Is Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor game of the year material? No. But it is a fun a game with solid gameplay borrowed from other popular franchises like the Arkham games and Assassin’s Creed. As a fan of Lord of the Rings I’m pleased to say that it does a decent job portraying Middle-earth and staying true to the source material. While the story is nothing special, the gameplay and it’s unique nemesis system may keep you occupied if you can get past it’s repetitive nature.
You play as Talion, a ranger from Gondor. After him and his family are killed by Sauron’s army, he’s resurrected with by wraith which gives Talion wraith-like abilities and the two join forces with their own agendas. Talion seeks revenge for the death of his family while the wraith seeks to uncover his own identity. The story takes you across two areas and you’ll encounter some familiar characters from the movies. The voice acting is hit and miss and many of the NPCs are forgettable as most of them don’t have a long enough screen presence for you to care. Basically, it lacks character development. The wraith is probably the most interesting character and his past is uncovered via flashbacks whenever Talion touches a special artifact related to the wraith’s past.
Even with a sub-par story, at least the gameplay is good. If you didn’t like the Arkham or Assassin’s Creed games then chances are you won’t be impressed with Shadow of Mordor. Talion will fight against the Uruks (Orcs) and the combat consists of mashing the attack button and countering, pretty much identical to the Arkham games, although it feels smoother and more refined here. Talion can perform executions and a variety of stealth kills which are both awesome and satisfying to do. You can scale cliffs and climb structures to get around and it works really well. I would say climbing around the environments feels a lot better than how it’s done in any of the Assassin’s Creed games I’ve played. You eventually gain the ability to ride creatures called Caragors for faster navigation but you must first mount them. Most of the time you travel on-foot and the areas aren’t that large so it doesn’t become too tedious. Not only that but everywhere you go there’s always something to do. It’s an open-world game so you have your story missions, side missions, collectibles, etc. Due to the fact Shadow of Mordor holds your hand every step of the way, finding everything should never be a problem but that also means you’ll never have any real sense of discovery. Successfully doing anything in this game grants you experience points and when you gain enough points you unlock an ability point which are used to upgrade various abilities relating to combat, stealth, and ranged attacks. You can also earn currency called “Mirian” which can be spent on upgrading passive abilities like more health or extra rune slots for weapons.
The one thing that Shadow of Mordor definitely has going for it is it’s Nemesis system which I thought was very cool. Basically the Orcs have a hierarchy of regular soldiers, captains, and warchiefs. Most of the game has you taking down captains with goal to work your way up to the warchiefs. If you get killed by any Orc they will get promoted and possibly rise through the ranks. Going up against an Orc you have fought before can be neat as they will remember you. It helps make each encounter and death meaningful. Orks will fight each other for power and no matter how many captains or warchiefs you kill it seems they will always repopulate with new Orcs. It definitely adds some replay value and halfway through the game you gain an ability to “brand” Orks which means you can command them and make them fight each other. It’s all very cool. The Nemesis system is definitely the highlight of the game and is probably the most memorable aspect. Each captain and warchief has strengths and weaknesses like being invulnerable to ranged attacks or having a fear of Caragors. To know this information Talion must obtain the intel from other Orcs, captains, or warchiefs. If you can get into the game the Nemesis system is a lot of fun, sometimes addicting, and can keep you playing for hours.
There’s not too many things bad to say about Shadow of Mordor. I played the PC version and didn’t encounter any significant technical issues. It ran smooth and I used an Xbox One controller with no problems. The gameplay does get repetitive and even with the Nemesis system you’re constantly doing the same things with little to no variety. The story missions aren’t too exciting and actually I found them to be a lot less fun compared to running around slaying Orcs on my own. The game is far too easy and I was disappointed to see there was no difficulty modes or even a new game plus. By the time you get to the halfway point it may seem like you’re overpowered. The combat doesn’t have a lot of depth and it all depends on pressing the right buttons. Every now and then you’ll encounter a quick-time event which is never fun and the final boss fight is just lazy.
Shadow of Mordor looks decent from a visual standpoint. The first area of the game seems very bland with brown and muddy environments but the texture work is good. The second area seems much more alive and overall it captures the look and feel of Middle-earth. The character models look okay and the animations look great. Watching Orcs be decapitated or take an arrow to the face never gets old. The game is accompanied by great sound effects and repetitive music. The Orcs all sound as if they came right out of the films and in some ways the voice acting for the Orcs was better than the any of the main characters.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is not a bad game by any means but it’s not a great game either. It’s a fun game but not a challenging one. If you enjoy the gameplay then chances are you’ll have a great time or you may just play until you realize that Shadow of Mordor will never offer anything more than what you were doing six hours ago. The Nemesis system is by far the best thing about the game but I don’t think its enough to make it a must-play.