Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
This is a review of 2 halves as one of my best mates has also been playing Shadows of Mordor and has been providing a constant string of feedback. His eloquent enthusiasm was such I couldn’t resist including his comments.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is 3rd person action, role playing game focused on the revenge story of Talion, a Ranger of Gondor. The back story and obligatory tutorial is dealt with in a fairly insipid introductory “level” where you learn to attack, dodge run etc and then watch your family slaughtered. Sadly this occurs so early in the game that you really don’t care (except that it all looks impressive). Shortly after this Talion is joined with Celebrimbor, a centuries old Elven wraith, who grants the wraith abilities and the power to interrogate and control the Uruks. This is what elevates this game above a simple hack-and-slash.
The game is very pretty, particularly the design of the Uruk-Hai which is truly excellent in its execution and variety. The open world game zones are well designed and it really feels like you are in Middle Earth. They appear to be influenced by Peter Jackson’s movies but that is a compliment rather than a complaint and I expect for many people the movie trilogy are their main experience of the Lord of the Rings anyway. Talion is suitably impressive and heroic individual whilst maintaining the appropriate level of Gondorian stoicism, Celembrimbor is perhaps a little human for an Elf Lord but essentially all these elements combine to make to make an extremely good back drop to the adventure.
“Indeed it is good! Huzzah!
Shadows of Mordor consists of the following recipe:
1 part Assassin’s Creed Stealth and climbing
2 parts Batman Arkham Asylum combat and ‘detective’ mode vision (now called Wraith mode)
3 parts Lord of the Rings movies: 1 part bad ass Ranger bad ass. 1 part Uruks who are straight out of the movies. 1 part general LOTR nerdery with hidden ‘lore’ to find.
Sundry dashes of other games (you collect plants like Skyrim, hunt animals like Read Dead and search for artefacts like Tomb Raider).
The best part though they saved for last: The Nemesis system.
This is really fun. It’s almost like a board game embedded into an open world 3D game. Every time you get killed by an Uruk, or you kill an Uruk in the chain of command (hard to do, some of them are pretty tough, in their own fort, filled with foot soldiers) there’s a fun little sequence of ‘actions’. Uruks get promoted or demoted and gain new abilities. Almost like they have their own little story events built off what’s happening in the game. They also remember you, and given the legendary toughness that Morgoth imbued them with, ‘killing’ an Uruk might NOT actually kill them… you have to actually decapitate the little buggers to make SURE they’re dead.
Highlights for me so far have been:
The Uruk foot soldier I drained for intel using the wraith touch, who returned later and challenged me saying “Last time we met, you burned me good…now all I can smell is roast pork AND I LOVE IT” who actually had a visibly burned face since last time, and was a talky bastard in combat. When I decapitated him eventually Talion muttered “and you are finally silenced”.
‘Grunark the Funny’ (or something to that effect) who I found in his fortress and challenged me with “You wonder why I’m laughing Ranger? Its cause I know how much trouble you’re in!” Yes I ended up valiantly running away from that combat because there were too many Uruks on his side.
The Nemesis system, combined with a lot of short, clever dialogue choices and lovely animation/character design for each and every Uruk really gives them a solid personality. Which is nice because you’ll end up butchering thousands of them. That’s probably my only criticism thus far, Shadows is very VERY combat oriented. If you’re not into that it might not float your boat, but to be honest it’s quite nice butchering hordes of Uruks, some of who exchange witty banter with you…because it FEELS like you’re in a LOTR movie! You’re Aragon! And you’re a bad ass!
That is until that orc captain stabs you through the head or a caragor (think Wargs from the movie) barrels into a fight you’ve started and mauls you to death…
That’s something I actually like about Shadows. Combat IS difficult. You can try doing your Assassin’s Creed run around wildly, not caring who you run past because they’re all so easy to kill and death really means nothing, but you will get ganged up on by angry angry Uruks if you do that and pretty sharpishly too. You DO actually have to pay attention to who’s around. Is it just a bunch of slaves with an Uruk guard? Well that’s ok. Or is that a patrol of 10 Uruks walking past over there. In which case you better hide or be very confident in your combat skills before you start a fight nearby. If you play for a bit you’ll notice a fairly common animation the Uruks do which is ‘hey hey I can see the Ranger fighting somebody over here! Hey guys hey! Come join in’! That never bodes well…
Death also has potentially dire consequences too which is nice. You don’t lose anything, except time passes while you’re dead and at the very LEAST you can expect the Uruk that dealt the killing blow enters the ranks of Sauron’s army. Although it’s more likely that he will get promoted and several others fill any holes you’ve made in the ranks. Woe betide you should you get killed by an angry Uruk in the top tier though, because they just level up and get tougher…
You can get skill upgrades and weapons upgrades, and add Runes to your weapons (which Captains and higher will drop when you kill them), all of which makes combat easier of course, but don’t worry you can still die in messy ways if you’re not quite paying enough attention, or you think you’re Ranger enough to take on an entire Uruk fortress (without first skulking around the fortress, picking off the annoying archers and spearmen from a safe distance and maybe letting the odd caragor out of its cage or dropping killer bee hives to thin the local Uruk population first).
The collectable ‘audio logs’ (which are what you get from the artefacts) are superb too. Each is a clever little story in itself, somehow related to the item you’ve found. This is probably the first game I’ve actually cared about the audio logs because the writing is so good. I found a book last night where the audio log was basically a Ranger teaching a Gondorian peasant woman how to read…and in the end she ends up reading a marriage proposal from the Ranger. A whole story literally in one page of text which related to the book (explaining that Rangers also did good in the community they served by basically being educators) and a 2 minute audio log (which consists of the ‘memory’ you can extract from the artefact with a minigame) with excellent voice acting.
Maybe the writing is superb, or maybe I’m a massive LOTR nerd, but either way it’s got me searching for more artefacts for more back story and thoroughly enjoying the process.
Reviewed on: XBox One
Rating: R13 Violence and horror scenes.
Reviewed by: Aaron