Game Review: Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor
Those of you who follow my Twitch channel know that once Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor dropped, I officially put Destiny on the back burner. Being a virtually life long Lord Of the Rings fan, any opportunity delve into the Tolkein canon is welcome in my home. Not every adventure has been worth the trip but Shadow of Mordor could honestly be the best of them all! Monolith Productions has definitely set the bar extremely high for their future projects!
Shadow of Mordor manages to satisfy many of my recent gaming urges that have gone unfulfilled for many months. Long have I looked for that one game to provide a pretty good storyline that allows me to feel like the ultimate destroyer of all things evil! With that said, a proper challenge within that bad@ssery needs to exist as well. Throw in a bit of loot in a well populated open world environment and you have a homerun in the Bunneh3000 household!
Even before I bought the game, I heard impressions of the game from multiple sources saying that it played like a mix between Assassin’s Creed and Batman:Arkham Asylum when it comes to the combat. In both of those games, one thing was true: you’re a combo expert capable of decimating multiple enemies all at once with wicked finishers! Honestly, there was a chance that this mechanic would be somewhat disappointing as was the variety lacking RYSE combat was. Still, even in that game, the fun factor was pretty high.
These elements that are used are expertly blended to provide a fast paced and fluid combat that is relatively easy to pick up on. The modest variety of finishers and moves to take on your foes are pretty easy to pull off. When enemies are able to be countered, are stunned, or are initiating unblockables, the game does a superb job of not only giving you adequate time to respond, but even show you the available moves you can perform and what buttons to press. Rarely will you ever need to refer to a game guide or manual to determine how to perform that goosebump inspiring Shadow Strike or Death Threat.
With that amazing foundation established, the game actually stands out with its new story within the Tolkein universe. Set between The Hobbit and the beginning of the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, your ranger, Talion, a Gondorian Ranger of the Black Gate is slain alongside his family on the night of Sauron’s return to Mordor. A legendary elven Wraith spirit who demands vengence resurrects Talion to toss him into an epic tale of figuring the mystery of why the elven spirit cannot rest which involves the origins of the Rings of Power themselves! Trust me, that is all I’m going to reveal about the story as it is one that should be experienced without spoilers!
Fun is undoubtedly the biggest strength of this instant Game of the Year nominee for me. Taking on the role of this undead Ranger with the skillset of the ultimate orc and Uruk assassin is the most surprising thrill I’ve had on my Xbox One to date. The power trip of slashing your way to victory and gaining experience and additional finishers and moves that will have you flexing like Street Fighter’s Akuma can easily provide combat sequences that rival any action movie ever made. Once the controls of the finishers are mastered, seeing dozens of Uruk and captains near each other will become a welcome situation.
That strength is enhanced by the unmistakable personality that the enemies in the game exhibit. Your foes have great voice acting that will immerse you in the growth of the Armies of Sauron and the desolation of Mordor. Their taunts, screams, and chatter will keep the journey through Mordor far from boredom as you paint stronghold after stronghold with the dark life essence of your merciless foes. This is highlighted by encounters with the true stars of the game, the Uruk Captains, Warchiefs, and Leaders. Their arrival in each battle is gifted with a great sequence (that is quite varied) where they taunt Talion before the fighting commences. This personality is demonstrated even further by the beautiful (or superbly ugly in this case) detail for each of the Uruk that you face. There are so many different looks for these Uruk that many times you’ll think you saw one before but you’ll notice differences in garb, scars, facepaint, and body type that really distinguishes one from the next. As you face off against the stronger of the Uruk captains and Warchiefs, the goons about you will chant his name with fitting and invigorating combat music. It’s all in the little details that this game stands out!
After a fitting death sequence for each victory, you are treated to the RPG portion of the game that involves loot. Gaining experience for every kill, and style point kind of experience for how you do each one, allows you to strengthen Talion through attribute improvements and the addition of runes to his sword, dagger, and wraith energy bow. These runes are acquired by defeating the captains and leaders of Sauron’s armies. The strongest of these runes are acquired only by defeated the strongest (in power which is shown in the Nemesis (Armies Of Sauron). As Epic Runes, they further enhance the frequency of special attacks as well as recovery of health, wraith arrows, and the slo-mo inducing Focus gauge.
That, of course, brings us to the one innovation that this game has the undoubtedly will (and should) be adopted by more games of various genres called the Nemesis System. While fighting against the Armies of Sauron, there is a screen the shows the ranking system of a number of Uruk leaders. The ones closest to the screen are the weakest and those in the far portion of the screen are the strongest. Each are only shown as a silhouette until Talion gains intel from other Uruk as to their name and location on the map. Also, more intel can be gathered by ‘dominating’ specially highlighted Uruk and interrogating them to discover the strengths and weaknesses of each of those leaders. As you begin hunting them, not only are you killing them off, they are battling and struggling against each other in their own selfish attempts to get promoted. As you knock them off, others will rise to take the empty role in time. The real juicy innovation is that your death at the hands of peons or leaders will cause promotions and the increase in power of other leaders if your assassination attempts fail. These moments are the steak rub seasoning to this Porterhouse steak of a video game meal as they keep the challenge fresh and ever-changing for those who think that simply trying again will be an easy task. There are no do-overs. Time moves on and even the strengths and weaknesses of those promoted can change. Some leaders even acquire enchanted weapons that have effects like poison or explosive arrows that can quickly cause you to retreat and regroup! This epic dynamic makes the journey through Mordor highly replayable as the great variety in look and type of Uruk leaders can keep one on their toes throughout the playthrough.
Heads will fly and buckets of blood will spill as this game will surely win the hearts of open world action fans. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is easily my highest recommendation of the year to date!