Video games that are based off of existing properties such as movies, television shows and books can be a bit of a risky choice as the majority seem to rely heavily on the source’s lineage rather than their game adaptation’s content. This over the years has caused somewhat of a stigma to follow the dreaded tie-in reputation, with most judging a title before its release. Thankfully however, we’ve been seeing more releases get past this long-standing reputation by actually creating top titles worth playing. Be it a classic movie recreated in the LEGO universe, huge studios taking a beloved IP and creating a highly entertaining RPG or anything to do with one of the most precious franchises of all… Lord of the Rings.
Developer: Monolith Productions/Behaviour Interactive
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Also Available On: PC (Win)/Xbox One/PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Release Date: Out Now – PC(Win)/PlayStation 4/Xbox One
Release Date: 18th November 14 (US)/21 November 14 (Europe) – Playstation 3/Xbox 360
Set in between the well-known fictional world of Middle Earth – during a period somewhere between the works of J.R.R. Token and Peter Jackson’s original movie trilogy, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor seems to be faithful in slotting itself into the LOTR lore while at the same time creating an experience that can stand alone without having to be a super-fan.
Taking the role of Talion – a Gondorian Ranger, you start the game awaking from death. Following some flashback combat and stealth tutorials, you learn that you’ve actually been murdered along –side you Wife and Son while stationed at the Black Gate in Mordor by a horde of Uruks (somewhere between Orcs and Uruk-hai). Talion soon discovers that his body has been inhabited by an Elvish Wraith who has stopped him from fully keeling over and joining the rest of his family. Though at this point there isn’t a huge amount of story fleshed out, it’s enough to intrigue and make you want to figure out just who this Wrath is, why you’ve been tied together, why you’re both been kept from eternal death and learn what this all has to do with the Dark Lord Sauron.
Now earlier I mentioned that you don’t have to be a Tolken-head to enjoy the game, if you are however then you’ll find an interesting story that fits in nicely to the already huge lore. There are great characters that are tailored perfectly into the world, with amazing animations to hit alongside superb voice work – including the likes of Troy Baker, Nolan North and Liam O’Brien (providing a near perfect impression of Andy Serkis’ Gollum).
During my time getting stuck into Shadow of Mordor, I found myself taking a game that I really didn’t have much interest in pre-release (compared to the likes of Watch_Dogs and Destiny) and just straight up enjoying the experience so much that this will be one of the few games that I keep playing long after my review time. The games biggest issue however is how familiar it can feel after just a few minutes of play through. Climbing to the top of a building to unlock sections of your blanked out map feels very much like Assassin’s Creed, sabotaging a wild beast’s cage to let it wreak havoc upon an enemy’s camp will take you straight back to Far Cry 3, and the combat… Batman: Arkham series.
That’s not to say that the feel of Shadow of Mordor being several clones rolled into one is a bad thing, heck if you’re going to take influence from other titles out there then you may as well take from some of the best. After a while you start to forget that you’re swan diving from a tall building and just lose yourself in just how fun this game really is.
Overtime as you walk in the footsteps of the Grey-walker (Talion), you’ll find yourself going from being a formidable fighter and taking on a handful of enemies to devastating hordes of Uruks at a time (not to mention other beasts that roam the lands of Mordor). All the while the game seems to keep in balance this while feel of fighting like a true warrior without ever feeling overpowered, as at any point you can still be overpowered and killed once again.
This ties into one of the most unique aspects about Shadow of Mordor, a feature called the Nemesis System. This is a dynamic system that tracks and updates all that goes on in the battlefield of Mordor based upon your actions. The Nemesis System is displayed by a kind of chess board of Uruks, all lined up in four rows. Different levels of Uruk Captain are shown on the first three rows – ranking lower levels from the bottom, while the top row is occupied by Warchiefs – A high rank Captain that serves directly under the Black Hand. Killing a Captain or a Warchief would normally leave gaps in the ranks, but now those positions are filled in by soldiers fighting for promotions (Usually by slaying you). This means that if you die, the enemy that killed you can be promoted and get stronger the next time you face them. This system also allows you to strike fear into foes by brutalizing an enemy, which can cause certain soldiers to flee from the area if they don’t have the stomach to fight you.
This leads into possibly my favorite aspect of Shadow of Mordor, the personalities of the ranking Uruks. Each of the leaders in the Uruk army have specific traits tied to them that will dictate what is the best way to fight them, which can be learned by finding gaining Intel from slaves or by interrogating foes called Worms. Instead of charging headfirst into a fight hoping to use brute force (still a viable option), I was able systematically plan my attack and get passed troublesome fights by simply planning my attack.