Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor takes place in the LOTR universe. I’m sure if you’re a huge Tolkien buff you may recognize some references in this game, but besides the mainstream ones, I didn’t recognize them. Despite being a big fan of the movies and having read The Hobbit, I consider myself to be a newbie when it comes to being familiar with the overall LOTR universe. This game can be seen as a prequel/expansion to the LOTR universe. Without attempting to reveal too much, you mainly play as Talion, a human ranger out on a quest for revenge, and as Celebrimbor, a wraith trying to uncover his forgotten past. I could explain the relation between these two characters, but then I’d be spoiling parts of the game. Honestly, I felt as if Talion’s side of the story felt a bit generic, seeing as how video games/other mediums in general are full of revenge plots. One thing I will add on about the plot/characters, I loved that one of the main characters of LOTR is in this game. Certain things about this person are revealed/expanded upon and it let me know how little I actually know of the LOTR universe. As cheesy/nerdy as it sounds, when I found things out about this character, I looked up explanation videos on YouTube.
The gameplay in Shadow of Mordor isn’t too original, but that doesn’t make it a bore. If you’ve played the original Assassin’s Creed games then you may think to yourself that this game is Assassin’s Creed: Lord of the Rings edition. That’s not an attempt to disparage this game, it also does its own things that make it quite interesting.
The combat system in Shadow of Mordor is highly reminiscent of what’s found in the Batman Arkham games. It’s pretty much the same, but it mostly consists of hacking and slashing. For the most part, this combat system is very fun because it lends itself to fluid movements that’s especially good when dealing with hordes of orcs. One big difference between Shadow of Mordor’s combat system and the Arkham games is that you do need to upgrade your abilities to be able to advance through the game. It’s not that you don’t have to do that in the Arkham games, but you can easily advance through that game with your basic abilities.
In Shadow of Mordor, you must upgrade your combat abilities so that they’ll suit your playstyle. In regards to playstyles, there’s mainly two, ranger and wraith. There’s also stealth elements to the game, but that’s more or less a subset of both playstyles. The ranger abilities mainly consists of the use of your sword, dagger, and bow/arrows. The wraith abilities vaguely remind me of a sorcerer/necromancer, but it’s an overall extension of your basic ranger weapons.
I’m not sure if it’s because I have a fairly decent PC build, but this game’s visuals were great. For the most part I played it on ultra–settings on a 1440p monitor and while there was a bit of FPS drops, it was fairly smooth. As is almost always the case, the cutscenes in this game were much better than the actual in-game visuals. I’m not sure why, but they really reminded me of the cutscenes found in The Witcher 2. Maybe it had to do with how otherworldly the characters looked, but that fits. One thing that really stood out to me was how certain characters glimmered/stood out when they were being showcased. I won’t go so far as to say that the characters looked like real people in, but they really looked outstanding.
For the most part, I’d say I‘m the type of gamer that sticks to the main storyline, even with DLC. If I hear that certain DLC in a game is must play, I’ll check it out, but other than that, I usually ignore it. What I’m getting at is that I didn’t really partake in this game’s side-quests. From what I saw of them, they mainly consisted of challenges with each of your weapons. I don’t really enjoy these side-quests because they don’t really add much to the story/overall experience and it feels packed in. I bring The Witcher up fairly frequently, but it’s because those games have a great approach to side-quests. For the most part, in The Witcher 3 the side-quests expand the overall universe you’re in and it doesn’t feel repetitive at all.
One thing I didn’t really like about the main quests was that some of them weren’t completely explained. It doesn’t reveal much, but I’ll include a SPOILER WARNING nonetheless. Towards the end of the game you have to manipulate war chiefs to take control of their armies and use them as your own. What confused me about this was that it wasn’t clear about where you had to take control of these war chiefs. I spent a good two hours taking control of the war chiefs in the first map, but I eventually realized it had to be done on the second map of the game. I wouldn’t say it was a complete loss because I managed to really level up my character, but at that point I just wanted to get through the game and move on. This has previously happened in other games and it’s quite bothersome. Normally you have quest icons on your mini-map showing you where you need to go, but for this one I was completely lost. It seems as if others experienced the same thing because it showed up when I was attempting to google whether or not it was a bug or something.
Something that really stands out in this game is the nemesis system. This is pretty much a ranking system of the main enemy’s orc captains and his war chiefs, the main “bosses” in the game. I refer to them in that manner because they’re not your typical enemies, but they also aren’t your typical main bosses. They’re all ranked in a particular order and despite killing them over and over again, more are randomly generated for you to fight. For the most part, they all have different weapons, abilities, and weaknesses/strengths. This is done in such a way that most of these fights aren’t always the same. It may sound silly, but my first 2-3 hours of this game just consisted of trying to take out as many captains as possible. I didn’t really pay attention to the main quests and I assumed that taking out these captains would help advance the story. One thing I will say about these fights is that they were both a joy and a huge pain in the ass. As I previously stated, you have to upgrade your abilities in this game if you want to advance. Seeing as how I was more or less jumping straight into combat with these enemies, I died over and over again. This isn’t exactly the best strategy because the more you die, the stronger the captains get. It also didn’t help that these fights would attract large crowds of orcs and at times you’d have to fight two to three captains at the same time. As I improved my abilities and overall skill in the game things weren’t as hard, but it was still quite challenging.
To me, the fights with the orc captains/war chiefs felt like boss fights, but there were “real” boss fights in this game. For the most part, this consisted of one on one fights with rare creatures/high ranking members of the main boss’ army. One thing I didn’t really like was that the boss fights weren’t really balanced. Some of them felt harder than others and towards the end of the game that felt really out of place. More specifically, the last boss you fight felt more like a QTE than an actual fight. Honestly, that bothered me. It didn’t make sense that I had a harder time with certain orc captains rather than the final boss of the game. Maybe it’s because I instantly compare modern games to what I played in the past, but boss fights should be gradually more challenging than the ones beforehand.
I’m sure it seems as if I didn’t fully enjoy the game because I have so many complaints about certain things, but I really did enjoy this game. In attempting to get through the game, I actually found myself having a hard time. For some reason, my PC was acting up and I had to test out the PSU to see if something was up with it. What I’m trying to see is that I was so engrossed in the game that I wasn’t willing to let an issue with my PC stand in my way of enjoying and beating this game. The last time I enjoyed a LOTR game this much was nearly 10+ years ago on the PS2. Honestly, the storyline isn’t outstanding in this game, but the gameplay really makes up for it. You can easily find yourself occupied for hours at a time just mindlessly killing orcs without any specific goal in mind.
Overall, I give this game a 4/5 and I recommend it if you’re a LOTR fan or enjoy games similar to Assassin’s Creed or have the Batman Arkham style combat system.