Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is third-person, open world action adventure game from Monolith Productions, set in The Lord of the Rings universe. This title isn’t a movie tie-in however, you won’t be going there and back again as Bilbo Baggins and journeying to deliver the one ring to the fire of Mount Doom as Frodo. No this is a brand new tale that takes place during the events of The Hobbit and LotR sagas.
You play as Talion, a Gondorian Ranger stationed at the Black Gate. When the forces of the Dark Lord Sauron — lead by his Black Captains, attack the gate, everyone is killed including Talion and his family. The fallen ranger awakens to find himself not only banished from death but also bound to a mysterious amnesiac wraith. Turns out the Black Hand is to blame for their predicament, casting the curse that binds them together. Upon learning this, Talion sets out to kill the one responsible, break the curse and claim his vengeance.
Unfortunately an army of Uruks and all manner of beasts stand between Talion as his goal. Luckily the ranger is well equipped for battle. Armed with the sword Urfael, players will engage the enemy in melee combat similar to the free-flow system made popular by the recent Batman games. Though instead of takedowns, players can perform a variety of brutal executions. From impaling enemies to decapitating them, Mordor’s combat is sure to make your jaw drop on separate occasions. The wraith’s bow Azkar, is ideal for quietly taking out the opposition from a distance. If you want to go loud however, it is also great for blowing things up because it wouldn’t be an action game without glorious explosions. Players can get up close and personal with their stealth kills or ground executions using the dagger, Acharn.
Shadow of Mordor is a challenging game and you won’t last very long by mashing the attack button over and over again. Expect to die or flee often as the Uruks are a tough bunch and you will often find yourself outnumbered by a great deal. The Uruk Captains also add another layer of challenge with each of them having their own combinations of strengths and weaknesses. One Captain could be weak against stealth attacks but invulnerable to ranged, making the bow ineffective and requiring Talion to get in close for the kill. Another could be invulnerable to both stealth and ranged attacks but also afraid of Caragors (Four legged dog monsters). Setting a few loose in his vicinity will strike fear in his heart making him easier to kill. This game is just as much about planning strategies, as it is about killing your foe.
The nemesis system is by far SoM’s standout feature. This innovative mechanic remembers player encounters with Talion’s enemies and alters the way they interact with him later on. The Uruk who manages to land the killing blow, will be rewarded with a promotion and remind you of his feat the next time you come across him. A badly wounded Uruk who successfully manages to escape your wrath, will vow his vengeance for the pain you caused. Just don’t expect your follow up encounter to get any easier, as he will have gotten stronger with even more strengths and less weaknesses. Once again, strategically planning your battles is the key to success.
The Uruks have their own hierarchy system within Mordor and are constantly looking for ways to move up the ranks and increase in power. Taking advantage of these power struggles to weaken Sauron’s army, further enhances the fun factor of the nemesis system. Interrupting duels, thwarting executions and so on, is incredibly addicting. For every high ranking Uruk, you defeat, another takes his place and you may find yourself spending hours upon hours just traversing through the game’s open world messing with their chain of command. Especially once you unlock the wraith’s ability to brand the enemy, which allows you to take control of enemy Uruks and bend them to your will.
Fans of RPG elements in their games will be happy to learn that SoM features an impressive progression and upgrade system. Players can level up by earning XP for every kill and completed mission. Each new level rewards you with a skill point which can then be spent on helpful and devastating new abilities. With Mirian, players can increase Talion’s attributes, such as his overall health and unlock additional runes slots for his weapons. Fallen Captains and War chiefs will drop these runes, magical items that provide a variety of enhancements to each weapons stats — such as increased damage while riding a beast, once equipped. The stronger your defeated opponent was, the more powerful the rune. What runes you are rewarded with is randomized, so no two players feature the exact same weapon loadout. Combine that with the randomization of the Uruk’s names, strengths and weaknesses, and you have a gaming experience that will be unique for each player.
“Nan iChir Gelair!” Which probably means you’re f**ked in Elvish.
As mentioned before, Shadow of Mordor is an open-world title. That means players have the freedom to tackle each mission whenever they want. They can assault an enemy stronghold from any angle or just screw around with the nemesis system. There are also a plethora of mostly fun side quests to complete that range from liberating human slaves to collecting various plants (Which is boring by the way).
The world of Mordor, is rather bleak but impressive to look at and the same can be said for its characters. The Uruks are highly detailed, everything from their armor to the hideous scars on their grotesque faces are expertly done. Not to take anything away from Talion’s design but from an artistic standpoint, one would say they look better than the game’s protagonist. The wonderful sound design help invoke the tone of the LotR films.
Shadow of Mordor is ultimately a revenge tale that is told across twenty story missions, each one varying in its objective. The actual plot is entertaining and benefits from well written dialogue and great voice acting. It just pales in comparison to the game’s combat and nemesis system. This title’s biggest annoyance however are its disappointing boss battles, with the final showdown being the worst of the bunch. You know the great feeling you get after you’ve defeated a tough yet fun final boss? Yeah you probably won’t feel that in this game. The impact of the game’s final scene was lessened due to the sour taste it left in my mouth. At least, until the final line was spoken. Players will be glad to know that they can keep exploring Mordor even after the credits roll, allowing you to finish off any remaining quests or mess around with the nemesis system some more.
Bleak but impressive!
Despite the disappointing boss battles and a story that is somewhat overshadowed by gameplay, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is an amazing experience. There’s plenty to do in its impressive open-world. Combat is incredibly brutal and fun. The nemesis system is by far one of the coolest game mechanics out there and helps this title truly standout among the rest of its genre. Fans would do well to pick up this GOTY contender.
Overall Score: 9.5/10
RGN Rating: Platinum Game
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Available on: PS4 | PC | Xbox One | Coming to Xbox 360 and PS3 November 18, 2014
Played on: Sony’s PlayStation 4
Review copy info: A physical copy of the game was purchased by RealGamerNewz for the purpose of this review.