Having played multiple games set within the Lord of the Rings universe, I can safely say that ‘Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor’ is by far the most engaging and visually stunning entry I’ve had the pleasure of playing. Initially thought by many to be too similar to the Assassin’s Creed franchise, Shadow of Mordor makes use of the rich lore at its disposal via J.R.R Tolkien’s renowned work. It certainly helps define its world into a unique and wonderful gaming experience, worthy of being associated with Tolkien’s legacy.
Set between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor places you in the shoes of Talion, a Ranger of Gondor who, after witnessing the death of his wife and son, suffers the very same fate himself. But before long he’s brought back to life by a mysterious Elven wraith, unto whom he is bound. In service to the wraith, Talion acquires many of his abilities, which in- turn transforms him into a near-immortal, orc killing badass. The new abilities obtained by Talion help him on his quest for revenge, as he sets off, with the Elven wraith along for the ride.
Free-reign is given to the player from the start of the game, allowing them to run round the stunningly accurate and beautiful landscapes of Mordor, being able to take on missions at their own pace. The two maps available to you are smaller compared to your average free-roaming landscape, however it does result in a probing and lively surroundings, brimming with life and things to do. It doesn’t take too long to get from A to B on the map, and the fast travel and ‘Caragor’ riding ability make traveling across it hassle free – aside from the wealth of Orcs and Uruks making themselves at home. However killing these Uruks, provides a fun distraction from the campaign missions. So it’s often worth taking a walk and exploring.
When it comes to gameplay, Shadow Of Mordor seems to have almost everything nailed down. The fighting system is best described as a mixture between the Batman Arkham and Assassin’s Creed series’ , but tends to supply much more satisfying brutal finishing moves. The varied enemy types such as the Berserkers and Hunters require caution, and varied attacking ability’s add a degree of challenge to the fighting and make sure to keep you on your toes during combat.
When fighting a captain, players have to use their wit and prowess’; each captain has his own individual strengths and weaknesses, resulting in certain attacks inflicting a one hit kill and others being rendered completely useless. This, combined with a large horde of enemies, can turn a simple assassination attempt on just one captain, into a suicide mission that requires meticulous planning and forward-thinking to survive. However, with the large array of abilities available to the player, alongside the simple fighting mechanics, you’ll be slaughtering waves of Uruks and their captains with ease, and best of all, you’ll be having a great amount of fun whilst doing so.
The Nemesis system truly makes this game unique, and is going to keep players coming back, again and again. The system encompasses all of the Uruks in Sauron’s army, randomly generating their appearance, name, traits, fighting style, rivalries and more. For example an Uruk named ‘Turuk Map Keeper’ would carry round maps, whereas an Uruk named ‘Lug The Sickly’ would have a nasty cough and be covered in boils. Another interesting feature of the nemesis system, is that if Talion has already met an Uruk Captain or war chief more than once, and the Uruk survived their last encounter, the Uruk will remember Talion and make a comment regarding their last confrontation. I found this a neat touch that added extra realism and helped keep me immersed in the game.
I really had to think hard about negatives for this game, but eventually only a few small issues sprang to mind. The parkour aspect, which so many games have struggled with, is an issue. It feels tighter than in Assassin’s Creed, however, I have still had some awkward moments whilst sneaking through an Uruk stronghold, as Talion occasionally jumped into a large cluster of enemies without reason. It often felt just too clunky and stiff, which sometimes made sneaking over buildings infuriating. The only other issue was a minor one, involving a slight frame rate drop during larger battles. This is a rare occurrence, and is not a big enough hindrance to warrant much attention.
Lastly I’d like to comment on the voice acting. It won’t be winning any awards, due to the games fairly undeveloped characters, however all of the inhabitants fit naturally within the Lord of The Rings universe. But I did love the extra voice work added to the Uruks on the battlefield, with their consistent threats and jokes to each other. It really immersed me into the game world, however they often seemed to have more work put into them than the main characters.
Shadow of Mordor showcases one of the most beautiful games released on the next generation. I was surreptitiously left in awe at the beautifully gritty styling of the world, especially when the heavens decided to open. The developers at Monolith seem to have really signalled their debut on Next-Gen with a bang.
- + Fun fighting system
- + Lovely visuals
- + Nemesis system
- - Lack of main character development
- - Clunky parkour