Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a fun and challenging game that adds its own unique twist on the open world action genre.
In fact, this sleeper hit is some of the best fiction added to J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy universe in sometime.
You play as Talion, a Ranger of Gondor who is stationed at the Black Gate. The game starts in a time of peace on the wall, walking you through a tutorial on how to play the game in what might be the least annoying tutorial sequence in video game history.
The prologue takes you through times when Talion is training his son how to fight with a sword all while teaching the player the mechanics of the combat. Next, it displays the stealth mechanic by making you “stealth kiss” your wife in an adorable scene that displays the love and affection this family has for each other.
Events then take a turn for the worse. The Black Gate is assaulted by a horde of Uruk-hai. All the rangers posted on the wall are massacred, Talion and his family are captured then ritually executed.
Talion then awakens to find that his soul has been bound to that of an amnesiac elf ghost and for unknown reasons, their spirits aren’t able to pass on to the afterlife.
This all happens within the first 20 to 30 minutes of the game and from that point forward Talion swears to help the mysterious elf ghost discover who he is and to take vengeance on the ones that slaughtered his family, it is assumed that after they complete their mission, their souls will finally be able to rest in peace.
This adventurous game takes a lot of inspiration from games like Assassins Creed and Batman: Arkham. Actually, if Batman: Arkham and Assassins Creed had a baby, then they gave it the One Ring, this is the baby they would make.
The combat is both brutal and elegant. It is the same general concept as the Batman games except more responsive, more challenging, and much more graphic. After playing for over 40 hours, I not once found myself tiring of the action.
While fighting the Uruk-hai horde, Talion builds up a combo meter. After getting so many hits in a row without getting hit himself, he can perform devastating finisher moves instantly killing most enemies in a glorious and gory fashion. Just like the Arkham games, an icon will appear above Talion's head when an enemy is ready to attack allowing him to counter the attack and continue his combo.
There are different types of enemies, some that will instantly counter any of your attacks unless you stun them, some have great tower shield and cannot be dealt with until you get behind them or break their shields.
Talion also has the power to bring out a wraith bow that will slow down time and allow you to charge up and shoot enemies from afar or during a combo. The wraith bow also allows the player to quickly teleport to distant enemies.
Straight forward combat isn’t the only way to engage enemies; Talion is extremely acrobatic and can easily sneak around the world taking out enemies unseen. An example of how Talion can sneakily defeat his enemies is that if some Uruk-hai are having a feast, Talion can sneak in and poison their grog enraging the Uruk-hai and making them slay each other. Talion can also unlock the cages of great beasts known as Caragor who will then wreak havoc among the Uruk-hai.
As you progress through the game, Talion gains experience and shards for his weapons to give him skills and making him more powerful. In most games of this style, the upgrades aren’t really too meaningful and don’t make me want to experiment with my new abilities, however Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor made Talion feels much more powerful than when I started his adventure. There are passive skills like reducing the combo you need to perform a death blow and other more practical skills for instance Talion learns how to mount and ride exotic beasts.
There were parts in this game that I was facing upwards of 30 or 40 enemies on screen at a time. After decapitating dozens of Uruk-hai and watching the remainder flee in terror is one of the most morbidly satisfying things you can do.
Even though the combat is excellent, by far the best part about the game is he Nemesis System that is featured in the game.
The nemesis system is an in-game mechanic that randomly generates a hierarchy of Uruk-hai that can be manipulated. Each captain is uniquely named and there are hundreds of different dialogue pieces that they’ll say. When you encounter one of these captains, the game will zoom into a cinematic sequence that will introduce the captain with him telling Talion how much he’d like to see him die. The cool thing is, if you’ve ran into a captain more than once, he’ll remember you. For instance, if last time you ran into a captain you injured him and he ran away, next time he’ll have scars or bandages on his body that weren’t previously there and they’ll perform specific dialogue pertaining to your last encounter.
Each captain has different bonuses that can make fights with them particularly challenging. Some Captains can only be hurt by combo finishers and will flee if they see a Caragor. Others can only be defeated via stealth. There a hundreds of different combinations the captains can have. Some are tougher to fight than others.
The first half of the Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor the nemesis system is pretty basic, if you kill a captain, he is removed from the chain of command and if Talion is killed by a random Uruk-hai, he’ll get promoted to a captain. Thus giving the player an endless amount of missions he or she can do. But when the second half of the game starts, is when the Nemesis system really gets interesting.
Through the progression of Talion’s adventure, he eventually acquires the ability to mind control Uruk-hai. This means that you can take over the mind of lesser captains and help them become bodyguards of higher ranking war chiefs; you can then have them betray the war chief and take over in his stead. There are tons of creative ways you can pit the Uruk-hai horde against each other and most of my 40+ hours of game time was experimenting with that.
The world that Talion is thrown into is a dark, yet beautiful place to explore. There are two open world maps to delve into, each breathtaking in its own ways.
The game starts out in the damp fields of Udun, a valley in Mordor, which is very grey and gloomy most of the time. In the second act of the game, Talion finds himself in the colorful and fertile volcanic plains of Nurnen.
There were multiple occasions where I stopped to just look around at the beautifully crafted environments. One of these was when I entered an Uruk-hai stronghold when it was raining. The entrance way was muddy and trampled and the way the water puddled and the mud glistened with moisture blew my mind.
Traversing this world is easy and fluid, Talion will automatically run up walls and climb building. The mechanics are exactly the same as what you would expect from Assassins Creed, except they’re a little more polished and quick.
The world is really big but with the some movement abilities that can be unlocked traversal of the world becomes faster and faster.
While exploring these areas, there are plenty of side quests, activities, and collectibles that can become distracting. Most of these side missions come in the form of basic yet satisfying combat challenges and missions to free slaves. When you find any collectable, an entry is made in to the game appendices giving you a more in-depth look at the characters and world of Middle Earth.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is an excellent game. The over-the-top combat makes you feel powerful without taking away the fear of defeat, the graphics are stunning and the nemesis system is an awesome feature that hasn’t been successfully pulled off before. It will take around 15-20 hours to just finish the main story, but all the extra side missions and collectibles will keep you playing for well over 40 hours easily.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC and will be releasing November 18, on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.