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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

PC | PlayStation 3 | PlayStation 4 | Xbox 360 | Xbox One
Genre: Adventure Players: 1
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Warner Brothers Interac...
Release Date:
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Review
Review By @ 07:08pm 07/10/14
Assassin’s Creed in the Lord of the Rings universe” might be the simplest way to regale the Shadow of Mordor experience, but that would seriously undermine the unique nature of the game’s more important component -- its enemies.

I’ve thrown around words like “ambitious” and “lofty” in discussion of the game since seeing it first-hand at E3, and I stand by these buzz bites because after a huge amount of review time with the game, Shadow of Mordor presents one of the most compelling enemy AI experiences ever developed in this scale. It’s not perfect, and could have done with a bit more polish, but the surface and depth value is far more rewarding than worrying about (some) animations, visual pop-ups and a touchy combat system. The truth is, Shadow of Mordor is the sort of forward-thinking design push this space needs, and even though it does borrow heavily from games like Batman and Assassin’s Creed, it does so with a sense of belonging and cohesion, while leaving its own stamp.

Starting at the beginning, Shadow of Mordor’s intro is a powerful one indeed. You’re presented with a pseudo cinematic narrative setup of the main character’s responsibility as both a ranger and a family man. There are interactive elements here that work as something of a combat tutorial, but movement, by and large, is very different to how it will be when you’re out in the game-world proper. Still, it’s up-close-and-personal nature makes for a solid call-to-action moment when all’s said and done, and your ties to Talion, the game’s hero, are immediately strong as a result.

While it all happens in the first 10-minutes, I won’t spoil it for you save to say the torturous event binds Talion with the Wraith spirit of Celebrimbor -- an Elvish smith who forged the ring of power. Both characters suffered impactful fates, a common bond that ties their desire for revenge together, thus allowing them to continue to walk in the world of men, and in and out of the Wraith realm. That’s a fancy way of saying you have an ability not too dissimilar to Eagle Vision in Assassin’s Creed, however, here it actually makes more sense. You’re able to see towers of the past (and unlock them, in maintaining that familiarity theme), see through walls to tag enemies, but most importantly, to draw your Elvish bow -- a weapon and ability that has a strong place in how you play the game.

Outside of the enemy AI factor, which I’ll get to shortly, Shadow of Mordor also carries with it a unique weapon and weapon crafting component. Rather than building new weapons though, crafting comes in the form of runes and rune spots on all three of your weapons -- the aforementioned bow, your sword and a dagger. You purchase new rune spots on your weapons through the accrual of the game’s currency for general completion of missions, though it’s not hard and fast, making earning it pretty challenging. Runes are then rewarded for the deaths of Captains -- the first tier of Uruk military hierarchy. Depending on the Captain, you will unlock specific runes to specific weapons, regardless though, how you apply runes to your weapons is entirely your decision, and each run has a specific stat and buff. This means you can forge the properties of your weapons based on how you prefer to play through different combinations of runes, and they only get stronger as you progress through the game.

But so too, does the enemy. One of the more unique concepts in Shadow of Mordor is that your own death isn’t a hard-fail scenario. If you die, you don’t reset the whole game to a checkpoint, rather the game-world continues to move through time, dynamically shifting both your own reputation and the reputation of the Uruk who felled you. This ties heavily into the Uruk armies, bound by four Warchiefs who each have their own bodyguards. Under these bodyguards are the game’s captains I’ve already mentioned. Any grunt Uruk you face out in the craggy plains of Mordor can, in fact, rise to power based on his own personality traits (assigned randomly), and on how he handles their own internal struggles. The Uruk will fight amongst themselves in a sort of AI digital meta-game that plays on in the background and is something you can trigger at any point in time to advance. Each Captain, Bodyguard and Warchief also comes with a series of strengths and weaknesses designed to allow you to plan for confrontation. For example, one might be scared of fire which allows you to exploit that in your favour so he’s weakened, however, he might have a strong allegiance to his bodyguards, which will make him enraged whenever you attack them.

The actual physical side of combat could be best described as a true mixture between Assassin’s Creed and Batman, with a greater lean towards the Dark Knight’s system (making it better than Assassin’s Creed, in my opinion). You have the ability to Counter attack as well as Vault, Grab and generally stab/slice at the enemy. You also have a combo multiplier like Batman, and you can trigger special abilities from longer combo chains. These are also the same as Batman in terms of their button placement but hey, if it ain’t broke and not fully used in the gaming world properly yet, why not capitalise? I’ve definitely found that timing is less targeted here and so more forgiving as a result (making it more difficult to accidentally break a combo multiplier for spamming the wrong button). It also feels a little looser. The further you get into the game, the more complex it can become and you do face varying enemy-types, which should keep most players away from button-mashing, but on the whole it’s definitely not as polished as Batman.

What’s interesting about the combination of the two paragraphs above, is the personality dynamism that spins as a result of your combat actions. You might fight a captain and put an arrow through his eye, only he might still best you, raising his reputation. The next time you see him though, he’ll have an armour plate over the eye you pierced and he’ll even raise the conflict and wound with you, proclaiming a heavy desire for revenge. Each Uruk’s vocal lines are vast, too. You can often even listen in on regular grunt conversations to learn how any one of the Captains is being seen amongst the groups, and use that to your advantage. There’s even a narrative sub-plot based around helping one of the weaker Uruks rise in the ranks so that he can help you achieve your goals from up on high, but I’ll leave that tasty bit of story for you to experience yourself (it's also a tutorial of sorts that teaches you how to plant traitors).

Another strong facet to the game is its mission diversity. You’re also not forced to stay on the main story path and can go off on your own very early on. There’s a lot to do in this barren place, including searching for ancient artefacts to help your ghostly partner uncover the truth to his past. And while the game itself isn’t pulled directly from any of Tolkien's literature, how the writing team has managed to tie in varying plot-points, characters and locations is incredibly well done, considering the nature of videogames. In fact the story on the whole is very well paced and played out, with an extra nod going to each of the voice-actors who bring a level of gravitas to their roles I wasn’t actually expecting. Despite the Tolkien universe being gamified here, it feels like it fits in with the celebrated lore, and I applaud the team for their efforts in this part.

There’s planned post-release content to maintain your position in the land of Mordor as a bane to the Orcs, but the retail package here is a robust one anyway, and you’ll find a host of things to keep you occupied beyond shaping your relationships with the Uruk. You can capture and ride Caragor, hunt local wildlife and fauna, rescue and free human slaves, take on whole Uruk strongholds, poison drinking barrels, gain intel through mind-reading, partake in weapon-specific side-missions to help build the reputation of yourself and your weapons and so much more.

It’s a game that could really have done with a bit more time in the cooker as far as some polish is concerned -- animations and movement are a bit rough around the edges, and some parts of the environment tend to load in slowly, but they’re far from detracting. It’s the sum of its ambitious components, and its compelling story that creates a fantastic new IP for Warner Bros., and maintains that publisher’s ability to allow more creative and unique freedom from their studios to foster. And even with that level of polish I’d have liked to see, it’s difficult to think of any reason you shouldn’t play this, because I can’t. It’s a compelling experience unlike anything else out in the market, despite borrowing heavily from a couple of other big guns. Thoroughly recommend.
What we liked
  • Dynamic and evolving enemy AI based on your own actions in-game
  • Time never stops and the game never resets shaping a dynamic play-space each time you die or advance time
  • Wonderfully gruesome befitting the Uruks you face
  • Voice-acting and overall narrative are top-notch
  • Hugely varies mission structures and side-quests
What we didn't like
  • Some visual components don't feel finished
  • Combat system lacks the finesse of the game it borrowed it from: Batman
  • Mordor can be a dull place to be, varying locations could have added much-needed colour (despite the narrative not calling for it)
We gave it:
Latest Comments
Posted 07:31pm 07/10/14
My game of the year easily. I love the Tolkien universe and adore how they've brought Mordor to life in the best way possible: focusing on the enemies. I have not become bored yet, and still eagerly go out and explore the lands to find a grunt I want to raise through the ranks.

Definitely a must-buy!
Posted 07:35pm 07/10/14
Wait, this isn't a MMO?
Posted 10:33pm 07/10/14
Not a MMO, Open-world third-person action RPG.
Posted 03:16am 08/10/14
My one and Only complaint about the game is that there are not enough main story missions they go by too quick, maybe add some story dlc's in later or even an expansion down the track

The nemesis system is one of if not the best game mechanic that has come about in the past few years and it would be brilliant if future games would use it and refine it
Posted 07:37am 08/10/14
Great to see a non-MMO single player game of this scale, can't wait to get into it!
Posted 09:50am 08/10/14
It pretty much does a better job of being Assassin's Creed than Assassin's Creed does these days
Posted 10:39am 08/10/14
It's Assassins Creed: Middle Earth
Posted 11:57am 08/10/14
I got it last friday and finished it by Monday morning, just freaking content locusting my way through the whole thing. Loved it. It's an awesome amalgam of Assassin's Creed, Batman Arkham and just a touch of Soul Reaver. The story is dribbled out quite slowly and is then over all too quickly IMO though.
Posted 05:04pm 08/10/14
It's Assassins Creed: Middle Earth

cool. if that's the case it'd make assassin's creed worth playing for a few hours.

but is the AI and combat mechanics stupidly predictable and repetitive like assassin's creed?

I guess it has to be cos it's fundamentally a console game..
Posted 02:28pm 09/10/14
My only problem with the game is that the combat is like Assassins Creed...

*Oruks attack, mash Y, hit two buttons when glowy sword... Rinse repeat 30 times*
Posted 02:46pm 09/10/14
Its a lot more like Arkham, if you're sitting there waiting for them to attack and then countering, you're doing it wrong. I spend way more of my time offensively attacking and vaulting and wraith stunning and flurrying and dagger throwing then I do countering really. Only time I really find myself countering is in situations where I'm already attacking one guy, and another guy is taking a swing at me from behind or something. Or those times when multiple guys come at you at once and you can do those sweet double counters where Talion goes after one guy and the wraith goes after the other.
Posted 03:09pm 09/10/14
Installed this and Alien this morning going to get a bottle of scotch and get into them my biggest decision is to f*** around in Mordor or get s*** scared of dark hallways again
Posted 10:36pm 09/10/14
lame troll
Posted 07:27am 10/10/14
That nuke doesn't look genuine.
Posted 02:00pm 10/10/14
cause its not. I removed it, d*** level was set to 11.
Posted 02:47pm 10/10/14
Played this game for a couple of hours last night, it's so much fun definitely feels more Batman Arkham City than AC to me, I love just how open the gameplay is and how the Orc Captain system works.
Posted 03:26pm 10/10/14
I love how the warchiefs all make an entrance with their own themes and voices chanting their names and stuff. Makes it feel like WWE wrestling or something
Posted 04:10pm 10/10/14
Me to Khel, feels a bit intimidating, in an entertaining sort of way. Except for the one time I got a Uruk named Kaka to become a Warchief, then I just giggled like an idiot.
Posted 04:17pm 10/10/14
yep. the minions chanting the captain or chief's name is epic. I also love when you get to low health and all you can hear is your heart beat and strikes. By far the most brutal and awesome combat I've ever experienced in a game. Literally hours of OMFG F*** YES fist pumping decapitations.

The world and mechanics they've created are completely unreal. The story, while compelling, did feel short and sort of rushed towards the end. The stuff with the princess was questionable imo. Still though, great game and easily GOTY for me.
Posted 12:48am 11/10/14
Gave this another run for a few hours tonight, not rushing the story given the people who have said its a bit on the short side. Its fun to just wander the map, kill captains, get intel etc, find side quests and stalk the orcs tho!

Just genuine fun, savouring it basically :) GOTY easy for me.
Posted 05:57pm 12/10/14
this game is sweeeet!
Posted 04:42pm 13/10/14
I just picked this up for the PS4. I have not really followed it before its release but I keep hearing that its pretty good. Ill boot it up a bit later. I need to play more Alien too.
Posted 01:25pm 14/10/14
It's Assassins Creed: Middle Earth

Nope its Batman: Dark Knight of Mordor
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