Review: Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Another Lord of the Ring based game. I could easily tell you that I just loved my adventure in Shadow of Mordor, that I sometimes drifted away in a Middle Earth sunset to contemplate its superb rendering, or even cried engineering my way into the Nemesis system… But that would limit the review to a mere paragraph, and I’m more of a detail junkie. And despite a video game experience that will remain one of my favorites back in fall 2014, I have my fair share of criticisms about Shadow of Mordor. So let’s enter this epic battle against the forces of Mordor, where the Black Hand of Sauron is waiting for you.
As soon as you get into the game, the controversy that was unleashed before its release is clear: Shadow of Mordor uses a lot of the Assassin’s Creed II Code. But let’s be clear: Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor borrows from a lot of other productions that landmarked the gaming industry in recent years. From the Batman Arkham series’ combat system, to Assassin’s Creed stealth and climbing elements, with a hint of Soul Reaver for the passage between the wraith and human world. Nevertheless, like all form of arts, what is a game when it doesn’t draw good ideas to others today? And if it’s done right, I do not see the concern… Especially since the developers were not content to build on the work of others, they have increasingly implemented a structure to their adventure, the “Nemesis system”, which actually involves the player in the universe. A fabulous concept that I would have certainly liked to go further but still done wonders.
With an open world of the proper size, enough at least to get lost, the visual rendering of The Shadow of Mordor is one of its strengths. It may not have the most beautiful textures of modern time, or even that it has the most impressive 3D, but it does remains quite flattering to the retina, thanks to purposely-worked graphics, and superb lighting effects. But as I said, the great strength of the title lies in his world, that we might call “alive”. Indeed, any orc (and there are hundreds) in the game can kill you and become a captain of Sauron’s army. And over time, the captains rank up through the army, becoming one of the five main warchief, whose life is constantly in danger from other orcs, always tempted to take its place. Brutal, violent and ruthless (and sometimes funny), the Uruk society (the strongest of Sauron’s orc legion) work only by the domination of a killer whale with another. Thus, the captains may attempt to challenge their warlords, to enlist new orcs under their banner and become more powerful than neighboring captains. And you in all this? Well you will influence this internal war, orc by orc, killing overtly or staying in the shadow, in order to put some of your supporting orcs in key positions. After all, your main goal is to reach the Black Hand of Sauron, the warrior elites that killed you and your family… But if you are dead, how is this possible?
A good soldier in past life, Talion will turn into as a true angel of death breaking into Mordor to destroy the forces of Sauron.
Talion was a ranger of Gondor, murdered, but saved by a strange ghost that you will soon learn goes by the name of Celebrimbor (I’ll stop there for spoiler’s sake). This fateful meeting gives our hero the powers to switch between the two worlds of the dead and living. A devastating combination illustrated by the rise of retaliation. A good soldier in past life, Talion will turn into as a true angel of death breaking into Mordor to destroy the forces of Sauron.
Thus begins a juicy adventure, served by a neat gameplay structure, made possible by a system of main and annex quests, which will raise your experience, to help you gain new powers and customize your three main weapons (bow, dagger and sword). Know that if you can ultimately play Shadow of Mordor as a stealth game, it is more of an explosive action game. The jousts in which you enjoy the powers of our hero also provide an exhilarating power that exudes class. You have been warned. I am not going to describe all he can do in battle, but be aware that the Shadow of Mordor combat system is excellent and highly enjoyable, even if it is repetitive, with some rare cameras problems.
Let’s go back on this famous Nemesis with his captains and warlords: every time a member of the Sauron’s army kills you, it gains power. Knowing that your accompanying ghost gives you immortality (a simple load time and you’re back on their feet), you will have the opportunity to seek your attacker for revenge. Better still, he will remember you and will not hesitate to remind you of your last defeat. To you then, you’ll gain revenge, or death if you fail again. And this is the second problem that awaits you, knowing that your killer will continue to gain strength to become an incredible foe.
Technically, you can create a monster, virtually unbeatable except in certain situations, by learning its weaknesses. You’ll understand the Nemesis creates a powerful bond between you and orcs, whatever they are, and that the system is really well thought out and constructed. However, it lacks real depth, because ultimately, the actions it achieves (challenge a master or place a pawn to betray its master) are ultimately rather limited in length. Note that the part of each player is unique, because the captains that go into the army of Sauron and become the boss, depends on the player’s choice, or rather, against whom he dies.
And you’ll see for yourself: Talion will win many powers, including the skill to influence orcs through the magic of Celebrimbor, to extract vital information and thus know the weaknesses of a captains (to kill more easily), or still to order them to take the place of a warlord. And for that, your protected orcs will organize events for you to influence the course of this rivalry between the ranks, with or without your aid. You can take part in various activities such as hunting parties, duels, executions and so on. It is actually small annex quests dotting the main adventure, alongside numerous collection quests and exploration of open areas in the game.
But if the opportunities offered by Shadow of Mordor, both in terms of management (influence on general), combat and infiltration are numerous, we must nevertheless recognize that the title has a genuine concern: there’s a urge to grab your weapon to kill everyone. So, the action can become extremely repetitive. If you want to avoid this problem, you will really need to fight the temptation, and use all the opportunities in the game to really enjoy it. And unfortunately in this case some flaws arise.
Shadow of Mordor is a good game, undeniably, but it may become too repetitive, if one does not force to vary his style of play. It is a pity that small defects arise after a few hours within Middle Earth. The camera can sometimes be disturbing in tight areas, and some collisions and unwelcome bugs emerge during climbing and fighting phases, as well as orcs dialogues coming out at the wrong times, or even with the AI, particularly dumb to detect you, etc. Nevertheless, these are slight problems that are drowned by a great scenario, with striking characters who really gain momentum throughout the adventure, and interesting boss sequences, both in terms of game mechanics and narrative.
Finally, I should conclude that it takes a little less than fifteen hours to complete the main adventure and double the time for unlocked all chalenges. Nevertheless, it is possible to continue playing with the Nemesis system and collect all that the developers have stashed in Mordor, namely runes, relics, special quests to unlock the true potential of weapons, etc. In short, you will stay around Mordor because the Nemesis system is good even though it lacks depth, thanks to the great gameplay and enjoyable fighting. But in the end, it is impossible to deny that the wide variety of mechanical skills is not enough to actually vary the activities.
Shadow of Mordor in the end is a sure hit, and without doubt the best game based on the Lord of the Rings’ lore
Shadow of Mordor in the end is a sure hit, and without doubt the best game based on the Lord of the Rings’ lore. But it never really manages to exceed the titles that inspired it. Why? Just because despite all its qualities, the extremely enjoyable gameplay, the lore, its endearing hero and orcs, and even with the Nemesis system, it is too often the same, with some rare changes throughout the game. As you can see, Shadow of Mordor is a good first draft, as was Assassin’s Creed in its time despite its mistakes, and for that, I will strongly wait for the sequel constructed in the same way with even more depth.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor was reviewed using an Xbox One copy of the game provided by Warner Bros Interactive. The game is also available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and PC. This review score does not take in consideration the numerous downloadable content available for the game. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• The Nemesis system
• The evolution of Talion’s gameplay
• Explosive fighting sequences
• The characters, the story and narration that rises in intensity throughout the game
• Capture mode is awesome!
• A disappointing ending
• The Nemesis system is not as deep as I want it to be
• A bit too repetitive after all
• Light bugs and slowdowns