Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is what Batman: Arkham City would be if Batman was a mass murderer.
Shadow of Mordor could have been a standard “movie game” that stayed true to the rule of movie games being horrid, but instead Shadow of Mordor ended up being one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.
Very similar to the Arkham games, simple button presses lead to big combos and easy counters. It is simplistic in design, but strong in execution. Every attack is stylized that makes every kill a violent ballet of symphonic beauty. The main character Talion moves with grace, as he flips over Uruks to stab them in the back of their neck, only to move on to the next one, and within seconds your sword is piercing another guy in the eye.
It’s a very fun combat system that gives the player a sense of being the strongest creature in the world, but at the same time, that power isn’t infinite. You can be surrounded quickly if the Uruks call for reinforcements, and especially early on in the campaign, that’s something you don’t want to happen. It’s easy to pull off smooth and brutal kills, but you need to be smart and pick your battles carefully.
Some captains have a fear of fire, so if you use flames against them, they’ll freak out and flee. Some are weak to stealth and die in one hit if you sneak up on them, but are invulnerable to ranged attacks, so your bow will be useless. Shadow of Mordor wants you to adapt to the environment and use your wits as well as strength, making its combat system one of the best around.
The game has plenty of diverse and unique weapon upgrades to get your virtual hands on, but they aren’t just handed to you.
Instead of just getting stronger as you progress through story missions, the game encourages you to go off to complete the entertaining side missions and kill some strong, high ranked Uruks for rewards. Specific missions upgrade your bow, dagger and sword, and you are essentially crafting your weapon into something of legends. Dagger missions are usually stealth based, bow missions are more of a hunting or target practice task and upgrading your sword basically comes down to killing anything that moves.
The missions are by no means repetitive either, thanks to the nemesis system that makes every battle matter if you die, and the missions and locations are extremely varied. One moment you’ll be sneaking through a cave and in another you’ll ride on a Graug’s back to charge through foes as if they were clay.
The major standout in Shadow of Mordor is how it connects you with your usual everyday enemies. Any time a random opponent gets the drop on you, they rank up and become stronger. You learn their name, you know their rank and at any time, you can hunt them down for a personal revenge kill.
This system makes it so any standard enemy can become a seasoned war veteran if given the opportunity. It builds on Middle Earth’s expansive world and makes the everyday struggle into something more personal. When you find that rookie that killed you before, he now has more armor, skill and the best part is that he remembers you. “RANGER! Back for more, eh?” The cocky foe who just bested you a few minutes ago will taunt you as you make your return to attempt to vanquish an even stronger foe.
Every enemy has their individual strengths and weaknesses, usually bound to boss fights in a lot of other video games, but in Shadow of Mordor, any fight can turn into a boss battle, and in turn, any fight can become a memorable and personal experience.
I ran into “Lom the Singer” a few times and each time he greeted me with a quick ballad or two. He ran away from me once he realized he was about to die and escaped, but I quickly tracked him down. He sang again, this time only promising me the outcome of our battle would be different this time. I’ve never had that sort of experience in any other game.
Full disclosure, I was skeptical to review this game because I am not a fan of the Lord of the Rings movies or books. I was afraid the story would make no sense to me and I wouldn’t feel anything towards the script, world or characters. I still don’t care for Shadow of Mordor’s overarching plot, but the combat was so refined that I didn’t care. As a non LOTR fan, I thought the story was a standard tale with a ton of exposition for actual fans, which is perfectly fine. I won’t speak ill of a story I am ignorant about, I just want to bring attention to that fact that you don’t have to be a fan to find entertainment within this game.
The quality of Shadow of Mordor is through the roof. The voice acting is well done, and even though the world is mostly grey, green and brown, its appeal to the eye is spectacular.
Shadow of Mordor could have just been a clone of the recent Batman games with swords and bows, but instead it expands the entire action/adventure genre with its nemesis system. Shadow of Mordor tells a standard Middle-Earth tale, but gives the player the opportunity to find their own personal story.
Overall Score: 9 out of 10