For those gamers looking for a lot of action similar to the Batman: Arkham series mixed with some high fantasy, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor could be a good choice. Set in the Lord of the Rings universe between the events of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, Shadow of Mordor is a great game for LOTR fans. But, is it enjoyable for people who haven’t read the books or seen the films or for those who are not into the series? Yes, one can play this game without any knowledge of the series. However, it will be more enjoyable for LOTR fans.
The game was a sleeper hit when it came out in September of 2014, a hidden gem in a sea of mediocre games that had come out that year. Developed by Monolith Productions and published by Warner Bro. Interactive Entertainment, it came out for PC, PlayStation 3 and 4, and XBox 360 and One. For the purpose of this review, I will be exploring how the game felt for PlayStation 4. The game is considered an action RPG and utilizes a more open world map.
The short version of the story is basically The Crow meets Lord of the Rings. If you haven’t seen or read either, first of all I would suggest that you remedy that right away. However, that might take some time so here is the synopsis: it’s a revenge tale about a Ranger named Talion (voiced by Troy Baker) who is killed, along with his family, and brought back to find those that killed them (the Uruks). It’s an interesting revenge tale, and it’s fun to see familiar LOTR characters in the story as well. Since the game takes place between The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, one can see Sauron’s minions getting stronger throughout the game. Along with Talion, there is another undead wraith, Celebrimbor, who is helping out and giving him cool powers. The relationship was a very similar feel to when Aragorn recruited the undead in Return of the King.
The biggest problem with the story is that, as a whole, it’s not strong enough to hold what I would say is the “average” person’s attention. Sure, it’s fun, but it’s not super compelling. Big-time LOTR fans would probably love it. However, when I played it, I was playing more for the game play and not for the story. As good as the beginning of the game started, it very much fizzled out over the end.
The story is an interesting idea but was executed poorly.
The game play, though, is very good, except for a few issues. If you are familiar with the Batman Arkham games, Shadow of Mordor will be very easy to get into. The game play is almost exact, and you level up in a similar way. You fight in a similar way. You can even change (most) attack commands mid-stride, making it easier to stop and counter and enemy.
The “RPG-aspect” (or leveling up system) of the game is very similar to the Batman: Arkham games as well. Shadow of Mordor is not really the traditional RPG that I thought it was going to be. When I heard it was open world, I was thinking more “Elder Scrolls.” The game is very open world, and it’s very action oriented. The leveling system is very interesting. There are two skill trees to level up: Ranger and Wraith. Each are interesting and fun to play. There are ability points for getting enough XP, and the player can use those points to add certain powers and moves from the skill trees. There are also options to upgrade the sword, bow, and dagger with runes that the player obtains from killing Uruk Captains (more on this later).
Overall, the basic game play mechanics of the game are very fun, but that’s not the crowning jewel of the game. Technically, most of the game play is nothing new, since it borrows heavily from the Batman games’ mechanics. However, the Nemesis System totally and utterly blew my mind. It is new, original, and highly creative. All year, I was looking for something new in gaming. I was getting really tired of game play that is borrowed from ten or fifteen years ago. Instead of relying on arena-style boss battles and push-the-button-oh-look-more-enemies, Shadow of Mordor gives us the Nemesis System, which I would describe as a roaming boss battle that remembers.
As you play the game, you meet Uruk Captains that can be pretty tough bosses. If you kill one, you upset the balance of Sauron’s army. If you or the boss run away during battle, the guy will remember you. If one kills you, he will get more powerful when you come back (you’re already dead, so you can die as many times as you’d like–see the next segment for more details). Not only that, but he may challenge a higher ranking Captain and change ranks. If a normal Uruk kills you, he will get promoted up the ranks and so on. If you die from something random, a lot of Uruks among the ranks get more powerful. These bosses will remember that they killed you previously and comment on it. You also can interrogate Uruks to gain information about bosses in the higher level ranks. Each boss has strengths and weaknesses, and you have plan your attacks accordingly.
I have honestly not seen anything quite like this system. I thought it was revolutionary when BioShock had the roaming boss battles, but Shadow of Mordor has improved upon that even more. Sure, it can be a pain when you have a boss that has killed you several times and has gotten really powerful because of it. But let me tell you, when you finally kill the guy, you will be cheering. I also really enjoyed the strategy element that comes in when attacking these bosses. You can’t go about doing things in just one way because what works for one boss might not for another. Plus, you can make decisions such as allowing one boss to live so it will take out another (Uruks like to fight each other for power).
The Nemesis System really is the best part of the game.
Here’s the only problem with the game play: besides a lackluster story line, the game can be very monotonous. The side-quests are extremely repetitive and the nemesis system, which should be awesome, is very overbearing. It’s hard to do ANYTHING without a boss targeting you out, which ends up being extremely annoying after about ten plus hours into the game. The game play doesn’t translate well overall, unfortunately. With a poor story line, the repetitive game play ends up being boring and hard to get through. Sure, you can blast through the man quest with no problem, but for those who like to really get into the game, it ends up being very disappointing.
The graphics are fairly good, though there are much prettier-looking games out there for this current generation. The overall look and feel of the game was a little dark and somewhat dull, which added to the monotony of the story after awhile. However, I can understand the developer’s choice in this color palate, since it fits well with the dire tone of the story line.
The overall tone of the game is bleak and so is the color palate for the graphics.
Overall, the game is pretty decent: it makes great strides with the Nemesis System, but unfortunately does not do the same with the story. However, it is refreshing to see a developer in the gaming industry try to do something different for a change, and I have to give Monolith productions a lot of credit for that. Although I do not feel the game is a full price buy, now that it’s been out for several months, it would be a good addition to anyone’s gaming library at bit of a discount.