Game Review – Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor

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Game review – Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Platform – PC, PS4, XBONE, PS3, 360
Developer – Monolith Productions, Inc.
Publisher – WB Games

Release date – 30 Sept, 2014

Rating – 9/10

walkintomordor

Actually, it's less "walking into Mordor" and more "killing into Mordor."

As a long time fan of Tolkien and his works, I (and I assume many others) have been craving a game which doesn’t sum up to yet another adaptation of the movies. When Shadow of Mordor was first announced, I was cautiously optimistic. We finally have a release featuring a new character who actually gets to stomp around in Mordor – something even Boromir was hesitant to undertake. However, this title shares more than a few similarities with Star Wars: Force Unleashed in its attempt to bridge the two main trilogies with a character who has as many abilities as one could allow in that universe and remain faithful. While I considered Force Unleashed (the first one, specifically) to be somewhat underrated, it was widely received as a disappointment. With predecessors like Jedi Academy and Knights of the Old Republic, it could have taken a few more notes.

Thankfully, WB had the review embargo lifted a few days prior to release, and gave copies to the big sites (IGN, PC Gamer, etc). It was hard to ignore the impressive gameplay videos and raving reviews. Could this be the open world LotR franchise title I’ve been hoping for?

2014-10-06_00027

You will never play another game with so many exploding heads.

Abso-fucking-lutely. For the first two hours, I couldn’t even handle how immediately you are dropped into being the sole perpetrator of the mass genocide of Uruk-hai. With a seemingly endless assortment of decapitations, impalements and other brutal blade attacks, this game might as well have been called, “1000 Ways to Kill Orcs.”

While the combat system borrows heavily from the Arkham series (same publisher, after all) and takes cues from Assassin’s Creed as well, it’s quite refined and satisfying in its execution. There are an impressive variety of abilities and each ability has multiple animations, so you never feel like you’re only relying on a strict regiment of block/attack. As both a human and a “wraith,” you have an array of devastation to unleash upon your foe; whether you wish to rely on the skills of a cunning warrior, or the powers which come with your link to the netherworld. There’s also a nice balance between stealth and active combat which doesn’t appear to favour one over the other. As a whole, the fighting system feels round and well thought out.

2014-10-06_00056

 I love doing this one.

Even with all of the head chopping and brutal shanking, the thing that ties the whole room together is the Nemesis System. In most games like this, your life is bound to a series of checkpoints and saves. You and the game progress along with these checkpoints and when you die, you restart from the last one, as does the rest of the game. However, because it is established very early on that you are stuck in a deathless limbo, your demise only means you will return again soon after. So, rather than your death forcing you and the game to turn back time, it is now a mechanic for the progression of orcs in a similar way that their death lead to your own progress. Yes. NPCs level up by killing you.

2014-10-06_00050

And now for something completely different...

The map starts off with a set of 20 captains and 5 warchiefs. As you kill them off, they will be replaced by others at random, or by grunts that happen to get the lucky last strike. So not only can a mere grunt be promoted up the chain of command by killing you, he will remember killing you and taunt you for it. Some may actively hunt you as well. Sometimes, captains you believe slain will come back with a vengeance, show up at the worst possible moment, and become a giant pain in the ass you consistently have trouble killing because you can’t keep your emotions in check when he pops up on the screen.

2014-09-30_00038

Fuck this guy so much.

What this translates into is a game world that feels alive. It seems to progress in spite of you. The Uruks continue to roam around the map, fight among themselves, hunt dangerous creatures, tame slaves and generally go on about their business. Because you’re thrown into this right away, there’s never a lull in the action. There’s little urgency to push the plot forward just to have fun; invading feasts and ruining duels is rewarding on its own merit.

Each captain comes along with his own unique skill set, too. So even if you end up seeing a few repeats, they rarely have the same weaknesses and strengths. Variety is not amiss.

2014-10-05_00005

According to the voice over, it's pronounced "douche."

In true Lord of the Rings fashion, instead of amassing an armory full of gear, the weapons you have are named and unique to your character. You’ll even complete specific missions which craft the lore behind them so to become (in)famous orc-slaying relics. Each weapon can be slotted with up to 5 runes which allow you tweak for your play-style. There is a wide assortment of runes with random stats as well as “epic” unique runes with set stats. Only captains and warchiefs will drop runes, so they are your main incentive for taking down the big bosses.

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Is your dagger legendary, or are you just happy to see me?

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor delivers in a way I honestly was not expecting. On its shell, it looks like it might be a bland ripoff of another formula’s success, but it has so much more than that going on under the hood. While the combat isn’t revolutionary, it’s well-refined, and the Nemesis System more than makes up for it in the revolutionary department. The story isn’t particularly original, but it’s well-voiced and cast. The artwork is fantastic, and the lore is respected. It’s not a perfect game but it gets high marks for execution and having the guts to do something new.

However, at the end of all the criticism and nitpicking the game truly excels in one area: fun. It’s so much fun, all the little things don’t matter and you remember why you like gaming in the first place. Yeah, it’s that kinda good.

/gameon

lethalstrike

Mordor: Where killing orcs is a means of transportation.
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