The second and last DLC for Middle-earth: Shadow of War known as Desolation of Mordor is finally upon us. Taking place at some point during the early stages of the main game’s Shadow Wars chapter, Desolation of Mordor has you playing as Baranor, second-in-command of the Gondorian soldiers in the fallen city of Minas Ithil and ally to Talion in the main game. His current mission is to go to the new region of Lithlad (which is also now a playable region in the main Shadow of War game) in order to make contact with the group of Easterling mercenaries known as the Vanishing Sons so he can use them to bolster his dwindling forces in the fight against the Orcs of Mordor. Things go south very quickly for Baranor as he enters the Lithlad desert and is damn near killed (I’ll leave the specifics as a surprise), but fortunately he is saved by Torvin, the same Dwarven hunter that assisted Talion during his quest in the previous game, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.
Before letting Baranor go on his merry way, Torvin gifts him with two very useful little gadgets that prove to be the main reasons why playing as Baranor ended up being more fun than I thought it would be. One item Baranor receives is the Kite, which is basically a parachute/glider combo that he can deploy at any time after jumping off any reasonably high surface. The other and far more impressive item Baranor receives is the Numenorean artifact known as the Gauntlet. This unique and useful item functions as a grappling hook (which basically works like a less responsive version of Batman’s grapnel gun), crossbow, and shield all in one package. And if you take the time to find special blueprints scattered around Lithlad (and you should definitely take the time to do so), additional upgrades can be unlocked for all three of the Gauntlet’s main features. These upgrades include using the grappling hook to fling Baranor into the air so he can transition directly into a glide (again, very much like the grapnel boost upgrade in the Batman Arkham games), swinging the chain of the grappling hook to knock down or slice in half surrounding Orcs, acquiring special fire and poison ammunition for the crossbow, adding fire to Baranor’s shield charge attack, etc. Furthermore, Baranor has only one sword, dagger and set of armor that cannot be directly upgraded; however, after picking up one of many different types of augments that can be dropped by slain enemies, he can affix them to his weapons, armor, and to the Gauntlet to grant him with a myriad of special buffs and perks, like increased damage and Focus, health regenerating abilities, and even the ability to spawn friendly Ghuls and Morgul spiders after killing enemies through stealth (Baranor possessing such an ability didn’t make much sense from a lore perspective, but it at least proved useful on many occasions).
These Gauntlet upgrades and special augments make Baranor a true contender with Talion and Eltariel in the “Orc-killing business”. Still, Baranor can’t use some of those characters’ more powerful abilities, like the teleporting “Shadow Strike” move or the ability to dominate Orcs and beasts to make them join his own personal army. Most importantly, Baranor is mortal and won’t simply reanimate after being killed, so if Baranor dies, then you will suffer certain consequences. Any Orc outposts you may have captured will be reset (and all of them have to be under your control before you can initiate the siege of Lithlad’s fortress); furthermore, all Orc captains and warchiefs in the region will be reset, and you will also lose all mercenaries you may have hired and all augments you may have acquired. Thankfully though, any story missions you have completed and Gauntlet upgrades you have acquired will carry over once you respawn, so you’re not completely screwed if Baranor should meet his untimely end. With regards to those mercenaries I mentioned, Baranor can use coin earned through missions and dropped by slain enemies to hire up to three mercenaries to be his bodyguards, which he can summon at his convenience to help him in his battles and even to resupply him with ammunition for his crossbow. Baranor can also hire more mercenaries to guard each of Lithlad’s outposts after taking them over, which is purely beneficial given that Orcs will try to take back the outposts if they’re not properly defended. In addition to that, hired mercenaries can be sent to attack Orc captains in Nemesis Missions, which serves to both level up your allies and thin the enemy’s ranks. Desolation of Mordor also introduces a new enemy type: Were-wyrms. These deadly enemies (which are basically the Middle-earth equivalent of Graboids from the Tremors movies) can’t be damaged directly, but they can be cleverly turned against Orcs and other enemies, which can prove useful in battles where you’re outnumbered.
As for the story, well….it’s easily the DLC’s weakest element. I won’t spoil any specifics, but nothing really interesting occurs, and nothing happens that affects or even ties in with the stories of the main game or the Blade of Galadriel DLC. I wasn’t all that excited about playing as Baranor to begin with since he’s one of the most uninteresting characters in the series, and while he has some badass combat moves, he unsurprisingly makes for a very boring main protagonist (Talion and Eltariel get flak for the same reasons, but I personally find them to be far more interesting by comparison ). That’s why it’s extra disappointing that the main narrative for this DLC ended up feeling like a missed opportunity. Furthermore, if you don’t count the battles with Lithlad’s warchiefs or the overlord, there are no boss battles in this game, which is also somewhat disappointing.
All things considered, Desolation of Mordor does try some new things that distinguish it from the other Middle-earth games and DLCs, and I made certain to be extra cautious for fear of having to (sort of) start all over again should I get sloppy and let myself get killed. In my playthrough on normal difficulty, I only died once in this DLC, and fortunately it was during the first story mission, so I lucked out and lost basically no progress. But throughout the rest of the DLC, I had an unusually easy time killing many of the Orcs I confronted, and I believe that’s because all those augments I had collected may have made me a little overpowered, plus, all the Orcs in the DLC are between level 20 and level 40…oh, and Baranor can carry a decent number of health elixirs as well, an advantage Talion and Eltariel never had that makes it even easier for Baranor to avoid death. Nevertheless, Desolation of Mordor can still provide you with several hours of fun, and since it scores you based on your performance and how far you get without dying, I’m sure there will be some gamers out there who will want to achieve a gold ranking on “super, ultra, tear your short hairs off in frustration difficulty” for bragging rights or just for the hell of it.
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: WB Games
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 8th May 2018