Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Review
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor had been sitting on my shelf for almost a year before finally giving it an honest try. Despite the game’s critical acclaim, I had a hard time putting it over other games in my queue due to my disinterest in the Lord of the Rings. As it turns out, the game doesn’t require a background in J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic to be enjoyed. Also, it’s awesome.
Taking place between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (thanks Wikipedia), you play as a ranger named Tallion. The Black Hand of Sauron has murdered your family while forcing you into a fate worse than death. Paired up with a mysterious ghost, you fight trolls and other beings in order to ultimately get revenge.
All of this takes place in an open world action game that plays like Assassin’s Creed. While its influences are clear, to call Shadow of Mordor a rip-off would be selling it short. This game brings with it a number of innovations that make it a better product than most of Ubisoft’s recent efforts.
For starters, the combat in the game is excellent. While Assassin’s Creed clearly took influence from Batman: Arkham Asylum, Shadow of Mordor is built on the same Arkham engine. Hacking, stabbing and shooting feels so good, especially when the odds are against you. I greatly enjoyed just running around the fields and picking fights with anyone that crossed my path.
What really puts things over the top is the slew of quality opponents you fight against thanks to the game’s Nemesis system. There’s more weight behind every fight, as the Uruk’s have a social structure that’s pivotal to the experience. At the top of the food chain are five War Chiefs. Your ultimate goal is to kill all of them. However, that’s really hard to do unless you kill the Captains below them. If you get killed by a random enemy, they’ll then get promoted to captain.
Each Captain and War Chief are stronger than the regular enemies that you’ll come across. They also have clearly defined strengths and weaknesses, which you can reveal by unlocking intel. Some are invulnerable to ranged attacks, while others might be prone to stealth finishers. You can’t run into most of these fights haphazardly, as them killing you will only make them stronger in the future. If you are able to kill one, you’ll earn a rune, which can be applied to one of your weapons to give you a permanent bonus as long as its equipped.
Fighting these Captains leads to a ton of wonderful emergent gameplay moments. Sometimes, you’ll actively stalk a Captain and take them out with one hit. Other times, you’ll randomly stumble on one or more Captains at the same time, leading to some really tough and exciting fights should you choose to stick around.
The only thing about the game that is kind of ho-hum are its missions. The main missions are alright, but they lack they generally lack the drama of of a Captain or War Chief fight. That is, unless you randomly stumble upon one or two, which definitely ratchets things up. Also, the game is structured in a way that allows you to make the most of the abilities you earn. By the end of it, you’re really going to need to leverage your full tool set to get through. As for side stuff, I didn’t really bother with it. They felt very artificial in nature, as the world would respawn and the game would all of a sudden ask you to kill 10 Uruks in 3 minutes with no real in-story context.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor did something I’ve been waiting this entire generation for. When were we going to get an inventive new gameplay idea that justifies the power of the current generation of consoles? The Nemesis system is that answer. Brilliant in concept and execution, the next amazing fight always felt like it was just around the corner. The rest of the game around it is pretty solid too.