Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Review
Fellowship of the Review
Shadow of Mordor follows Tallion, a ranger posted on the outskirts of Mordor with his family. We start the game very tragically with him and his family being executed. Through some strange blood oath he is linked to a wraith that keeps bringing Tallion back to life forcing him to complete one task before returning to his family; stop the Black-Hand.
The first thing I noticed while playing this game was how beautiful it was. The graphics were amazing, and the environments were lively, despite being set in Mordor. There was long green grass, and bright flowers that littered the landscape which added to the setting. The next thing I noticed was how similar this is to the Assassin’s Creed series. As I played more of the game though, I realized that it wasn’t just an Assassin’s Creed clone but that it had improved the formula and had substantial substance.
The story itself is well written and respects The Lord of the Rings as much as it possibly can. Although it makes some bold moves that I’m sure will upset some of the die-hard fans of the series. I don’t believe that the game is considered canon and I felt as that without those bold moves the game wouldn’t be quite what it turned out to be. It is a very sad story, albeit a little predictable, and has some extremely interesting characters within it. Most of them are new to The Lord of the Rings and the developers rarely relied on any existing characters to help progress its story.
The gameplay is the main draw of the game and the reason for that is simple, it’s fun. Though extremely similar to the Assassin’s Creed or Arkham series, it does something that both of them do not. It adds an extra layer of depth to the enemy AI. This is one of the strongest AI’s I’ve ever experienced in a game. There is a ‘Nemesis System’ implemented into the game, which allows the player to look at the Captain’s and War Chief’s within the army of Sauron.
Each captain and war chief has his own set of weaknesses, strength’s and fears which can all be used against them. Not only this, but each grunt within the army has his own life, and they can be promoted through the ranks to the point of being an actual threat to the player. The Uruk’s actually remember encounters with the player. For example if they flee battle they will remember this and will grow a fear of the player and continue to flee from battles with Tallion.
If a grunt kills you then they will get promoted to captain. If a captain defeats you or survives a battle without fleeing they will power up, with each level they gain there is a chance that they lose their weaknesses and gain strengths. This can make the difficulty substantially harder. I actually had a captain kill me over twenty times and the only reason I got rid of him was because of a Caragor killing him. The game literally got so hard that I was only able to defeat him because of dumb luck.
Some of the captains can even learn. I had almost defeated one captain by repeatedly jumping over him and hitting him in the back, unfortunately he survived and the next time I saw him I tried to implement the same strategy. When I tried to jump over him this time, he caught me and threw me to the ground. The Uruk captains almost never look the same, each time a grunt is promoted he adds a type of armour and a special weapon each which is unique to them. Their names are also unique to each captain. I believe all of these to be randomized, but I am still impressed with the sheer amount of selections given to the random number generator.
The Uruk’s also have their own lives aside from the player. If the player just lets time pass then the Uruk’s will fight each other and train which will have them automatically level themselves up. This is a nice touch as it gives the enemies a life that the player isn’t a part of.
Despite all this the game is not unfair, in fact it is quite the opposite. I am the reason that the captain had gotten so difficult because I stubbornly kept trying to beat him without any strategy. This brings up another point; strategy. This game is not a button masher (trust me) and actually requires that the player understand the combat, because although a few enemies are easy to take care, their numbers can rise exponentially. At one point I had almost a hundred enemies on screen at once, all of which were trying to kill me (sadly, I didn’t make it).
*This is a PRE-ALPHA image*
Racking up combos is super satisfying as it is quite difficult when you have fourty or fifty enemies trying to kill you. The game is also very gruesome, as any Lord of the Rings game should be, but be warned there are decapitations left and right.
Unfortunately, sometimes when trying to run away from enemies Tallion will cling to walls and try to climb up them, resulting in my eventual death. This is a recurring problem. The music is well done and is similar to the soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Tallion, although visually plain and uninteresting, is actually a well thought out and interesting character to follow. The strong story and fun gameplay come together to make one of the strongest games to come out this year. Once I beat the game I was no longer able to look at the Nemesis screen which really seems like an oversight and will hopefully be fixed in an upcoming update. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor truly is the game that The Lord of the Rings has always deserved. Hopefully there are more to come.