|System: PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PC|
|Dev: Monolith Productions|
|Pub: Warner Bros.|
|Release: October 7, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
When you think of Lord of the Rings games, you think of basic action games that try to ride the wave of popularity of the LOTR franchise. But Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is very, very different. This isn’t a generic action game. This is a living breathing world that changes as you play in it.
Here’s the basic premise. You are a wraith, a lich king made flesh. You were resurrected in order to do Sauron’s bidding in the time between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Essentially, it is telling the story of how Sauron came to power. The developers aren’t talking much about the story, but suffice it to say you will meet up with plenty of noteworthy Lord of the Rings characters.
Being that you are essentially undead, you can’t die, but death isn’t the thing that is breathing down your neck in this game. Time, on the other hand, is the thing you have to look out for. Sauron has to infiltrate great Orc warlords in order to build his forces, and he doesn’t have all day. If you die, then time will pass and it will be more and more difficult to reach Sauron’s goal.
What’s cool about Shadow of Mordor is that the game world changes quite a bit as you interact with it. Say, for example, that you are targeting a warlord and want to add him to Sauron’s army. Well you can’t just go in sword swinging. These warlords have tons of underlings that will tear you apart, limb from limb, if you go in all Rambo. Instead, you have to work your way up to him by targeting his forces.
You can do this in several ways. You can, for example, simply destroy his underlings one by one, giving him fewer body guards in the final fight. Or, on the other hand, you can dominate his underlings to make them turn against him. You can set booby traps in his base, poison his food, and even unleash wild beasts on him. The way you want to fight him is your choice alone.
What’s really interesting is the fact that the orc-ish hierarchy is always changing as time passes. As orcs kill enemies and complete missions, they grow in power, strength and renown. Luckily, you can interfere in these missions, choosing exactly which orcs you want to succeed and fail. The developers call this the “nemesis system” and it’s always active while you play the game.
Unfortunately, killing you is a huge badge of honor for an orc. After all, you are one of the undead kings. So if you die in battle the foe you died to will grow in strength and rise up the orc-ish ranks. Luckily you can target him for revenge if you like, and eventually dominate him into your army. Even more so, you can dominate an orc and let him kill you several times to grow in rank. Of course, Orcs will fight with each other too, so killing your little pet orc’s enemies will help him rise through the ranks quicker. Once you have an army of orcs under your command, you can bring them with you into story missions, making your life a whole lot easier.
Unfortunately, as interesting as the nemesis system was, combat was not nearly as interest. There is only one combat button, the attack button, and that’s basically all you need. You can use a block button to parry your opponent’s strikes, or the jump button to vault over and stun him, but mashing attack was pretty much the way to go. By the end of the demo my thumb was killing me.
But even though combat is a little dry, your options inside combat are actually quite varied. You can, for example, “combat dominate” to turn lesser enemies to your side. You can launch into a flurry of strikes that take out stunned enemies. You can one hit kill assassinate enemies and grab enemies to use as human shields. All of these abilities are actually governed by the amount of hits you have managed to rack up before getting hit yourself. So keeping on the offense will give you plenty of more options in battle.
The other big tool you have is the ability to slow time. Holding down a trigger will take you into lich mode, which turns the world white and slows everything down. Here you can do a number of different things. You can, for example, fire spirit arrows at your enemies to take them down from afar. You can teleport strike to stun your enemies and take them out in one blow. You can distract enemies by poltergeisting objects and forcibly mount beasts of the wild. You can even suck the life and power out of enemies to replenish your own. Unfortunately, none of this is particularly useful in combat time, and so many confrontations come down to how well you plan before the confrontation even takes place.
The thing I liked the most about Shadow of Mordor was the ever changing world. Every time you dominate an orc, another mission pops up. Every time you die, another mission pops up. Every time you complete a story mission, seven other missions pop up. Your missions keep changing depending on what you do in the game, and that means that you could easily lose yourself in side quests for hours. If you are the type of guy who likes to raise an army and vie for world domination, then Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is the game for you.
Angelo M. D'Argenio
Date: June 11, 2014