for significantly improving upon the previous title. Its setting and location made it feel alive and that it was truly a part of the Lord of the Rings universe that fans had already seen in the movies.


4) Side activities

Talion and Celebrimbor meet Gollum (Image via WB)
Talion and Celebrimbor meet Gollum (Image via WB)

Aside from the main campaign, Shadow of Mordor offered up a lot of optional side activities to take on. While some unlocked new weapons and others involved defeating certain enemies, many were quests handed out by NPCs around the world. One such questline involved a fan favorite Lord of the Rings character, Gollum.

Shadow of War offers up a similarly sizeable bunch of side activities, which sometimes involve other characters. Players could take on missions to relive conquests done by Celebrimbor in the past or seek guidance from Shelob, who would occasionally call on Gollum to escort Talion to various high-value targets.

It is difficult to assign a point here as both games' side activities are quite mediocre. They are repetitive and get mind-numbing after just a few attempts. Since Shadow of Mordor contains a lesser amount of these and is less mundane, it gets the point for this category.


5) Lore accuracy

The Black Captains (Image via WB)
The Black Captains (Image via WB)

Most Tolkien purists are aware that none of these games stick to the established lore properly. Shadow of Mordor shows the Black Gate falling under the control of the Orcs and Sauron’s army, but that happened years before the timeline of the game. The antagonists of the game, Hammer of Sauron, Tower of Sauron, and Black Hand of Sauron, do not exist in the actual lore.

Similarly, Shadow of War also has numerous inconsistencies with The Lord of the Rings, primarily with the identities of the Nazgul, who are the antagonists. The game also ends with the eye of Sauron getting a flickering blue light effect, a concept never shown in the movies.

So, for this round, the point will be assigned to the game which defies the lore the least. And, in that regard, Shadow of Mordor gets the win. The ending provides a somewhat justifiable reason why Sauron cannot attain physical form, and the antagonists can be waved off as just being less famous.


Conclusion

Of the two games, Shadow of Mordor can be considered the better Lord of the Rings game. Despite its flaws, it's still a great title to play for those who enjoy some fun RPG action and the Lord of the Rings universe.

On the other hand, Shadow of War does feature some excellent gameplay and a better open world. Sure, it has its problems, but looking at it objectively, it's still a great title. However, for Tolkien purists, this game, and possibly any video game or live-action adaptation, is not for them.

Poll : Which of these titles do you like more?

Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of War

504 votes

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Edited by Danyal Arabi
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