Review – Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Before the grand survival horror Halloween event kicked off last week, I finished Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, so I thought I’d take a short break in posting updated stream videos of Alien: Isolation to share my thoughts on this unexpected hit.

Developed by Monolith (the creators of F.E.A.R.) and published by Warner Bros. Interactive (publishers of the Batman: Arkham series), Shadow of Mordor is what happens when you take the Arkham series, mix it up with Thief and Assassin’s Creed, and throw a Lord of the Rings skin over it. Based on this project alone, I believe all properties should take the Arkham fight engine and throw a skin over it, because the game is fantastic.

You play as a lone ranger whose family was murdered by the followers of Sauron. Instead of dying, you are resurrected, your soul rejected from death, and attached to another soul: a powerful Elf forger whose identity is mysterious and intriguing.

Now, I like Lord of the Rings, but I am by no means an expert. I enjoyed the movies and read the books once when I was younger. I have many friends who are huge fans, ranging from a college-educated Tolkien expert to those who didn’t like the movies because they deviated too greatly. I’m not sure how much Shadow of Mordor deviates from the source material, but from what I know of the series, as a layman, it felt alright. The story is somewhat sparse anyway: you want revenge against The Black Hand, a high-ranking minion of Sauron, and so does your Elven spirit guide. But that’s okay. What matters here is the gameplay.

The combat engine is exactly what you’d expect from the Arkham series. If you’ve played those games, you’ll know exactly what to expect and you’ll probably breeze through it. If not, you’ll get use to it. The system is so tight and refined, it makes performing like a badass a fairly simple thing. It’s fun, but it can still be challenging, especially in the early levels. Late in the game, when you’re fully leveled, the system does become ridiculously easy – you’re so overpowered that if you do manage to get yourself killed, you’ll be quite surprised. What makes fighting a potential challenge are the shear numbers. Uruks just keep coming at you in strongholds, nearing Dynasty Warriors levels of enemy combat. It’s fun, but later on you never really feel in danger. I’m okay with feeling like a badass of that level in the endgame, so I enjoyed my time throughout.

What really sets apart Shadow of Mordor from others of its ilk is the Nemesis system. There is a constant and ever-changing caste system the Uruks use: regular fighters, captains, and war chiefs. As you’re playing the game, the Uruks will hold feasts, executions, duels, and tests of strength in order to fight each other over who gets to be where in the system. If you die to a regular fighter, he may be promoted to a captain, or he may gain the courage to kill a previous captain for his spot. If you die too many times to the same Uruk, he becomes your “nemesis,” which plays in later in the game. Unfortunately, once you get to a certain point in your power levels, gaining a nemesis is a near impossibility, so there is a bit of a flaw in the system. Early on, it’s fun.

After you receive the “branding” power, things get really interesting with the caste system. After that, you’re able to “brand” Uruk captains, dominating them to your will so they’ll fight for you. For instance: you can brand the captains following a war chief. Then, when you face the chief, instead of fighting him, you can order your branded captains to murder him for you. They might not survive, but who cares? There’s always another Uruk to brand. You can also command captains to attack other captains, become bodyguards of war chiefs, give you intel on another captain or war chief, or send death threats to captains and war chiefs in order to bolster their power to get better rune augments for your weapons.

Overall, it’s an extremely robust system with endless possibilities and an amazing amount of fun to be had.

Although the Nemesis system is the heart of Shadow of Mordor, it’s not all the game has to offer. There are stealth missions, items to track down, an RPG-lite leveling system, currency for purchasing upgrades, mounts you can dominate, slaves to be saved, and even points based trials you can partake in after you’ve finished everything the main campaign has to offer. The game feels well worth the purchase price, and I heartily recommend it. I’ve 100% platinumed the game and I’m still playing it. It’s just so much fun killing Uruks and forcing them to fight their masters, screwing with Uruk society… I can’t stop!

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