One small step for man, one giant leap into a pit of Uruk-hai for the Bright Lord.
In honor for the upcoming release of Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, I felt it was appropriate to write a review for the first of what I’m assuming will be an ongoing series of games. Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor was a bit of a surprise for myself, and quite a few others I’d venture. Games based on movies and books don’t often receive critical acclaim, but Shadow of Mordor succeeded where many other games fail.
The reason? It’s just damn good fun to play.
Just don’t play it on the PS3 or Xbox 360. Those consoles didn’t do it justice.
Tons of emphasis has been put on the Nemesis system in Shadow of Mordor as a major selling point for the game, and that if there’s anything surprising about that, it’s that the positive reputation that the system and game have gathered is well-deserved. The combat, stealth, and interactivity mechanics in Shadow Of Mordor are remarkably solid, even for a game of its time.
There is a measure of weirdness to the controls, but they mimic titles like Assassin’s Creed and the Batman: Arkham series of games pretty closely. Talion, your main character, spends a great deal of time in close combat with hordes of enemies, and handling masses of Uruks is relatively easy (thank Melkor). Much like those series I mentioned above, Shadow of Mordor prompts the player to counter attackers mid-swing, which gives you a window to sneak in a couple attacks.
Of course, Talion isn’t the standard human. I won’t delve too deeply (or greedily) in the details, but it’s safe to say that he has some supernatural powers. Those powers give Talion the ability to carry out flurries of attacks, blind his opponents, and even seize their minds.
It all makes for a satisfying experience. Even early in the game, it’s easy to feel like you’re a force to be reckoned with, and it gets even better as Talion improves. There are the standard skill and attribute upgrades, but in lieu of an inventory system, Talion is able to upgrade his weapons via a rune system. Different runes grant special bonuses and powers during combat, like granting a chance to frighten nearby Uruks when brutally murdering them, or healing Talion for every Uruk mind he melts.
Rounding out the wonderful combat is an small, yet deadly map, filled to the brim with potential targets (they’re all targets to me). There’s something oddly satisfying about cutting a swath through enemy armies to get to your destination, and it helps sell the feeling that Talion is feared by the Uruks.
Unfortunately, Shadow of Mordor couldn’t be published by Warner Brother’s without taking part in some of the usual BS that surrounds a AAA game release. The map is littered with mildly entertaining side activities, though I feel the side activities detract from the overall experience by padding the gameplay. I’m not even getting into the DLC…
While Shadow of Mordor won’t win any awards these days for visual design and audio, it’s a remarkably pretty (?) game. Well, maybe not pretty. It’s dark, gritty, and gruesome… But it’s so awesome. Shadow of Mordor seems very out of place with the rest of the Lord of the Rings properties, which have traditionally been a little more family-friendly.
Shadow of Mordor does away with the pleasantries, and instead forces you into martial combat with the worst of the worst, who consistently prove to be cunning foes. Shadow of Mordor is an extremely gory game, and it’s glorious. If it were only filled with blood and gore however, it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying to play. Shadow of Mordor doesn’t fall into that trap though. Combat has such flair to it, and that makes all the difference. You feel appropriately strong playing as Talion; like a ballerina of blades.
But Mordor isn’t all doom and gloom. There are prettier lands to explore.
Of course, those lands are still filled with Uruks.
Even on its own, Shadow of Mordor would be a brutal romp, but one thing helps kick things up a notch: the Nemesis system.
A hierarchy exists in Mordor among the Uruks, one that you can methodically dismantle. Each of those Uruks has a name, along with strengths to consider and weaknesses to exploit. Ending their miserable lives halts their military career rather swiftly, but failing to do so can cost you dearly in the long run. Uruks you’ve fought with that survive the encounter somehow, don’t forget their run-ins with Talion. They remember the fights, and carry the appropriate grudges for their own failures. They mock Talion, or sometimes just scream in his face.
Of course, that’s assuming you don’t meet your demise at the hands of your enemy.
Shadow of Mordor takes a few liberties with the narrative of the Lord of the Rings lore, though I’m not bothered by it personally. Talion was part of the forces that guarded the Black Gate. I say was, because Talion died at the hands of The Black Hand of Sauron. Of course, in true Punisher fashion, Talion survives his family and swears to avenge his family.
Celebrimbor, a wraith, binds himself to Talion. This binding makes it impossible for Talion to truly die, which makes him an even more formidable enemy of the Uruks, and ensures that he will accomplish his goals.
I’m hesitant to say that the story is of a high caliber; it’s serviceable. Talion’s experience is sad, but it’s not what I’d consider to be heart-wrenching. The manner that Talion and his family dies is horrific, but once the game actually begins with Talion beginning his campaign of revenge, it’s easy to forget what the catalyst was. Talion’s family spends so little time on screen that only a strenuous connection is made.
It’s a pretty basic tale of revenge. Also, there’s Gollum for some reason.
WILDCARD: THE JOURNEY DOESN’T END HERE
So… Remember earlier when I said you could fail in your attempts to cut back the Uruk-hai army’s numbers? Well, death isn’t the end in Shadow of Mordor. Instead of being sent back to an earlier save, you suffer the humiliation of being the reason the enemy that killed you gets that sweet promotion he’s been gunning for. Each of your deaths moves your opponent up the food chain (this even plays a part in the story), giving him all the perks of being a higher-up in an evil warlord’s army, whatever those perks are.
Sometimes, if your enemy is lucky, they become a nuisance to you. A… Nemesis, if you will. Each time you’re killed, your killer becomes more powerful. They shore up their weaknesses and gain more strength. You know, like a nemesis of yours would.
I think you get it, right? The Nemesis system is pretty awesome. It turns something like death in a video game into a mechanic, which is a rare thing these days. One of the few other game series that does this are the Souls/Borne games (is that a genre yet?), except Shadow of Mordor is actually fun.
Yeah, I went there.
I didn’t mean that completely. Please don’t tell me to “git gud”. My fragile ego can’t handle that.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is fantastic fun, and it’s looking like Shadow of War may be following closely in its footsteps. I’ve been meaning to review this title for a long time, but it’s difficult to sit down and write about it without wanting to boot up my Xbox One and just start playing it instead. Even now, I just want to spend the next few hours just roaming Mordor, wreaking havoc among its inhabitants and picking fights with entire strongholds of Uruks.
It really is a blast, and even though it may be light on story, and takes a ton of liberties with the Lord of the Rings lore, I wholeheartedly recommend it be in everyone’s gaming collection. Seriously, I think it’s really cheap now, and what a good time to get acquainted with the franchise now that Shadow of War is coming out soon.
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