Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac OS, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Lord of the Rings games don’t usually end up being the most popular of games and with the War in the North game, my excitement for LoTR games has somewhat dwindled. There are games in previous generations that are enjoyable such as the Battle for the Middle Earth RTS series and the movie-game adaptions for the PS2. While War in the North gave us a different perspective with new characters, it was still set in the same timeline as The Lord of the Rings. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor was the game that took us away from that usually storyline and gave us something different, and it was good!
So what’s the story and just who is Talion?
The story begins with Talion as a Ranger of Gondor where he and his family were brutally executed by the Black Hand of Sauron in order to summon an Elf Lord named Celebrimbor (wraith). Not knowing who he is due to amnesia, Celebrimbor merged with Talion which negated his death. They then escape and both plan to exact revenge against Sauron’s forces for the murders of Talion’s family and to reveal Celebrimbor’s identity.
For me, the story started off pretty strong and I was really enjoying following different characters within the Lord of the Rings universe but that didn’t exactly last as long as I’d hoped. The problem I thought was that the missions themselves weren’t engaging enough, which is probably why I didn’t feel as into the story as I thought I’d be.
Shadow of Mordor is the result of combining freeflow combat, greatly interesting mechanics, Lord of the Rings lore and presenting it in a fully fleshed out open world with RPG elements. Most of what it does provides us with an unforgettable, fast-paced game that certainly doesn’t fail to disappoint, especially when one of its biggest features that I absolutely loved, has worked out so well.
Is Shadow of Mordor just an RPG?
First off, Shadow of Mordor isn’t your typical RPG like The Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, Dragon Age series. It only adopts RPG elements such as gaining experience, Power and Mirian. Power is used to unlock Ability Tiers and experience for Ability Points. Mirian is used to expand on Talion’s attributes such as increasing your Health, Focus, Rune Slots for your weapons and Elf-shot, which is a bow that can be used to snipe targets and is also my favourite weapon by the way. It won’t make you feel as badass as Legolas but it’s still very cool!
- Power is gained from killing Captains/Warchiefs and by completing Power Struggle missions
- Experience and Mirian is gained by completing Story, Outcast rescue missions, Survival/Hunting challenges, collecting Artifacts and Ithildin, completing bonus objectives, killing enemies, completing Weapon legends and most importantly (it really isn’t)…harvesting plants!
What’s the gameplay like?
The open world of Shadow of Mordor has missions and things to collect wherever you are in the area whether it be a small camp of enemies to clear or artifacts to find. It’s nicely populated with Orcs and Uruk-hais to the point where you have to be careful where you blindly run about as you may find yourself suddenly in a camp surrounded by one too many enemies. The great thing about this is that because it’s an open world, you can escape and hide to lose them. Unless you thrive off fighting hordes of enemies at a time, which can really get overwhelming, you can instead go for a stealthier approach and pick off a few Orcs and Uruk-hais here and there to make Talion’s life just that much easier.
One of my favourite moments in the game is stylishly decapitating Orcs and not only is it gruesome, it’s gruesomely beautiful! I never really tired of separating the heads of Orcs because it felt like I was doing it for a purpose, to get revenge for Talion’s family! And it just felt really awesome! Of course decapitation isn’t the only way to kill enemies, you can casually stab an Orc through the head, or hack his shoulder or maybe a good ‘ol stab to the torso. This also applies to Talion, you have a few ways in which you also die. Either by being thrown into the ground or being bludgeoned on the head by a mace. Lovely!
Fighting against any enemy has the chance of making a random enemy your Nemesis and the cool thing is, they’re unique to each playthrough! Each Nemesis will distinctively react differently to Talion’s arrival whether is be to fight him off or run away in terror with other reactions as well. This makes fighting each Nemesis that much more exciting instead of fighting an enemy you don’t know. It adds unique personalities to your enemies. Also, defeating your Nemeses will award you with a Rune that will add power to your weapon! So I advise you to slay as many Nemeses as possible!
Another interesting thing with the Nemesis System is that if you die, well it doesn’t really matter! You respawn at the nearest safe tower and the enemy that killed you will “remember” Talion so when they both meet again, that enemy will have a dialogue that says he’ll want to make sure you stay dead this time! Not only this, but the enemy that killed you will advance in Power so he will be a harder opponent the next time you face him, which is obviously a consequence of dying. The higher the Power level of an enemy, the bigger the reward. So effectively you could keep dying to the same dude to beef his Power up…just to kill him for a huge reward! Just saying!
Nemeses have the chance of going up in the ranks by killing off previous Captains/War Chiefs or through promotion. Now if you manage to come across a duel between two Uruks, you can interfere and forcibly decide which one becomes the Captain/War Chief! However usually in these scenarios I try to kill them both off. Doing this however may get you into an outnumbered situation with grunts. It’s fair to say that the biggest feature, the Nemesis System is what sets Shadow of Mordor apart from other games on the market.
Moving on, the game adopted the freeflow combat you’d see in the recent Batman Arkham games. Dodging and countering I found is more forgiving compared to the Batman games because during these dodges, Talion becomes immune to damage and doesn’t seem to get hit by ranged attacks, hence being easier because in the Arkham games this doesn’t happen. Another thing is that counters can be executed during a strike phase, meaning that there’s “less skill” needed to do them. Despite these minor differences, I really couldn’t care less and I actually found these changes more enjoyable and less frustrating earlier on in Shadow of Mordor where your health tends to deplete very quickly after a couple of hits.
How does it look?
It’s no doubt that the game has succeeded in making you feel like your in the Lord of the Rings Universe and I absolutely adored being immersed inside of it! Everything from the vegetation, the camps, towers, hordes of Orcs and Uruks did exactly this, making it a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Especially as a huge Lord of the Rings fan myself.
Running the game on it’s absolute max settings on a PC looks even more gorgeous but it will indeed require a a beastly PC and much room (6gb) for Ultra-HD textures. I tried running the game on Ultra settings but it wasn’t really possible to play it with a smooth enough frame rate so I had to lower it one level below it but it certainly looked stunning for the brief time I was able to play it on Ultra! I also have the game on PS4 and although there is a big difference in graphical quality, it looks great nonetheless on both systems.
So is it worth getting?
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is easily one the best Lord of the Rings games out there and it’s definitely stands up against the titans of the open world genre such as the Arkham and Witcher series (even though Witcher 3 is in a league of its own). It adopts a familiar and fun combat style from the Arkham games, making it it’s own and it certainly stands out in the market with the fantastic Nemesis System, which could be a secondary story on its own if your imaginative enough! Anyone who enjoys the open world RPG genre will love the Shadow of Mordor and if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan… you’ll embrace the gift that we’ve been given. It’s definitely a must buy and it’s rekindled my faith in Lord of the Rings games!
How does the game match up for you? Do you agree with what I’ve said? Let me know what you think!