Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor Review – Death is Only the Beginning (PS4)
Video games based off of existing IPs have had a poor history of relying more on their lineage than actually delivering on a quality product. Thankfully, over the last few years we have been seeing more and more titles come out and show that games tied to other products have the unique ability to dive deeper into worlds that we already know and love. Warner Bros Interactive and Monolith Productions’ Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a great example of a title that is able to exist in world established in other forms of media, but also deliver in creating a name for itself despite the power of its namesake.
Set in the period between J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Shadow of Mordor‘s story surrounds the fate of Talion, a Gondorian Ranger who is murdered alongside his family while stationed at the Black Gate in Mordor. Instead of passing on with his wife and son, Talion’s body is inhabited by a Elvish Wraith who keeps him from fully going to the other side. The ties between the two and their ties to the Dark Lord are where the heart of the story lies, as you learn who this mysterious Wraith is, and why both of them are ‘banished from death’.
As to not spoil any parts of the story, I will simply say that fans of Tolkien’s work will find an interesting story that is laid out wonderfully and with great pacing and characters. With great animations pushing the superb voice work done by Troy Baker (Talion) and a spot on Gollum by Liam O’Brien, Shadow of Mordor delivers completely to fans who are already familiar with the lore. Players who may not understand the world that Tolkien has built may find the lore a bit less clear, but thankfully the inclusion of an appendices adds a wealth of information.
My time playing through Shadow of Mordor was an all around enjoyable experience, but the the biggest issue with the game is just how familiar it can feel at times. Having to climb to the top of a tall building to unlock a new area on the map, using an alternate view mode to track enemy movements and a combat system that is made up of combos, counters and rolling over your opponent, feels like most of the gameplay was taken from other games — namely the Assassin’s Creed and the Batman Arkham series. Sadly this does take a bit away from the experience of playing through a new game, as a great deal of it feels old from the start, but thankfully things drastically change the further you move into the story.
Over time Talion moves from being a capable fighter to being able to devastate hordes of enemies and taking on some of the biggest things that Mordor can throw at you. The abilities that Talion is able to get throughout his journey completely moves the gameplay away from the familiar feeling it starts with into a unique style that is a perfect balance of being a bad-ass, but not letting things become too easy. Being able to teleport yourself with an arrow so you can instantly chop off someones head, building a combo so you can impale an Uruk on your sword or being able to build your own army to take into battle are only a some of the dynamic tools that Shadow of Mordor gives you to help you survive.
This ties into one of the most unique aspects about Shadow of Mordor, a feature called the Nemesis System; A dynamic system that tracks and updates the battlefield that is Mordor based on your actions. Killing a Captain or a Warchief would normally leave gaps in the ranks, but now those positions are filled in by soldiers fighting for promotions, and the surefire way to move up is to kill the Gravewalker known as Talion. This means that if you die, the enemy that killed you can be promoted and get stronger the next time you face them. This system also allows you to strike fear into foes by brutalizing an enemy, which can cause certain soldiers to flee from the area if they don’t have the stomach to fight you.
This leads into possibly my favorite aspect of Shadow of Mordor, the personalities of the ranking Uruks. Each of the leaders in the Uruk army have specific traits tied to them that will dictate what is the best way to fight them, which can be learned by finding gaining Intel from slaves or by interrogating foes called Worms. Instead of charging headfirst into a fight hoping to use brute force (still a viable option), I was able systematically plan my attack and get passed troublesome fights by simply planning my attack.
Overall, there is simply too much to cover in Shadow of Mordor and this is one of its greatest assets. As you progress through the game things expand exponentially, giving more room to play around in, but on a learning curve that is paced out perfectly. Fantasy fans will probably owe it to themselves to give Shadow of Mordor a shot, especially if they are fans of Tolkien’s work. If you are not overly familiar with the lore from the books and movies, you may find it difficult to appreciate most of the content available here, but you will still find a fantastically fun fantasy action title with a robust amount of content, with some familiar core gameplay.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor review copy provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. Will be available on PS3 at a later date. For more information on scoring, read our Review Policy here.