This would be the definition of a late review, but that’s only because I review ‘em as I play ‘em.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Monolith Productions
Platform: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Reviewed On: Xbox One
When you first start playing Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and takeoff traversing the world, climbing up towers or cliff faces, you might consider you’re actually playing an Assassin’s Creed title. Or when you discover an enemy group and initiate the gruesome dance of death, you might even think you’re playing a medieval Batman title, by Rocksteady. But you’re actually not, however alike they may look or feel.
Monolith Productions has taken these two great franchises, and lifted the foundation mechanics from both, and used them as the two pillars for their game: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. It’s a good thing too, because when you strip those away, what’s left is a dull revenge story.
Shadow of Mordor takes place between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. We play Tallion, who is a ranger that dies at the outset of the story. A great start for any game. Tallion watches as his whole family gets murdered by the Black Hand of Sauron. We are then introduced to Celebrimbor, an Elf Lord who also died by the hands of Sauron, only he was cursed to remain undead. Celebrimbor’s spirit merges with Tallion’s body allowing him to remain alive but dead or dead but alive? Together they try to avenge the death of their loved ones.
What follows is a fairly lengthy campaign that see’s Tallion meet and help other locals and leaders fight the ever-increasing shadow of the Dark Lord, and his army of Orcs. Some small bands are just trying to save their captured friends and family, some bigger missions involve infiltrating Orc strongholds and eliminating key enemies.
It’s obvious that a lot of research into the world of Middle Earth was done, as the two maps are very believable. The character designs from Tallion to the humans, the Elf Lords, and Orcs are all fully realized, are unique, and fit right in. The garrisons and strong holds, enemy camps, and even the wild animals and goblins all play a part. There are a couple key enemy camps throughout the two large maps, that are usually commanded by a Warchief, and then there are the smaller camps run by Orc Captains. Littered around the world are small bands of orcs who are controlling the human slaves. These three tiers of enemies can make stealth a little bit tricky if it’s a mission requirement, but otherwise, they don’t really care too much about your presence if you’re just running through the area. They feign interest for a bit, and chase you, but give up quite quickly.
Traversal of the world comes very naturally to Tallion, as he is a Ranger after all. He can run and vault over obstructions in his path fairly smoothly, and has the ability to climb sheer walls and cliff sides. He can also jump off any height without injury. His abilities don’t have the same fluidity of an Assassin’s Creed title, but the world is not nearly as detailed.
Equipped with a sword, a dagger and a bow, and a weird ghost who embodies him, Tallion is quite adept in the art of killing Orcs. With the swordplay, attack and deflect is a lot like a Batman title, press attack in the direction of an enemy, and press block, when they start to attack you, and then watch Tallion flow seamlessly through each action. Again, not nearly as complex or smooth as the perfected Batman titles but it’s sufficient. The attacks and execution kills are brutal, with lots of blood and gore, and limbs flying. With the bow, you can slow down time and shoot “light” arrows or do a short transport to the enemy in your sight. These abilities is what Calebrimbor bring to the table when he inherited your body. You can also brainwash Orcs you have caught and hold hostage, taking over their weak mind, and having them fight for you.
The fights can get quite hairy quite quick when you’re infiltrating a stronghold, and the enemy has raised the alarm. You will become very quickly surrounded, and the Spear or Archer Orcs will not hesitate to attack you from a distance when you’re trying your best to keep your head attached among the melee sort. It will get intense quick, and you’ll likely die quite often.
Dying in Shadow of Mordor can be frustrating, but you don’t really lose much ground, aside from the current mission you were on, if you were in one. Otherwise, you just respawn at the nearest Tower and resume your attack. This is where the Nemesis system comes into play, and it is the best feature of the game. The enemy AI will remember if they’ve killed you.
Coming across an enemy who has ended your turn will call you out, and some may taunt you, saying they’ve killed you once, another time shouldn’t be too hard. Some might be more fearful of you since you’ve returned. Each Captain or Warchief will get a little focused introduction with their name when they hit the battlefield near you, and the Nemesis system makes these encounter memorable. Even dying multiple times to the same Orc will raise them in rank in the Orc Rule. They’ll start as a Low Captain and slowly progress towards Elite ranks and then Warchief.
The Nemesis system also allows you to get more information about each Captain and Warchief – their fears and strengths.
When you brand a Captain, you can start internal wars by calling out other Captains and helping them win their way to the top and challenge a Warchief. This system works really well during a difficult mission, as you can call on your followers in the heat of a battle to help your side.
Throughout, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a solid game. It looks good on the Xbox One, and plays smooth. The story missions are nothing worth writing about and Tallion as a Ranger is not wholly interesting. The two character’s revenge stories are tied into one, and we learn the story of Celebrimbor as we progress. Some of the side missions tell a little bit more story involving Golum and the One Ring, and a Hunter story arc takes us into caves to fight goblins and cave trolls. But the combat and stealth is satisfying, and having brain-washed orcs fight your battles is a fun spectacle.
Achievements in this game are nice and diverse. There are the collection types, and regular campaign missions achievement, which are commonplace, as well as being rewarded for trying out each gameplay mechanic. The interesting ones are where they take the Nemesis system into account, and the interesting ways you can use your branded Orcs to fight your war.
For those who like Middle Earth, Assassin’s Creed, or thought it would be cool to play as a Ranger, like Aragorn, descendant of Isildur and rightful heir to the thrones of Arnor and Gondor, but figured a no name dead guy would suffice.
The Spirit of Mordor (Start a Riot by commanding a Warchief to attack another Warchief) – 20G
Stinking Rebels (Brand 5 Bodyguards of a Warchief turning them against him in combat) – 20G