Date Released: September 30th, 2014
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Platform: [Reviewed: Xbox One], PlayStation 4, PC (Nov. 18th on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3)
Rated: M for Mature
J.R.R. Tolkein’s fictional world of Middle-Earth has spawned many retellings of its spectacular conflicts in other forms of medium like the recent Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are video game adaptations based off of the movies that were actually good, and others that build upon the lore. What Shadow of Mordor brings to the universe is a gripping tale of loss and vengeance that follows a linear progression, yet is tailored by the player’s own actions.
Shadow of Mordor takes place between the events of Tolkein’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings where a garrison of soldiers from the Kingdom of Gondor, led by the ranger captain Talion, keeps watch on top of the Black Gate that leads into the land of Mordor. It is until one night that uruk-hai invade and overtake the gate in the dead of night. Before they could escape, Talion and his family are captured by the Black Hand and slain as sacrifices to summon forth a powerful wraith spirit. Unbeknownst to the Black Hand, the wraith’s consciousness was infused into Talion’s, and unto him, the curse of never reuniting with his family in death. This unlikely alliance grants Talion the power to avenge the death of his family and remove the curse that binds them.
Here’s how my first five minutes of playing started: I get acquainted with the controls, I take out a couple of uruks, I think I’m cool for doing so, then I ran into two captains and a towering Graug, which led to me being annihilated. This little disaster led to the introduction of the impressively complex star of this entire game: the Nemesis System. Every time you face against an uruk captain you build up a relation of sorts; whether you defeat him, he escapes, or you die by his hands, that particular captain will remember what transpired. Captains that were defeated and survive will seek you out for a rematch, bearing the scars of your last encounter, however, if one were to successfully kill you, they will becoming more powerful and harder to kill.
Shadow of Mordor doesn’t mess around; you will be killed if you act haphazardly and contemplating fights beforehand is instrumental in successfully taking out your target. Each uruk captain has a list of strengths and weaknesses that you can exploit. Learning their weaknesses and identities require you to interrogate fellow captains or “worms” that will spill the beans when pressured. Even with the knowledge of an uruks weakness, they make up for it by having a larger list of strength can lessen or negate an attack’s effectiveness or send them into a frenzied state when a certain requisite is met, like seeing specific monsters or being close to death. Killing is pretty much the central activity here, no matter what mission you do, but the Nemesis system brings unique encounters into the mix that will dramatically change the flow of a fight whenever a captain makes an appearance.
Being highly influenced by the combat of the Batman: Arkham series and the parkour exploration of Assassin’s creed, these two elements lend themselves to provide a basis that functions and controls extremely well. It the extensive upgrade system that will open a plethora of possible abilities and powers used to meet any challenge you may face. On top of that, you can increase your own stats to take more damage or carry more arrows at one time, or place runes on your weapon that provides passive ability that could help turn the tide of battle if you’re in a tight spot. Learning how to time your attacks and counters is easy enough to grasp, but as the enemy numbers increase and use different tactics against Talion, so too will players have to adapt and learn more movesets – in short, Shadow of Mordor is not for casual players that don’t take the time to master what is actually necessary to stay alive.
The Land of Middle-Earth is a stretch of lush plains and tall distant mountain that beautifully captures Tolkein’s fantasy world. More impressive is the uruks themselves; there is such a variety to the character models that I can’t recall if I even came across two that looked the same. Even the weather effects look good, ridiculously more so for the fact that this is the first time that I can say that I’ve ever seen hail in a game! Talented voice actor Troy Baker lends his talents as Talion, bringing in a wide range of emotions that actually comes across as genuine. The opening scenes highlight this and made me honestly upset and saddened at how Talion lost his family with equally great performances by Laura Bailey as Ioreth, Talion’s wife, and Jack Quid as Dirhael, his son.
Shadow of Mordor is a satisfying experience from its kinetic and brutal combat to its challenging gameplay. Monolith even went so far as to work with Middle-earth Enterprises, Peter Jackson, and the artists at Weta Workshop to make sure that every aspect of the game aligned within the canon. Regardless of the considerably darker and singular tone of revenge (not saying that’s a bad thing, it’s quite fitting to the overall lore) the story takes a steep dive and almost ruined the game for me, almost. Shadow of Moror in the end is a triumph as a Lord of the Rings game that must be experienced and I hope to see more installments in the series implement the revolutionary Nemesis system.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5