Middle-earth. It's a landscape that has been visited numerous times by gamers. We've battled
, went on a conquest
, and fought a war in the north
for Middle-earth. Each of these adventures offered a different perspective on the iconic universe. Standing at the end of each of these adventures with thousands of Uruk slain, we've wondered if there would be an adventure that could immerse us even more into the world that J.R.R. Tolkien created. Will Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
be that adventure? Let's find out!Shadow of Mordor
casts you as Talion, a Gondorian Ranger, who finds an unlikely ally in a mysterious Wraith, to say more would venture into some early-game spoilers. Shadow of Mordor
is placed in continuum between The Hobbit
and The Fellowship of the Ring
and takes players on a journey of identity and more importantly, revenge.Shadow of Mordor
does nothing to reinvent the combat style that the Batman: Arkham
games made so popular and truthfully, why would they? Combat is fluid and easy to pick up, but even the most seasoned of gamers can be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers that can gather around. Four to five hits on Talion will bring him to his knees. Once his life bar has been drained, Talion will enter a "down but not out" mode where players will have to move a joystick into the center of a circle and press the appropriate button to get a second chance at living. Later on, players will be able to unlock an execution from that stance that will viciously decimate the enemy.
There are plenty of play styles for you to choose from, so you're not limited to just one or the other. Whether you want to kill your enemies from afar with a bow, go straight into hand-to-hand combat, or if you're the sneaky type and want to put a dagger in the back of an Uruk, all of these options are available. Complimenting these play styles is the ability to upgrade your sword, dagger, and bow. You do this by killing Captains and Warchiefs that will award you runes. These runes can be applied to your weapons - assuming you've unlocked a rune slot through leveling up your character - that give you several different benefits. Ranging from getting chance to earn focus by killing a certain way, to doing more damage while on mounts, restoring health, and many other options.
It's when Talion dies by the hands of an Uruk that the game shows off its most unique, appealing features: the Nemesis system. Each Uruk Captain and Warchief you meet throughout your adventure is given a unique name, appearance, personality, and strengths/weaknesses through the Nemesis system. Each encounter will feel different depending on any number of outcomes that have happened throughout the game. If you ran away from a battle, the Captain/Warchief will remember and let you know that he does. Running away from a battle results in these guys powering up, making them tougher to beat. Do it enough times and you may just have a heck of a time taking him down, especially earlier in the game when you haven't unlocked many abilities. But fear not, later in the game it will become easier to take down these high level Captains by exploiting their weaknesses and using Talion's upgraded abilities.
If you have burned a Captain and he lived to tell the tale, the next you encounter him his appearance will mostly likely have changed - being charred crispy to be precise. There are abilities later in the game that allow you to dominate a Captain and turn him into your puppet. This can eventually be turned into your benefit by having your puppet turn on his comrades, provided you help him advance through the ranks by doing his side missions. If you do enough of these, you can eventually promote him to Warchief and make him engage other Warchiefs. Dominated characters will not attack you when provoked, so it could be helpful to promote a couple of these into Warchief status to make your struggles easier when tasked with slaying them.
The main storyline spans across twenty different missions. The first ten take place in Udûn, while the last half of the story arc takes place in Núrnen. Udûn has definitely seen better days, from ravaged buildings to the desolate mountains. This is a place filled with despair. Núrnen on the other hand is at the complete end of the spectrum. This landscape is filled with lush green everything. You'd almost think you were back in The Shire... well, until a band of Uruk crosses your path and the blood spilling begins once again. Besides the Uruk, you will also find a couple of other different enemies while wandering these two maps - most notably Caragors and Graugs. Caragors are vicious four-legged beasts that you can eventually learn to mount and ride around the country side terrorizing all in your path. On the other hand, there are the Graugs. If you're a true LOTR fan, you haven't lived until you have rode atop one of these enormous giants while dishing out brutal punishment to anything and everything you come across. While getting on top of one of these creatures may be difficult at first, after progressing far enough through the storyline you can unlock abilities that will make it tenfold easier.
In addition to the main quest, there are plenty of other things for gamers to do in Mordor. There are Weapon Challenges, which tasks the players with doing a certain task in a set amount of time. Once you have progressed a little further in the story, Outcast Missions become available. In these missions you have to free slaves that have been captured and imprisoned by Uruks. There are also two different types of collectibles, Artifacts and Ithildin. One positive thing that Monolith has done with collecting the Artifacts is that they do offer some history to Mordor, with each Artifact having a story behind it for the player to listen to. Giving collectibles some story and eliminating the mindless collection aspect adds a bit more reward to hunting them down. There are also plants and animals that the player will be tasked of hunting down through Survival and Hunting Challenges. While none of these tasks are hard, it is something extra to keep you occupied while exploring Mordor.
Lastly we have the achievements. You have your basic storyline achievements that we have all come to expect from this kind of game. The collectible achievements are there as well, love them or hate them. There are a few that require a bit of planning like Power Vacuum
, which requires you to kill five Warchiefs before any Uruk take their place. The White Rider
will require patience, scouting and probably a couple of retries. Overall though, the achievement list really isn't that creative, which is disappointing. I do like the few that Monolith threw in there to get gamers to use the Nemesis system such as Rise and Fall
and Stinking Rebels
. These are the kind of achievements that make a list more exciting and make players do things that they may not have done otherwise.
Overall, Shadow of Mordor
is a really great game. While it's a tad short for an open-world game, praise has to be given to Monolith for keeping within the lore of Middle-earth while still crafting their own unique storyline. I always have problems with the way the characters' lips sync to their voices, but other than that the cutscenes look fantastic and the character models are highly detailed. Its biggest asset is the Nemesis system, something we will likely see other games adopt in some form or fashion. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
is one of the best experiences in Middle-earth to date. It's one that I hope to see improved upon in a (hopeful) sequel.
The reviewer spent approximately thirty-five hours playing the Xbox One version of the game. During this time the main quest was completed, half of the side quests finished, over half of the collectibles were found, and hundreds of gallons of grog were grogged. This resulted in earning 35 of the game's 51 achievements. This review copy was provided by the publisher.