Warner Bros. have teamed up with one of their development studios, Monolith Productions to bring us the latest adventure from the Lord of the Rings universe in the form of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Could this really be the one game to rule them all?
Coming after a string of Lord of the Rings based video games of which there’s been a couple of bad eggs, it had to at least be near the top of the pile for it to be considered a success. What can set an action RPG apart from the rest? Well, Shadow of Mordor has a potential trump card up its sleeve and it’s called the Nemesis System but whether that will be enough you’ll have to carry on reading. (There will be limited spoilers, just in case you were worried.)
Shadow of Mordor tells the story of a Gondorian ranger named Talion whose life gets turned upside down during an attack at the Black Gate. One thing leads to another and not only is he dead but his wife and son are too. Hold on though, he’s not dead as such. Some curse has Talion stuck in-between life and death with a mysterious Wraith bound to him. Now the quest for vengeance against Sauron and his followers begins, as well as hoping to figure out along the way why he has been linked with this amnesiac Wraith.
You are thrust into an ever-changing free roam area where the world truly is your oyster because there are a multitude of choices for what you do and when you do it. The land of Mordor is pretty large and there’s a good chance every choice you make will have an impact whether it’s in your immediate area or somewhere else. So what to do… well that’s a quite wonderful dilemma because I could easily just go around trying to kill everyone I see.
Should that be a bit bland for you then there are challenges, collectibles, side quests and main missions to venture into. Add to that the enemy Uruk Captains and Warchiefs whom will cause you hassle if they see you, you could simply target those one by one in your own time (via searching or certain main missions). Here’s the fun part though, each Uruk has its own unique personality and traits which become more obvious when you face those in power.
It’s not quite as easy as finding an Uruk with some hierarchy then killing it instantly; oh no you need to show tactical nous to gain intel on the identities and their strengths/weaknesses using a nifty technique by the Wraith. Without this you’ll be going in blind which inevitably will end up with a crushing sword to the heart because you tried to stealth kill one who’s invulnerable to such attacks. This makes each encounter exciting, especially when a cocky Uruk trash talks beforehand.
What happens when you die though? Or when an Uruk leader is killed? Well surely there’s a finite amount of Captains. Not quite! Should you defeat for example Borg the Berserker, then Pom the Pummeller may get that promotion he’s been waiting for into the vacant spot. Especially if he ends up putting you to the sword, which he won’t let you forget next time you meet. He’ll grow in power and remember you just as much as you’ll remember that dirty Uruk scum. This IS the Nemesis System (as it is also responsible for them all being unique).
These aren’t your only enemies to be aware of on your way to Sauron and his Black Captains as there is danger all around. Some of which don’t care if you’re Human, Wraith or Uruk and so it can make for a few interesting standoffs when there’s a Caragor (wild beast) on the prowl. This is the kind of thing that helps make the environment dynamic. Although it can work against you, if you play using a bit of brain power then manipulation can be your very best friend.
Hopefully I’ve given a feel for the sadistic playground from which you will be wreaking havoc upon the enemy. Now, these side quests serve as advanced combat practice in the art of range or close up and may have you rescuing slaves in a super stealthy way, picking off Uruks one by one. This is a decent way to earn XP and Mirian (currency) to upgrade various aspects of Talion’s skills and abilities.
The skills and abilities help create added longevity and freshness. Although it may have just been great timing I never actually felt like I was growing bored of the abilities I already had unlocked. These range from detonating elf arrows to instant executions gained by combos to a teleporting Shadow Strike attack.
Combat itself, for me has a feeling of that in Ryse: Son of Rome but more fluid and enjoyable for the most part. Chaining strikes and countering to build up large combos, which then can lead to various nifty executions, is a key component to survival when surrounded by a group of Uruks that don’t always take turns in attacking, they just go for it all at once at times. The adrenaline flows with every throat slash and finishing move, it’s really addictive slaying enemies and I quite often found myself searching for more potential victims.
My first negative point comes with the movement which has a parkour style meaning no wall is too small to climb and not many jumps are too big to attempt. When Talion gets stuck next to an ankle high area of rock that he cannot vault nor step over it’s a little bit silly, it’s like there’s an invisible wall. Another lowlight is trying to scale a hill side to escape an ambush by a trio of Captains only for him to forget how to climb. It doesn’t happen too often but it’s enough to create a real annoyance to the player.
I’ve left the Main Missions till last; however I can’t go into too many specifics without spoiling anything. Just know that the storytelling will give you nearly a full spectrum of emotional responses, especially when you feel Talion’s and even the Wraith’s pain and it almost becomes as much your vengeance as it does theirs. You’ll meet a brand new character named Ratbag who is a laugh a minute for all the wrong reasons and the return of a “precious” character that has a brilliant script which is delivered to perfection.
Not only are there really well made cutscenes with some of the best voice acting I’ve heard in a while but it’s also believable unlike some games where it sounds like they’ve half-arsed it. They’ve also been rather clever because it reveals through these and in the game’s appendices section more about the history and goings on before, the Lord of the Rings, and after, the Hobbit, time periods.
Do you have to have seen or read about Middle-earth before? Not at all because everything you will need to know and more is right here in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Mordor is a dynamic open world that you can spend hours in without even doing missions, just collecting herbs for challenges or collectibles like the artifacts.
Killing things has rarely been so fun and engaging, especially for those who prefer the stealthy side but that’s the beauty because you can also go in swinging like a mad man and come out on top should you pick an auspicious moment. Factoring in the story, the acting and of course the Nemesis System it’s hard to find many faults at all in what I will gladly call my game of the year.