Warner Bros. International Enterprises has a mobile version of Middle-earth: Shadow of War that is currently available on the Play Store for pre-registration. Luckily I have gotten my hands on an APK and have sideloaded the game in order to let all of you know how it plays in advance of the title's release.
To begin with, I would like to clear up any misconceptions about this game's title. Its upcoming Android release is in no way a port of the console and PC versions that just so happen to go by the exact same name. Obviously, the console version would be too demanding, even for our best Android devices. You see, what this mobile version of Middle-earth: Shadow of War actually offers is plenty of free-to-play nonsense, such as gacha hero collection, wait timers, and many expensive in-app purchases. Mostly it exists as a free advertisement for the upcoming console release that also doubles as an incredibly easy way for Warner Bros. to earn money from the hordes of casual mobile gamers. That is right, instead of the free content Warner Bros. used to offer on the Play Store to promote their properties, they can now use an all too familiar cut and paste format to produce a cheap free-to-play clone that ultimately achieves the same goal. Which of course makes sense, but still sucks for us. Somehow I doubt Warner Bros. cares.
Despite the obvious cash-in I am here to break down all of the specifics of the upcoming Android release for Middle-earth: Shadow of War, as promised. First I would like to cover the main gameplay mechanics. Mainly you will be fighting your way through hordes of Orcs with a team of four characters where the goal is to make your way up a tower of missions and boss fights. These characters can, of course, be upgraded as well as swapped out with new ones you unlock or purchase. This gives you a lot of options as to whom you want on your team and what type of fighting style works best for you. Some characters will be healers or magicians, while others are fighters. Heck, you can even add in a captured Orc to your team as a limited fifth teammate. As you take on the game's missions, your team will run down a corridor while fighting a plethora of enemies. This is the meat of the gameplay, but it becomes pretty stale pretty quick, as you will do it over and over again while you make your way up the tower. I suppose that is why there is an auto battle button included, as who wants to slog through these battles manually?
That is also why it is a good thing that there is plenty of other content to explore. Err, well there should be a lot more content to explore when Middle-earth: Shadow of War officially releases, as the game's events, as well as other content, are all marked as "coming soon." I would imagine when these things do go live they will play a lot like events you see in other hero collection games, giving you a chance to unlock special heroes or experience seasonal content.
The next thing I would like to cover is the presentation. So far I have a few quibbles to express. The first thing you will notice when you open the game is that the cinematic plays in portrait view. The thing is, they are tiny on the screen, only sitting in the very middle, leaving a ton of black space above and below the video. They also play at a pretty low resolution, where you see plenty of pixelation in the picture. Luckily the sound is top notch during these cinematics, as well as the rest of the game. When it comes to the graphics, they are actually presented in a pleasurable fashion, with your heroes, as well as the enemy Orcs, looking fantastic on your screen.
Of course, the menu system leaves a lot to be desired, like most collection games. It will take you a while to figure out where every menu you need to access is located, but luckily the tutorial walks you through the majority of it competently. This does mean the tutorial is pretty long, but it at least does not lock you in, as you can complete most actions as you wish. Overall it is a mix of good graphics and great sound, all wrapped up in your standard free-to-play collection game menu system.
While most things have been hit or miss so far, there is something I would like to congratulate Warner Bros. on. Google Play Games is already supported, and it includes cloud saving, achievements, and leaderboards. There is also a separate Facebook sign-in, for those that want their saves to work cross-platform. This is great news for those that enjoy playing their games on multiple devices. It is also worth pointing out that so far there have been no advertisements, but that could change when it is released. However there are most definitely in-app purchases, and they do range all the way up to $99.99 per item. Oh, and if you are worried about the size of the game, well, it appears to only take up 185 MB on my Galaxy S8+, which should be okay for most users.
All in all Middle-earth: Shadow of War is your standard mobile hero collection game with a Lord of the Rings skin. Sure, the graphics and sound are nice, but the gameplay is pretty grindy and uninspired. If that is your thing, then I say all the more power to ya, but for me, the lack of originality leaves me bored within minutes. There is no doubt that Middle-earth: Shadow of War is nothing like its console brethren, but frankly I never thought there would be a day that I missed the old mobile ports we received on the Game Boy and other handhelds. Sure, they were nothing like their console counterparts either, but at least they had actual gameplay that could be confused with something satisfying.