Developed by Monolith Productions
Published by Warner Brothers Interactive
Reviewed on the Playstation 4
Shadow of Mordor has somehow managed to sneak under the radar a little, which is surprising considering it has been released just a few months before the final part of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit movie trilogy. Over the years we have had many video games based in Middle Earth, starting with the text based The Hobbit that was released in the early eighties, sadly most of them have been either terrible or just plain average. So, does Shadow of Mordor buck this trend and really let us experience the world of Middle Earth?
This game is set in the open world of Mordor, the game uses the power of the PS4 well, to give you a vast living world that is populated with various Orcs and monsters to either avoid or fight. As it is set in between both the books and the films, the story isn’t based on material that you have likely been through before. This has allowed Monolith to create a new character, a ranger, who goes by the name of Talion, who also has some wraith like abilities that can be upgraded as the game progresses. A few well known faces from Middle Earth do make appearances in the game but generally you are creating your own story behind enemy lines in Mordor.
One of the most intriguing and, after playing the game, best mechanics introduced is the Nemesis system; which effectively remembers your encounters with your enemies in the game and really brings them to life. Defeat an Orc captain by burning him and the next time you see him he may have bandages all over his disfigured face, he will also comment on your last battle. This all feels unscripted and I really cannot think of another game that has this level of interactivity with your enemies. Where as in many games, if you are killed by a nameless grunt you will not see him again; this time he will get promoted and remember you. Flee an enemy and he may hunt you down across the map, it really is a system that makes this game much more engrossing.
I have had several battles with the same Orc captain that repeatedly killed me, it felt great to finally defeat him and I could only do this by learning about him. I had to gain intel by interrogating Orcs in the field and finding out who his body guards were, this taught me his strengths as well as weaknesses. Of course you can just go in and take him head on with no preparation but I really felt it made the game a better experience by taking the time to learn about him first and it also made the victory all that sweeter.
Traversing the open world map of Mordor felt very similar to how you run, jump and climb in the Assassin’s Creed games. This means that it is easy to climb towers and sneak up upon unsuspecting enemies. As in the Assassin’s Creed games, there are a few frustrating times when you just get stuck in between walls or keep jumping upwards when you desperately need to run away from an army of enemies, but in the whole it works brilliantly.
You will spend most of your time in Shadow of Mordor fighting against Orcs. I was delighted to see that the battle mechanics in this game are similar to the superb free-flowing fighting seen in the excellent Arkham series of games. If you didn’t like the style of the Arkham games, then you won’t enjoy it here either. I did though and I found it made fighting extremely fun and actually addictive, it made me want to fight more and more Orcs in greater numbers. You flow through enemies increasing your combo meter that then unlocks your special take down abilities. Later on though, once you levelled Talion up enough, it does feel as though you can destroy any enemies fairly easily and it does then take a lot of the challenge out of the game, but even with this I never got bored of slashing through hordes of Orcs.
As in many open world games there are a variety of missions and side quests that give you experience to unlock new abilities and powers. The missions have enough variety to keep you wanting to try the side quests, but a lot of the main missions do have you finding a war chief and then killing them or later on in the game trying to control them. You can only upgrade your weapons though by defeating the Orc captains, they will then drop runes that you can apply to your sword, dagger or bow granting various perks, naturally beating the higher ranking Orcs gets you the best rewards.
Shadow of Mordor really was an unexpected joy to play and I would go as far as to say that this could be a real contender for my game of the year. I am a huge fan of JRR Tolkiens Middle Earth world and I was really drawn in by this game, it made me want to keep on playing. The nemesis system is one of the best mechanics I have used in any game and it made this game feel next generation, at the moment there is no higher praise I can give it.
Without the pressure of unrealistic hype Monolith has delivered a truly exceptional and more importantly fun game to play.