Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is an open world, action-adventure game set in the Lord of The Rings film universe. Murdered and cursed by black magic, players take control of a Gondorian ranger named Talion. His spirit merges with the wraith of a long dead elven lord named Celebrimbor. Reborn in undeath, the two set out to avenge their deaths by toppling the tyranny of Sauron and his dark spawn.
I find it curious that the narrative of this game, one based on Tolkien’s legendarium, should be its weakest point and not its strongest since Tolkien’s universe is the basis for all modern fantasy. With so much to work with, with a world as fully realized as Tolkien’s, the story should have been the most engaging and compelling part.
Talion is as boring a protagonist as I’ve ever met and while Celebrimbor’s story is not nearly as bland, his tale feels like a half-baked way to connect the game to the film franchise. After playing through the initial hours, I wasn’t even sure as to where Shadow of Mordor fit in the Lord of The Rings continuity(between The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings).While I found the story forgettable, Shadow of Mordor’s architecture, armor, weapons, and character models all feel like organic design choices and look like they belong in Peter Jackson’s film series.
Unfortunately, the game is lacking in the open world department as well. My favorite open world games have a sense of discovery to them and an air of mystery. Skyrim and The Witcher III are both good examples of a fully realized world, where exploration is the beating heart. Shadow of Mordor’s maps fall victim to the cookie cutter, AAA, open world game formula that has been plaguing this genre for the last decade. The maps are expansive, but there aren’t a whole lot of interesting things to do on them except for killing things. Much like Assassin’s Creed, the world is filled with by the number mission types and lame collectibles.
Where the game excels is in its game mechanics. Talion is a capable ranger, utilizing swordplay, acrobatics, and stealth to achieve victory. Combine that with Celebrimbor’s bow and wraith abilities, you wind up with a bevy of tools for causing mayhem. It takes skill and experience to connect their talents in the most effective manner, but when you finally get a handle on the fighting system, you can pull off some extremely satisfying kills and create your own memorable moments. Being aware of your surroundings and knowing when to fight is also key. Talion can easily find himself massively outnumbered, so playing smart is especially important early game.
Shadow of Mordor’s most recognizable accomplishment is the Nemesis system. By creating an organic orc society that reacts to a player’s every in game action, the Nemesis system gives players a level of personalization with every play through, giving the game a kind of infinite, replay value.
Your main goal in the game is to weaken Sauron’s army. You do this by cutting through the leadership of his orc horde. The Nemesis system gives every one of these leaders unique character traits and personalities. If you meet one of these Uruk captains in combat, they will remember their encounters with you. If a captain kills Talion, the orc becomes more powerful and will gloat in your next encounter. I had a captain that I killed in seven different encounters during my second playthrough because Sauron kept resurrecting him. This added a rivalry aspect to my playthrough that I hadn’t experienced(at least not on that level) in my previous playthrough.
Using Celebrimbor’s wraith abilities, you can dominate the minds of orcs and Mordor’s wildlife. By dominating captains, you gain power and influence, causing havoc on the Uruk’s hierarchy. Dominated orcs will fight for your cause, allowing Talion to create power struggles within the orc society. Use this to your advantage and watch as Sauron’s forces collapse in on each other.
The first time I played the game, I found it to be underwhelming. I’d completed all of the story missions in a disappointingly short amount of time and had 43% of the game finished before I dropped Shadow of Mordor for another game. I had only unlocked half of Talion’s skill tree. My second playthrough I found more engaging because my expectations with the story and open world had been tempered.
I went about completing everything in the game this time, not because I found the mission types enjoyable, but to fully unlock Talion’s potential. I had 100% completion and fully unlocked his tree. At that level, you can do some incredible things with your base abilities. Horde’s I would have avoided in the early game, I now openly challenged. I turned whole fortresses filled with angry Uruk’s into mass graves. The true strength of this game(which I hadn’t seen in my first playthrough) is the memories it allows players to create for themselves. It helps that the combat is damn fun as well. I see myself playing the game a third time in the future.
Note: Earlier this week, it was leaked, then announced that the game would be receiving a sequel in August 2017. Here’s the first trailer for Shadow of War.
Have you guys played Shadow of Mordor? What did you guys think? Plan on picking up Shadow of War? Let me know in the comments below.