The transition between last gen and current gen is always a rough one. For at least the first two years, the huge big-budget games that get an immense amount of hype never end up being the huge masterpieces that they were made out to be by the developer/publisher. These are your Watch Dogs, your Titanfalls, your Destinys, and Elder Scrolls Online. You also get incidences where these small hidden gems slip through the releases of the hugely advertised games, and then no one finds out about them. These are games like Odin Sphere or Conker’s Bad Furday. This was my concern for Monolith and Warner Bros. Games’ Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor for PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Xbox 360. When it was originally announced, I was pretty interested in this specific title. There aren’t a whole lot of good games based off the famous fantasy franchise. In my opinion, the best game was The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. How does this game hold up? Was it worth the hype? Or does its shortcomings and distasteful brand deal make it yet another disappointment of 2014?
Shadow of Mordor puts you into the shoes of Talion, voiced by Troy Baker, a ranger captain who lives with his family and his soldiers at the Black Gate. One day, the Black Gate is taken over by a large army of Orcs led by what are essentially Sauron’s henchmen, The Hammer, Tower, and Black Hand of Sauron. The three captains slaughter the soldiers and kill Talion and his family to summon a spirit known as Celebrimbor, voiced by Alastair Duncan. Celebrimbor then fuses with Talion as they now must return to the Black Gate and take down The Black Hand and his two buddies, avenge Talion’s family, and make sure Sauron can’t come back and conquer Middle-Earth. The story is nothing new. Bad guys kill your family, you get an unknown power, and then go avenge your family. I was invested until the end of the story, but since this is an open world game, a lot of the intrigue of the setting, which takes place between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, is from the world around you. The story is much more fascinating when you find interesting items, learn about Celebrimbor’s past, and encounter the many orcs and Urik captains.
Shadow of Mordor is a mix of Assassin’s Creed II, Batman: Arkham City, and, well, The Lord of the Rings. You will control Talion as you travel across two large areas, the land around Mordor and the seaside kingdom of Núrn, which is again, south of Mordor. Talion has four different weapons at hand. He has a dagger for stealth kills, his wraith powers, arrows that are enhanced by wraith powers, and a sword for close-range attacks. His wraith powers include slowing down time to shoot arrows, drain energy from the orcs, make threats to captains through minions, and my favorite ability, making orcs and Urik captains your loyal minions. You can also dominate the larger and dangerous wildlife. The combat is very fluid, and is very much like the combat you would find in games like Batman: Arkham City, where you execute simple combos, and swiftly move between opposing orc soldiers and Urik captains. Like a lot of action games, you can unlock abilities either through completing story missions, side missions, or leveling up from completing assassinations on intimidating captains and war chiefs. Some of these abilities include a faster way to run across the game’s large levels, strongest combat moves, and the ability to kill every single Urik, orc, and beast that you have under your control. The game’s biggest gimmick is the Nemesis System. This is the system in the game that will change what Urik captains and War chiefs you encounter. It is essentially a rogue-like villain gallery, since the villains never did repeat unless they were somehow brought back to life. The captains would recognize you if you either ran from an encounter, damaged them badly, or got killed by them. This was interesting, since it put more of a personal vendetta between the captains and Talion, and it is a cool concept, since once you kill enough captains, you will see more orcs rise in power to become the new captains. It basically gives you an almost unlimited amount of side activities to do within the game. Each war chief and captain will have their own strengths and weaknesses, like being afraid of the giant troll-like creatures, or being able to kill them with a stealth finisher. The overall feel of combat is satisfying as the feedback you get when you counter-kill an orc, or shoot a captain that was weak against charged shots. It just feels good. The combat definitely owes more to the recent Batman Arkham games than it does to Assassin’s Creed II, where all you do in that game is play “red rover” with the AI. The overall game will offer about 18 hours total in gameplay if you want to 100% everything, and about 11 to 13 hours if you want to do a few of the side-quests and finish the main story.
Graphically, the game looks gorgeous. The world around you feels alive with groups of orcs wandering the landscape, and seeing the wildlife, where there are apparently only two large beast-like creatures available to roam the landscape and attack any unsuspecting orcs. Heck, I even saw an Urik captain get killed by a couple of beasts when I wasn’t even looking for him. There is a lot of detail put into the world, from the moving bushes as you sneak from within them, to seeing the mountable creatures attacking one another. Sometimes, I just stand on top of one of the fast travel towers and look at the scenery. I did run into a few graphical glitches, but nothing to truly pull me out of the experience. This game got two composers, Gary Schyman and Nathan Grigg. I could only get info on Gary Schyman, so let’s talk about him. If he doesn’t sound familiar, Schyman was the composer behind Destroy All Humans!, Destroy All Humans! 2, and he is most well-known for his work on the Bioshock franchise. The game has moments of being calm, somber, epic, intimidating, and at some points, frightening. The voice acting is spectacular. Troy Baker and Alastair Duncan do a great job portraying Talion and Celebrimbor, and while Talion might not the most interesting main character, Troy still does a good job bringing his character to life. One of the more unexpected voice casting choices is Liam O’Brien as Gollum, who was originally played by the always enjoyable Andy Serkis. While you can tell that Gollum has a different voice actor, O’Brien still does a great job getting Serkis’s quirks as the character. You will also encounter the voice talents of Nolan North, Laura Bailey, Steve Blum, Jennifer Hale, Phil LaMarr, Fred Tatasciore, Yuri Lowenthal, Sam Riegal, and Patrick Seitz, to name a few of the voice actors you will see in this game.
What complaints do I have for this game? Well, I feel like being tied down to a story that takes place between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings hurts the endingm because it was underwhelming. You finally get to the Dark Hand of Sauron, and it ends up being a short quick-time event-filled fight. Literally, it took what felt like 10 seconds to beat him. The same goes with the second-to-last boss you fight, The Tower of Sauron and the first official boss, The Hammer of Sauron. They really aren’t that interesting as villains. The Tower of Sauron comes close to being an interesting villain, but since his boss fight is so easy to get through, he isn’t that much of a threat. My other complaint is the script for the different Urik captains that you face throughout the game. Once again, the Nemesis System can technically make an endless amount of content for you to tackle, but after a while, the Urik captains will start saying the same lines each time you encounter them. Only a few of the captains I encountered said anything unique, and I didn’t hear from any other captain. I also hate the season pass. It’s $35, and while it might be worth it in the long run, it sucks that the fight with Sauron and other cool stuff is hidden behind a rather pricey paywall. I also found the controls to be slightly clunky, because I got stuck on a couple of slim walls, accidentally attacked orcs that I branded, and you get the idea.
Out of all the big hyped games of this year to fully deliver on their experience, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a fantastic game. It has great combat, some interesting characters, beautiful graphics, epic music, and is another good game based off the fantasy franchise. If you love the franchise and want to play a good action game, you should totally pick it up alongside the game’s season pass. If you want to wait, there is nothing wrong about waiting a few months for the price to drop a little or get it bundled with another game, since in a month Black Friday will be a thing. I am so happy that this game didn’t become yet another disappointment, since this year had so many underwhelming performances by big companies like EA, Ubisoft, and Activision. If you are ready to journey to Mordor, you better check this game out!
This game gets an 8 out of 10.