Title: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Platform: Steam, Windows, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360

Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: Action Adventure
Players: Single player


Written by Whistler 3rd October 2014









Ever since I heard about Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor back around August after seeing nothing more than a logo and the protagonist (AKA Aragorn #2) I‘ve held my judgement back on the title and didn’t really get hyped mostly due to the rather lacklustre amount of Lord of the Rings titles that never really translated to the video game screen very well. But after seeing videos on certain unique mechanics and such I slowly came out from under my elitist corner and was ready to welcome another interactive attempt at J.R.Tolkien’s world.


Thankfully even if I didn’t lower my standards I wouldn’t be disappointed with Monolith Production’s latest creation. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is an action adventure title with light rpg elements that follows Talion, a ranger of the Black Gate after the defeat of Sauron during the last alliance of Elves and Men where in the wake of the dark lord’s inevitable return the Black Gate is sieged, Talion fails to save his post as well as his family. Upon waking after the battle Talion learns he has been forsaken death and now walks the Middle-earth as a wraith along with soul bro Celbrimbor, the very elf responsible for the forging of the rings of power. Now the soul brothers must uncover the truth behind why their paths have become intertwined, to wreak vengeance on the ranks of Sauron’s army and save Middle-earth (well not the last one, anyone that’s seen Lord of the Rings can take a guess that Talion is most likely not successful by the end of this venture from watching the first 10 minutes of the films).
























Shadow of Mordor’s gameplay is honestly outstanding; it seems Monolith must’ve been conducting some thorough recon on both Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series and the Batman: Arkham trilogy (by recon I mean play the hell out of both series’). SOM seems to strike an almost perfect tone for delicious stealth and exhilarating combat from that Creed and Arkham slowly perfected over the years, with ranger and wraith powers combined you slowly gain a myriad of methods to deal your own flavour of Gondor kick ass seal of approval (it’s a thing), with roughly thirty five ability upgrades not including attribute upgrades and weapon augmentations. Though a change of digs without DLC would be nice, it’s a shame you don’t ever change out of the ranger uniform nor gain different weapons as I feel that could have helped enrich the experience even more, but you can’t have everything I suppose.

Whether the shadows are your forte or you’d rather bring down a swift hammer of vengeance on your foe there’s something to fit the bill ranging from:


. The deadly Shadow Strike, serving as both an instant transportation technique as well as an assassination skill allowing you to lock on, teleport and send that orc on his way to orc heaven.


Or for close encounters


. The Execution skill for when slicing away isn’t good enough and you want to finish a particular nasty customer with a slow motion and deadly gore-tastic flourish.


Or hey, want to make sure that warchief knows to have dinner on the stove?

You can even issue a death threat via interrogating an underling of his banner to increase the risk as well as the reward for slaying them.


All of which lends itself to Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor’s truly unique mechanic, the Nemesis system.

While I don’t fully know the extent of the system itself, the basics are still astounding; each time you meet blades with an enemy will in turn cause a rippling effect throughout Sauron’s ranks in turn creating an ever evolving and adapting plethora of enemies that progress alongside the player to become this truly organic world.






















Ah I remember it like it was yesterday (cause it was), there I was getting my bearings of the landscapes of Mordor when having saved one Ratbag the Coward, I begun to manipulate the very hierarchy of the Uruk clans as me and good ol’ Ratbag fought tooth and claw (well, I done the fighting he lost several teeth and claws) to get him into the position of warchief.

Just as Ratbag almost assumed his desired role, one particular Uruk seemed to gain a taste for my company, one Shaka the Mindless, this crafty bastard always seemed to show up at the worst of times during an attempted assassination or a rather large brawl between myself and another captain.

Several times he would leave me to die, plunging a fatal arrow into my chest to then mock me as I kneeled in the mud awaiting my fate, he would then vanish almost as quickly as he appeared; though almost every time his mortal wounding would help another gain a promotion and send me on a trip to the nearest respawn.

With each death the stakes got higher, and the fight became a vendetta; I grew more bloodthirsty for the Mindless’ blood as I chose abilities to aid me next we should meet, and he grew stronger gaining strengths and weakness’ adapting to my previous attempts on his life.
Even as I slayed all of the Warchiefs I never got around to killing the bastard.
You know, in a way he grew on me and as cliché as it is to say it, he became the Joker to my Batman and I don’t think I could continue my vengeance spree across Mordor without knowing he’s around, somewhere behind me with a crossbow most likely.


It’s personal stories like this and many many others that you’ll gain as you write your own legacy in Shadow of Mordor that make the world along with the Nemesis system come to life.

Each decision you make, each captain you slay, each captain you don’t, makes a resounding resonance across the world with orcs gossiping of your latest feats or that special someone remarking about your last encounter where you tried to cut his throat open and how he shot you with an arrow, as you attempt to foil him once more. The range of nemeses is rather impressive as well, with dialogue remarking almost any possible action, colourful voice overs both menacing and humorous, surprisingly varying visual features and personalities and building stories create a cast of personal experiences that do not disappoint. It’s these experiences that will have you around the water cooler and much like those long talks of Skyrim or feats in Dark Souls, will have you sharing your feats and falls with your friends in some lengthy discussions about how Shaka the Mindless is a douche, but you can’t help but feel proud of the little bugger as he climbed his way through the ranks.


Visually I feel that Shadow of Mordor is actually rather stunning, while I was rather gutted that for once I can’t run this gargantuan beast of an adventure on the highest settings.
Even with my eight core 4.33GHz CPU, 16GB RipJaws of RAM and a GTX 660 I could only run the game on high mostly due to opting for a stable frame rate (around 30-60fps) whilst slaughtering the vast hordes of Mordor instead of a low quality .gif of some description.

Even then though the game is still stunning for those of you like myself that are lacking a NASA super computer in your lives; Shadow of Mordor has crisp textures, buttery smooth animations and some awe inspiring views even in the rather baron wasteland that is Mordor with beaten paths, slum towns, battered fortresses and long forgotten ruins covering every inch of the map.

And to top it all off, even with all this eye candy you can still get a decent frame rate as you take strolls through the wastes passing several unique crowds, sometimes it’s a orc party on their way to crush some skulls, other times it’s a troll like beast running down seemingly infinite numbers of ill prepared Uruks or a slave train being oppressed by one soon to be unlucky slaver.
























Whether you’re apart of the hard core Tolkien nerd brigade or just a casual Lord of the Rings fan (I am slightly ashamed to say I lean more towards the latter spectrum), SOM’s story is half decent.

I wouldn’t really say it’s a be all and end all of video game fantasy plots but it’s got enough panache to not feel like it was just pinned on to shut up the cries of single player gamers everywhere.

Characters at first seem two dimensional but they develop nicely over the course of the main storyline and even some memorable personalities manage to stay with you like the conniving Ratbag, the rather cynical Talion and of course the token Lord of the Rings cannon himself, Gollum.  

Now arguably the story sits around the 7-8 hour mark which admittedly for the amount of lore Monolith had available to them thanks to the vast world of Tolkien’s works is a little underwhelming, though this is a small complaint. For while 7-8 hours is for the main story, the amount of hours you’ll accumulate writing your own tale through the vast majority of very enjoyable ‘side missions’ will have you forgiving the story’s shortcomings.

I mean come on, I’ll glady admit I only started doing the main quest line cause y’know, kinda need to know the story and such for reviewing and the whatnot, but even then I didn’t feel like I was wasting time on either parts of gameplay and I racked up nine hours in the space of a day.


Honestly even if the story doesn’t satisfy you I’d say it’s more than fine for plot to take a backseat to your story and your gameplay. Much like the Assassin’s Creed series, there is a megaton of missions to do and secrets to go about collecting, but where honestly I couldn’t stand most of it in AC, in Mordor I just couldn’t stop. Whether it was proving my assassination skills in the various challenge events, or hunting down my target or helping to free some of my fellow brethren I just didn’t get bored; there’s enough variety and ways to go about tackling most missions that I forsee SOM staying in my library for quiet sometime or until I need to regrettably uninstall it to free up space (whichever comes first).























I really wasn’t expecting much with this but damn I was blown away, sometimes it’s the game that gets no hype that deserves the hype. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a fantastic open-world adventure and is probably one of the best Tolkien to video game representations I’ve ever experienced; simply put, brutal combat, satisfying stealth, open world, unique personal experiences and Middle-earth equals amazing.

Good job Monolith, treat yourself to a cookie.

 


Pros:    

Organic open-world,

Enjoyable exploration,

Hours of game play,

Plenty to do,

Engaging combat,

Spectacular stealth,

Ever evolving enemies help shape your individual experience.


Cons:    

Would be nice to have some variety in gear,

Combat occasionally gets repetitive,

Main character is a little bland to start with,
Shaka the Mindless still draws breath.


Final verdict,

While I reckon it’ll be difficult deciding this years GOY, it’s not difficult to see that Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor deserves a 8/10.


Written by,

Whistler















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