Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (SoM) is a moderately fast paced third-person brawler/slasher which takes you, Talion, into the depths of Mordor to fight foes in massive numbers, and in great strength, in order to weaken Sauron’s army of Orcs. For this review I’m going to stay away from the Tolkien lore, as it is so close to home for me that I could talk about it all day. Focusing on Shadow of Mordor, the game has a very intriguing and well thought out story, awesomely brutal gameplay, and did a fair job at recreating the feeling of being back in Middle Earth.
Minor beginning of game spoilers. Please skip this paragraph if you are avoiding them.
The opening bit of story is, simply put, great. You play as Talion, a ranger of Gondor. For years, you have helped guard the border between Mordor and Gondor. The game’s opening tutorials have you teaching your son how to swordfight, as well as using your stealth to sneak up on your wife and give her flowers and a kiss. The tutorials aren’t long, but the dialog is emotional and you know that Talion loves his family. This method got me attached to the characters in about 15 minutes without shoving it down my throat. I hate that they did this so well, because they kill your family only a few more minutes into the game. The Black Hand of Sauron leads an attack on your castle at the border of Mordor, he slowly slits your Wife and Son’s throat, and then kills you. Wait, what? I’m dead? Yeah. Dead. You return to the world of the living with a mysterious wraith bound to your soul; this ancient elf remains by your side and helps you keep come back, granting you special wraith-like abilities to take on the evils of Mordor. The game takes place, as you find out later on, sometime right after Bilbo took the One Ring from Gollum, so the game is set somewhere within the 60 years between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
I can’t say who this wraith is, as that is a major story spoiler, but let me tell you, if you’ve read the Silmarillion (the extensive history of Middle-Earth) you will absolutely love the storyline. Talion sets out to kill The Black Hand of Sauron for revenge, and this is where the “Nemesis” gameplay system comes into play. I’ll describe it as simply as possible: every time you kill a captain or other higher up in Sauron’s army you are shown a big list of them, and you see how you killing that one Orc affects who is promoted within Sauron’s army. When you are defeated and killed, the Orc that killed you gets promoted to captain, his power level (scale 1-20) increases and he will remember you. Dying in the game never means that you have to really redo anything or part of the game because, when you die, time in Mordor keeps moving. Your death affects the army of Sauron and enemies remember you, while becoming more powerful. Why do you keep coming back? Well, you aren’t exactly dead or alive, but a little bit of both.
This system is awesome and the dialogue is tailored to your experience. For example, after injuring an Orc Captain, but not killing him, the next time he saw me, he brought up how I burned him when I threw him through the fire and left him to die. It makes you regret not finishing off the bastard when you had the chance. With a long, and I mean long enemy hit list to go through, I had hours and hours of fun with SoM, and even after beating it, I’m still playing, pushing 20+ hours in the game. This personal experience that has your enemies and you on the same page, and actually bantering with each other (or more so, just them at you) is absolutely refreshing to have in a game when you’re really tired of the typical success and failure results of other games. Leveling up and progressing in the game works a lot like the Batman Arkham games, and sadly, that won’t be the last time that I’ll have to say SoM stole something good from the Batman games.
Now, before I go into what obviously sucked a bit and what needed to be changed, let me go over the massively longer list of pros and make clear that I love this game. Don’t give me too much hate for pointing out the obvious, I sat up all night for the release and immediately sunk 11 hours into it the first day I had it. So, without further ado, here’s the best things about SoM. This game has some of the absolute best brawler style combat I’ve played, finishers are diverse and gory, as well as beautiful. Options as simple as: do you want to stealth kill? Or would you like to brutally murder the guy in front of the other Orcs in order to put fear into them and make them run? These are simple, but really cool options to have at your disposal. Stealth is satisfyingly fun in this game if you love stealth games like I do, however you almost never have to be stealthy, save for a few missions that require you to in order to succeed. The world is very much open, there is fast travel for those of you not looking to hardcore it, and the world is greatly detailed. Overall, I’ve sunk about 20+ hours into this game and love it, but, as I must do, let’s move onto what was a bit off and some things about SoM that may or may not have pissed me off a little bit.
Cons…I hate to do this, but I have to. To start, SoM stole about 60% of its gameplay from the WB Batman games, not surprising seeing that WB was involved with both games. Now, I’m not complaining about the map, or that method of displaying the missions that you have to complete in order to progress the story, but rather that the attribute and leveling up chart that you put points into, in order to gain new skills and abilities, was literally ripped out of the last two Batman games. (Ex. throw daggers = throw batarangs, throw 3 daggers at once = throw 3 Batarangs at once.) There’s just too much that is the same between the games in their leveling that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, not because it’s not good, but because it’s unoriginal. I can let the map, fast travel, and the blocking/brawling combat go, but seriously? The whole damn point chart? Really, Monolith you lazy ass. Beyond that, there are only a few other things that I would have changed or made different. I got tired of the Mission Impossible sounding action music, most of it sounded like the Middle Earth Peter Jackson had made real for us, but a lot of the game sounded like the Batman soundtrack when in the midst of fighting. There are a lot, and I mean a lot of Tolkien mispronunciations that I won’t go into, and it got really annoying that they used the term Uruk, for the Uruk-Hai during the whole game, as men and elves and all the races of light in Middle-Earth should be calling them either Uruk-Hai or Orcs, as a general term; there are characters that would qualify as Goblins in the game, yet the world Goblin is never uttered. Some of the new (to the Average Joe) creatures were done really well, however some, I don’t believe were portrayed as they should have been, such as the ghouls. This all said, few of my complaints actually hurt the game play and were really, if anything, just annoying to me. Really annoying.
Beyond that, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a wonderful game. While I take it with a fistful of salt when adding it to my Tolkien universe, it’s still a tremendous game, that will without a doubt give video game lovers and Tolkien fanatics hours and hours of gameplay well worth the price. Pick it up, the unique one on one experience with enemies is almost worth it alone. It may not be perfect, but it is so damn fun and close enough to perfect for me.
I give Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor 4.5 “Dead Orc Captains” out of 5
By Austin Gragg