Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor review – The rivers flow with the blood of the Uruk-hai
With an open-world Middle-earth setting and Assassin’s Creed-like combat, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor has all the necessary ingredients needed to be a big AAA new-gen title. You play as Talion, a ranger captain bound with the wraith of the fallen Elf Lord Celebrimbor. Following the murder of his wife and son at the hand of Sauron’s minions, Talion vows to avenge his family and help Celebrimbor uncover his forgotten past. Together, you will march through the treacherous mountains of Modor, laying waste to Sauron’s army in the hopes to stop the inevitable return of the Dark Lord.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a game that is truly embedded in the lore of Tolkien’s world. Throughout the game you will see a few familiar faces and hear many references that should “ring” (Zing!) with many Lord of the Rings fans. Fan-favorite Gollum appears in the game and looks exactly as he does in the movies. Voice actor Liam O’Brien is so good that I couldn’t tell if he was Andy Serkis. Gollum is just one of the many characters that Talion will come across in his journey in the Main Missions. These missions are scattered across the map and will help reveal more about Celebrimbor’s past. Completing these objectives will also help unlock new abilities for you to use in combat. These can become especially handy when you come face-to-face with Sauron’s army.
You can also improve your weapon’s abilities by collecting Runes. These items can be equipped to your sword, bow and dagger. You can only receive them if you kill Captains in Sauron’s army or complete any of the many Weapons Quest. The runes are a weird feature in the game. In a way, they are the game’s way of making up from not having an item inventory system with Potions and Mana. Certain Runes can help you regenerate health depending on if you can complete a certain action during combat. This can be a bit frustrating at times. Sure, there are healing herbs littered throughout all of Mordor, but during the heat of battle with 15 Uruks, it is not the most convenient. More than once, I found myself running out of an Orc stronghold just to heal myself. Later in the game this becomes less of a problem when you find better Runes.
You can also unlock new abilities by completing Showdown, Power Struggle and Vendetta Missions. These missions aside from main story will feature many of the Orcs in Sauron’s army and can be particularly tricky to complete. In the case of a Power Struggles, two Orc Captains will face off in a battle for supremacy. As Talion, you will have to choose your plan of attack. Do you help one kill the other? Do you try and kill them both at the risk of being killed yourself? This also brings up another interesting part of the game. If you are killed, which ever Orc that dealt the final blow will gain more power and will remember in further battles that he has already killed you. This is all part of Shadow of Mordor‘s Nemesis System.
The Nemesis System is easily one of the greatest features of Shadow of Mordor. Its ingenuity brings an entirely unique gameplay experience similar to that of a real-time strategy game. While you may be fighting one captain, another could be coming into power. This all happens in real-time while you journey through Mordor. In short, there can literally be no end to Suaron’s army. The Nemesis System becomes even more important later in the game when Talion begins to build his own army. After unlocking the ability to Brand, Talion can control the minds Uruks.
The game also deserves a great amount of praise for their design for the Uruk-hai. Each orc is given a uniquely different look that makes them easily to distinguish from the others. This is even more apparent with the Warchiefs. Each Warchief’s character design is so unique that it would be hard for any cosplayer to find a character they’d want to dress as at their next con. The only thing I disliked about the Captains and Warchiefs is they seem to have a variety of weapons and you don’t. From the first moment you step foot onto Mordor ground you are married to your Bow, Sword and Dagger. You can upgrade their abilities, but the Orcs seems to have the upper-hand when it comes to weaponry. Flaming Swords, Poison Swords, Blood Swords and Crossbows with exploding arrows. This doesn’t take away from the game’s combat, but it would just be nice have be able to wield a different sword once and a while.
The combat is where this game truly shines. Basically it is a Lord of the Rings skin wrapped around the body of either a Batman: Arkham or Assassin’s Creed game, but I believe Shadow of Mordor might do this style of combat better. Each movement and kill seem so much more gratifying. Talion’s strikes and executions can be characterized as down right brutal. I also loved that there was such a large range of animated kills and attacks. Even after twenty something plus hours of gameplay I still found the game throwing out an execution that I’d never seen before. The combination of the Sword, Bow and Dagger in Shadow of Mordor gives unique blend of action that really sets apart the game from its predecessors. Long after you’ve finished the main story, fans will more than likely find themselves revisiting the game just for the rush of taking down a horde of Uruk-hai.
While the polished Combat is the game’s soul it is the story that sadly doesn’t seem to be on par. The game starts out great, but as the story goes on it just seems to never really connect with anything else in the world. There is one point where you align yourself with an Uruk and he agrees to help only if you help him climb the ranks of Sauron’s army. This was a really interesting story because it was the first I’d heard of a human and orc working together. Sadly the story is short lived and that connection never gets resolved. There is also Torvin, a Dwarf who teaches you how to hunt. By far he is one of my favorite characters of the game, but he never really gets involved in the main story. After completing his missions, I assumed that he would come to help me later in the game when I needed him. Unfortunately, he never reappears in the game.
Another big gripe of mine was the Boss Battles. They just seemed to pale in comparison to the fights with the Captains and Warchiefs. Even the final climatic battle just didn’t pack enough punch. Given that the combat in the game was so good, to have the the finale fight reduced to Quick-Time Events just didn’t seem to do it justice. In the end, Shadow of Mordor is still a fun game despite its flaws. With its fun and engaging combat and unique Nemesis System, fans won’t have to look far for a reason to pick up this tile.
Rating: 3.5/5 Atoms