Follow up to Shadow of Mordor the sequel basically extends the good bits from the first one (the nemesis system, the ranger abilities, riding various animals over orcs) and adds extra levels of depth ... and also loot boxes.
The game plays as an extended version of the original shadow of mordor which I was quite a good game the innovative nemesis system adding a layer of depth to the game that made it a lot of fun to play. In Shadow of war they've taken that a step further and added some new modifications.
Each area in the game (there are quite a few so far I've seen four different one each with their own design) has a hierarchy of leader type orcs that runs 4-5 layers deep. Bottom few layers are Captain orcs which are tough enemies with specific strengths and weaknesses. The penultimate layer is warchiefs usually two or three in an area each harder versions of the Captains who have 2-4 other captian type orcs as body guards. Then at the very top an overlord orc who commands that level's stronghold. This is on top of your regular grunt orcs that you just find running around in groups.
You start off knowing nothing about the orcs in an area as you encounter them you learn their strengths (like being immune to fire or poison or arrow damage) their type (archer, tank, assassin, defender, beastmaster and a few others each has it's own attack styles) and their clan (there are multiple orc clans with differing extra sets of traits Machine clan tend to have traps and gizmos they deploy, dark clan have cursed weapons). You can also seek out worm orcs and interrogate them to learn about the weaknesses of various captains (things like vulnerable to fire or scared of certain animals or execution moves or stealth and so on). The main gameplay loop becomes working your way up this hierarchy and killing off or later converting every orc to your side using the knowledge of strengths and weaknesses against them.
Once you get the full dominate power (I think act 2) you can rather than killing these captains convert them to your side. Once you have you can then set them up to do various things like attack other orcs you've not converted yet, assign them as your body guard (so you can just have them turn up and provide extra muscle in hard fights) or go undercover as bodyguards for one of the war chief such that when you attack them these guys turn on them during the fight.
So you work your way up the tree all the warchiefs are yours or dead and then this culminates in a big fight to take over the local stronghold. You take into this battle three or four followers (depending on your level) and then spend some ingame credits to add additional siege upgrades like mounted troops war graugs and other such bonuses then you storm the castle capturing various points and then having a final battle by yourself with the Overlord and if successful taking over the fort and promoting one of your own to run it.
Working your way through the ranks is a combination of mission types either you find the captain in the wild and just take him out or you can ambush him while on some sort of mission (hunting caragors or some such or fighting another captain) or he is at an outpost (a small orc camp) in the world and there is a small mission with some simple objective (kill X of this type of orc or stealth kill X archers or take out 4 explosive barrels) then once you achieve that you draw them out and fight them. There are also instances where the captain orc will ambush you either at random or while you are fighting someone else. Another way that occurs is if you kill an orc who is blood brothers with another then on their death the blood brother immediately shows up to avenge them.
It feels pretty varied and fun with lots of different approaches to taking these guys down, they are also typically surrounded by a lot of cannon fodder normal orcs and occasionally some of the more powerful ones so crowd control and using the environment to your advantage is key.
The fighting style is somewhat arkam asylum an attack button with dodge and counter where you bounce from enemy to enemy like a lethal pinball. You also have various additional skills like ranged fire, a stun, a series of different execution moves that need a certain amount of rage build up to execute. Or there is the stealth abilities you can take out enemies from convenient bushes or from above perched on one of the ruins or rope bridges.
As you go you unlock new abilities fairly quickly that offer additional tactics and then modifiers on those tactics each skill has two or three modifiers of which one can be active at a time. The skills are things like critical hits or ability to ride one of the animals (caragors, graugs, or the awesome dragon like drake) and things like stuns or execution moves. The modifiers often add specific extra effects to skills like certain elemental damage types, extra rage, modifications like the ability to take control of animals using a bow rather than having to be close.
Some of my favourites are the leap from the air arrow barrage thing where you aim with the bow while falling and then time slows allowing multiple headshots or environmental triggers. Or the wonderful chain executions that allows you to chain up additional execution moves to nearby orcs by using focus and hammering the attack button. This coupled with the dominate upgrade can quickly turn the tide of a fight where in one swift move you chain up 4 or 5 dominates recharge your health and convert those orcs to your side.
It's all about picking what skills to use and with what upgrades to match the vulnerabilities of your target.
Each orc captain has a lot of individuality they gain skills as they rank up (by killing you or other orcs) they share themes depending on their clan and class but they each have their own quirks. When ever you encounter one they get a short intro where they say something appropriate to their character (usually about killing you) then you can quickly examine their stats and it's into the fight. They have various states like enraged (they just attack like mad and can't be dominated), dazed/stunned, terrified (they will keep away not fight), fleeing (they try and run off), and broken (where you've worn down their health such they can be grabbed and or dominated.
The little speeches are often pretty fun they are varied I've not had any repeat and some are pretty funny. One I had the orc serenaded me and declared he loved me, another just repeated the word crush 20 times, various ones describe the way they were going to kill me. Some of them seem to change as you effect them orcs I've failed to kill usually remark on it next time, orcs I've killed and have come back from the dead (I assume orcs do that) also made a big thing about how you can't keep them down (they also have different looks often like they've had various metal limbs attached where I lopped the original ones off), I also had one orc where I tried to convert him but was too low level so used this shame ability to lower his level down and he went from this loud going to kill you orc to a shaking nut job who kept going on about things being soft and supple.
It all makes for a very dynamic feeling world, the orcs battling each other and you their interactions changing the playing field. The nemesis system was the best part of shadow of mordor and this extended 2.0 version is definitely still the best part of the game.
On top of the general nemesis melee there is also story missions the first few are to introduce the systems and the various abilites. There are also these flashback missions where you play as the bright lord Celebrimbor and have some challenge to perform with a standard bronze silver gold levels of success usually with three different criteria bronze just complete it, sliver complete it and do this special thing , gold do all the above but in under a time limit or some such. These give you additional credits, then a skill point, then a weapon enhancing rune.
There are also story missions the continue the plot of the game it's somewhat lore breaking. The first one stretched the lore of lotr but this one just goes wild with it, they forge a new one ring (one ring++) and shelob the spider is a sexy woman. And then theres stuff with gondor and such it's almost the weakest part of the whole thing really.
There is also loot various weapons you can get by killing off captain type orcs the more powerful they are the better the gear. You can also do things like send the orc a death threat and so they are harder when you attack them but you get more and better gear out of the fight. On top of this you can add runes to the weapons and armor for additional stats boosts (there are three types warrior/damage, life steal/health boost depending on the attached item, and wealth which boost xp or money gains) these can then be combined for bigger better types.
It has some busy work stuff, each area has a series of towers you have to claim which highlights a load of fetch quests, get all of the quests and it unlocks some additional gear behind a poem puzzle where you have to fill in the right words, pretty tedious.
Once you control an area you can fight your orcs in the arena where they gain levels when they win there are also training things you can assign (they seem to come in the loot boxes so I've only got a few of those via online missions) and you can put in orcs you get from loot boxes into empty positions.
The online component is mostly a set of additional mission types, online vendetta where you load a copy of someone else's game world then go after one of the captain orcs that killed them and win a loot box I did a couple to try it out basically the same sort of thing as taking on captains in your game world except with a load time. There are also castle sieges where you attack someone else's stronghold but I've not tried that.
The loot boxes and microtransactions are controversial but so far seem to be entirely superfluous playing the game seems to give me all the loot and orcs and runes I need and if I want loot boxes I can get them through online missions and the occasional amount of spendable gold given out for stronghold wins. I've heard to get the final proper ending you need loot boxes or you are looking at a lot of grinding but we'll see how that goes. It does feel tacked on. It also has a chunk of content and orc types blocked behind a dlc paywall not sure what a difference to gameplay that makes but feels like stuff that should be in the base game greedily held back for more cash.
But is it any good as a game, it has flaws the story is LOTR fan flick the main characters Celebriboble and Tyrone the ranger (worst buddy cop movie ever) are grim and dull and not very interesting. A lot of the other characters like gondor soldiers or sexy shelob I've met have been 2d cardboard cutouts. The orcs are much more entertaining they have weird personalities and different costumes they feel much more alive than the rest of the cast. Gameplay is somewhat enter a new area kill and convert all the orcs sweep up any fetch quests on the way then do the story missions and finally take out the stronghold ... move to the next area repeat.
While that sounds repetitive and it is to a degree the moment to moment combat is fun and varied with it's rock paper scissors set of weaknesses and strengths. You can take the stealth approach killing everyone or leaping on the enemy from heights or you can turn the set of orcs to your side and have them fight for you, if you do it from stealth the converted orcs blend in until you start fighting or trigger them to attack. There are also a lot of environmental elements pots of grog you can cause to explode or poison to debilitate the enemy caragors or graugs in cages you can release. A lot of the additional skills are fun to do. Riding the various animals around is great racing along on the back of the caragor leaping on enemies and eating them for health or riding on the back of a graug smashing into thing stomping on orcs and for the elemental ones firing blasts of poison or fire, and then the crown jewel riding on the back of a fire breathing drake swooping down to blast orcs with fire or snatch them up to eat or toss to their deaths is awesome.
Anyway it's a game with a really interesting set of systems that builds on and improves the original in almost everyway with a lot of attention to detail put into the orcs and their interactions with a solid and varied combat system with some really fun abilities but weak story and in terms of a gameplay loop that can be a bit repetitive. It also has grafted on annoying loot boxes and microtransactions but you can mostly ignore them.