Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is an Action-Adventure title developed by Monolith, the studio that brought us F.E.A.R and Condemned. I immediately got excited for it when it was announced earlier this year because I’m a fan of the Tolkien universe morphed by the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. On the surface, the game seems like it’s an Assassin’s Creed rip-off to some people. I can tell you that it’s way deeper and more complex than that generalization.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor takes place between the story of the Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, roughly 80 years before Fellowship of the Ring to be exact. The game’s protagonist is Talion, a ranger who’s wife and son were murdered by the Black Hand of the Dark Lord Sauron. Talion is also killed, but an Elvish Wraith from the 2nd age named Celebrimbor becomes one with Talion and basically makes him half man-half wraith.
Talion is voiced by the fantastic Troy Baker from Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite fame, and he does not disappoint. The Black Hand is voiced by none other than the legendary Nolan North. The Black Hand doesn’t appear in the story that much, but you definitely feel his presence in the world.The game starts off abruptly and puts us right into the action after the brief but effective prologue. There are only 20 main missions, but some do last fairly long and there’s a lot of great storytelling and voice acting within those missions. It took me about 10 hours to complete the main story but there’s hours of side quests to do. The best feature of the game’s story is how it’s not based on an already established tale in the Middle Earth Universe. It is a completely new story with brand new and interesting characters, but it also has old characters such as Gollum and Sauron. Overall the story is great and keeps you interested throughout Talion’s journey.
When I started the game, the thing that really brought me in the world was how beautiful everything is. The world of Mordor is large and filled with many wonders and great cool looking areas to explore and find. Graphically, the game is excellent. The world and character animations look amazing, and it truly feels like a real “next-gen” game. The sound design on the game is also fantastic, from the music to the sounds of swords clanking and Uruks getting decapitated. Hearing the battle music makes you truly feel like you are in a Lord of The Rings movie.
The gameplay is by far the most important and most impressive aspect of Shadow of Mordor. It takes inspirations from other games and mixes them up into one package. The means of movement in the game feels very fun. It’s similar to Assassin’s Creed because Talion is very nimble and can climb anything and everything. You can also get around the world by taming and riding a Caragor. There are many ways to travel through the game, yet it never becomes a hassle because the map isn’t too large. The combat is one of the best combat systems I’ve seen in an Action-Adventure game. Think along the lines of the Batman Arkham series’ combat, but with swords and ramped up violence. The amount of gore and brutality in the game makes the combat more fun and satisfying. Many of the combat finishers can leave players amazed at exactly how gruesome they are. Talion shows no remorse when it comes to killing Uruks, and he’s not afraid to decapitate and execute them in many cool ways. Shadow of Mordor has the most fluid sword combat that I have ever experienced.
The hook to this game is the ambitious AI system that deals with ranks and power struggles between Uruks. At first I was honestly skeptical about this, but playing the game myself changed my mind. This is what differentiates the game from others in the genre. Each area in the game has it’s own hierarchy of Uruks and there are 4 different levels of ranking, Captain being the lowest in the system and Warchief being the highest. Each Uruk in this hierarchy has his own strengths, weaknesses, and most importantly, personality. The amazing thing about this Nemesis system is that when an Orc kills Talion, time will pass and he will be stronger and get a promotion.
The world keeps moving while Talion is dead and when he comes back to life again there may have been Uruks promoted or demoted. If Talion encounters one of these Uruk captains more than once they will remember him speak on it. An example is if an Uruk kills Talion, he can go on a revenge mission and the Uruk will say something like “I killed you once already” and variations of that. This makes the game incredibly unique and it truly makes encountering enemies so much more meaningful. Each enemy has a personality and a memory, and its a very effective addition here. Also, later on in the game Talion can control these high ranked Uruks and bend them to his will, which makes the game very strategic.
Overall, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a fantastic game with great combat and a new refreshing take on Artificial intelligence. The story of Talion and his quest to get revenge for the death of his family is compelling and very well acted. I would recommend this game to anyone who likes any type of open world Action-Adventure. The game blends together a beautiful world, amazing combat, great storytelling, fantastic sound design and most importantly, the nemesis system. It’s quite possibly the best LOTR game to date and is my Game of 2014 so far.