There are spoilers ahead regarding the beginning of the game’s plot. You have been warned.
There are few who haven’t heard of The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, two pieces of literature that were crafted by the mind of J.R.R. Tolkien. Middle of Earth: Shadow of Mordor by Monolith Productions finds its place in the world that Tolkien created. This team of developers has worked on some notable games, and is probably best known for the Batman Arkham Series. The game itself takes place in a period between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The player takes control of Talion (voiced by Troy Baker), a Ranger tasked with guarding the infamous Black-Gate separating Gondor from Mordor. The gate is essentially, to those unfamiliar with Tolkien’s work, a giant wall that acts as a buffer between the armies of good and those of Sauron. The peace doesn’t last long, as your character’s wife and son are executed in front of him within the first 5 minutes of gameplay, and is then personally killed by raiding Orcs who are under direct order from Sauron, but this isn’t the end for your character.
Talion awakens and realizes he isn’t dead. He is informed by an ethereal spirit that his destiny is bound to his and that he is cursed and cannot die. This angers the protagonist, who wants to join his family in the afterlife. The spirit explains that you now have wraith like abilities and can end your curse if you find and kill those responsible for your predicament. Without any further spoilers, the player will find references scattered throughout the game that attempt to call back to the original books the game is based upon. You get the opportunity to meet a hermit who is in search of some sort of precious ring. (Never heard of it) The game attempts to immerse the player in the world of Tolkien and does a great job at depicting the area of Middle Earth that is Mordor.
Gameplay is based off of the Arkham series’ combat system. When it comes to fighting the game at its lowest perception is merely chaining combos together in swift undivided strikes which are always beautiful to look at. The developers took their time to polish off the combat system and make it look as natural and fluid as possible. They even went to the trouble of making the voice actor, Troy Baker, do a full motion capture of all the animations the player can go through in order to obtain realistic range of movement. The weapons in the game are few in number, but used to the best of their ability. The small array of weaponry includes a simple broadsword that the player can channel their wraith abilities through to increase damage, a bow that can pick off enemies from afar, and a broken straight sword that belonged to your son which now acts as a dagger and a symbol of your need for revenge. Junior Sharwin Yogeswaran describes the gameplay as “a mix between Arkham and Assassins Creed, thrown into the world of Middle Earth.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the combat is far more responsive and fluid than the Assassins Creed series and isn’t nearly as repetitive as the Arkham games in which the player can simply spam the counter button to essentially never get hit. The latter may work at first but once one starts fighting units with spears, shields, and berserkers armed with hand axes, it is soon realized that the game is more difficult that previously imagined.
Two aspects of gameplay that set it apart from the Assassins and Arkham games are its use of “executions” the player earns through combos or not taking damage, and the more important Nemesis AI system. The executions are brutal to say the least, decapitation and impalement of orcs have never looked this good in a game. Players may have moments of shock after carrying out one of these brutal strikes for the first time. I myself was stunned for a second by the first decapitation I saw in the game and still cringe a little at the brutality, even having already put 30+ hours into the game. The real star of the show when it comes to gameplay is the Nemesis AI. In the Shadow of Mordor, the player will find themselves in a struggle to either kill captains in Sauron’s Orc army or the higher up Elite Captains and War Chiefs. Monolith brought an interesting aspect to the game. Say, for example, I’m hunting an Orc Captain and burn him with hot tar, and he somehow survives. In the game you will more than likely see that Orc again, and they will remember what you did to them. They will show this by simply saying it aloud or by reminding you during combat.
This happened to me when I was fighting a Captain by the name of Rignar the Skinner (Nearly all of the names are mix- mat0ched so many are unique). Rignar egged me on the first time I fought him, taunting me with things such as “I’ll skin you alive you soft skinned human.” This made the hatred more personal. Rignar, however, was awful when it came to combat and always fled when his health was low. (Notice all captains behave with different attributes; some have honor and will fight to the death. Others will panic and run off. Some are afraid of fire, others embrace it. You get the idea.).I found myself hunting this single Orc for several hours because the game had succeeded in bringing out a personal emotional reaction. Each time that I found him he would start off the fight saying things such as “I let you win puny human.” Or “Back for some more?” Which really ticked me off. The frustration continued until I myself cut him in his face and actually rejoiced in real life, as I had finally defeated my enemy. However, I apparently should have executed him because about an hour later he popped up again. This time with a large metal plate on his face where I stabbed him in a non-fatal manner. He mocked me, saying “I will just take your skin and wear it over the patch that you took from me!” Needless to say he didn’t survive that battle and I don’t think one can reattach a head. The fact is this is my own unique experience with the AI system that is being used in the game. None of this was planned or scripted, the developers decided to create an AI system that actually learns from the players actions and forms a unique and very personal theme to the player. For example you may have a completely different experience and if you get killed enough you will notice that the Orcs begin to realize you are a wraith who can’t die which adds to the fun and atmosphere of this unique and surprisingly under-hyped game.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor provides the player with a simple to learn but hard to master combat system that has two distinct skill trees. It looks simply beautiful on the next gen and truly attempts to form to the player’s actions.
Verdict: 9/10 *for killing orcs with style and forming a unique AI system that forms to the player.