ONE “HAS” WALKED INTO MORDOR AND IT WAS A GOOD TIME
Licensed games have this reputation of being a mess. How many times have you been burnt by a licensed-based game now? You’re counting on your other hand already. Monolith Productions has saved us from another disaster. BEHOLD! Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. This game will have you losing track of time and wanting to go back for more and LOTS OF IT. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor has it all; story AWESOME, gameplay AWESOME, graphics AWESOME, music/sound AWESOME, fun factor MEGA RAD AWESOME. Listen just go get it, you can thank us later.
Taking place between the book series The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a grim tale. With a brutal opening scene, Talion, a former Ranger of Gondor who was tasked guarding the Black Gate of Mordor, is execute along with his family by the Black Hand. After not being able to rest in peace, Talion is bound to the wraith, Celebrimbor. Celebrimbor is an elf of the Second Age and is responsible for forging the Rings of Power. Together Talion and Celebrimbor set out on a quest to seek revenge and to right what is wrong in Mordor. Monolith Productions worked closely with Peter Jackson (producer of The Lord of the Rings movies) and Middle-earth Enterprises to get the story to feel like it belong in the Middle-earth universe. And they succeed. It’s is not a deep story by any means but works very well with the game itself. While playing I was very engaged with the plot. The actions of the opening cut scene alone made me want to kill everything in sight and seek out revenge. Some familiar faces show up along the way too.
Gameplay Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is fantastic! You just want to keep playing, even if you are currently not involved with a story mission. Every turn I was just waiting for an orc so I could chop off its head, creeping on top of ruined structures precisely aiming with my bow for a headshot to an orc, or stealthily sneaking up on an orc to annihilate it with my dagger. You have three weapons at your disposal (sword, bow, and dagger) and all work well. The combat in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor plays very similar to the Batman: Arkham Series with fluid combat and a parry prompt. The animations are fantastic, it never once seemed like a move was forced or out of place while playing. As you level up you gain access to two ability trees, Ranger and Wraith abilities, and both are awesome and complement each other very nicely. Bow abilities were pretty straight forward. When you aim, focus is used to slow down time for duration and you can either perform headshots or staple your opponents to the ground. You are limited to a set amount of arrows and focus; both are upgradeable with spending currency. Your dagger is used to perform stealth kills from either behind or from the air, again being able to upgrade them into more deadly combinations.
Again gameplay is essential to this game and I feel Monolith hit the nail on the head here. It is so much fun. The three weapons are just the basics. As you progress through the story you will gain access to riding Caragors (dog like beasts) and Gruags (gigantic troll-like monsters that can stomp and eat orcs on your command). It’s never a dull moment in Mordor. At a later point in the game you can even dominate the orcs and have them fight for you. Scatter throughout the three large zones in the game are various activities to participate in while moving through the story. You can take part optional missions to upgrade your weapons, freeing the people Mordor or working on your survival and hunting skills. All while destroying everything in sight.
As the story in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor progresses you are required infiltrate Sauron’s army. Welcome the “Nemesis system.” The Nemesis system is best described as a hierarchy of orcs. The majority of enemies you fight in the game are their own entity. If you are killed in combat that orc will remember you and be rewarded by his current war chief and be promoted and grow stronger. This will happen a lot and you are actual encourage to die sometimes to promote some of these orcs. This is such a rewarding system as it adds depth to the enemies you are fighting and makes you strategically plan out your attacks. Before killing an orc in the field you have an option to interrogate him first before you deal the final blow. In doing so, you can gather intel on an orc in the Nemesis system, whether it’s unveiling his location or gather data on what his strengths and weaknesses are. Honestly it’s a lot of take in at first, but after playing with it, you start to see what it is trying to do. Remember its okay to die in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor so don’t feel penalized if you do so. That orc that killed you will remember you and taunt you in the field, so it feels good finally figuring out how to beat him. The Nemesis system is a big part of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and a rewarding one at that, I hope to see more of this in future games.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a beautiful game. While playing I found myself several times just looking at the backdrops and feeling that I was in Middle-earth. The first zone of the game is very dreadful looking and sets the tone for Talion’s journey. The second act changing pace and you visit a very lush and flora area. It all looked amazing. Everything from the character animations to their design looked great. I did notice some stutter when using the wraith abilities but it never affected the game play. After killing 500 orcs I did notice some of them using the same model and using different names but it t a deterrent at all. The sounds and music that pulls Mordor together is a treat to listen to. Talion is voiced by the master of voice acting himself Troy Baker and not once did any of the other characters seem out of place due to off voice acting.
Heads up Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor does not hold your hand out of the gate. It is a complex game and is very rewarding. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor can be overwhelming at first, but after a few hours into it and exploring the Nemesis system and upgrading a few abilities you see what Monolith vision was and you take right off. If you are looking for a solid action adventure game then Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is your game. Finishing the games story takes about 15 hours and there is hours of side quests and extra tasks on the world map after you are finished. The ending sets up for the DLC that is coming. Overall I really enjoyed my walk in Mordor and highly recommend this title.
The Verdict: 9.0 out of 10.0
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a great game and a great start into this year’s holiday season. It’s been awhile since I’ve sat down with an action-adventure game and didn’t want to put it down. I had a chance to take a sneak peak at this title earlier this year at PAX Prime and after leaving the booth couldn’t stop thinking about what I had just witnessed and how I couldn’t wait to get ahold of it again. The game does borrow concepts from other titles, but once you start playing it you forget about it. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor takes these concepts and makes them better or uses them in a unique way that makes you forget where it came from.
Monolith took a chance on this title and I feel walked away a winner. It’s hard today to take a licensed brand and make a great game out of it. We’ve mostly had bad experiences with these types of games. This game reminded me that it is possible to make a good game based in a establish universe. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor easily makes a name for itself and I super happy Monolith brought new ideas and added them into the game such as the Nemesis system. I also loved that we are able to really give it to these orcs in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. It was very satisfying decapitating and just messing these guys up. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is not a title to be missed this holiday season.
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Patrick Garrity is a Jersey native who loves video games and enjoys the industry. He loves rum and wants to be a pirate one day. Follow him on Twitter.
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