Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor Review
PS4 | Xbox One | PC
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor Box Art
System: PC, PS4*, Xbox One
Dev: Monolith
Pub: Warner Bros.
Release: September 30, 2014
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Blood and Gore, Intense Violence
A Darker Lord of the Rings
by Joshua Bruce

Finally. A Lord of the Rings game with a mature rating, it’s about time. J.R.R. Tolkien’s world can get pretty dark and gruesome, so it only makes sense we would one day see a LotR game that portrayed the visceral nature of war and carnage. Though the game isn’t gratuitously violent, it doesn’t shy away from the rivers of orc blood and decapitated heads that would, and does, litter this medieval style battlefield.

As Talion, a Ranger sworn to protect the Black Gate of Mordor, you have been stripped of everything you hold dear (among them your wife and son) when the Dark Lord Sauron and his forces rise again and begin their conquest of Middle-Earth, starting with the Black Gate itself. There is little that could be done to stop the flood of evil from pouring into the land beyond the Black Gate and all those that stood in the way of Sauron’s war machine suffered decimation, including Talion.

But Talion is denied the release of death and is bound with a mysterious Elven spirit. A spirit with ties deeper to the history of Middle-Earth than even he knows. With the aid of this Wraith, Talion takes on a personal vendetta against Sauron’s forces to avenge those he loved in life by taking down the Armies of Mordor.

This is the core basis of the story for Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, which easily benefits from the much-needed mature rating. Telling an epic story of vengeance, sabotage, and warfare would have fallen flat without an adult rating. Combat without bloodshed is lifeless and does little to capture the essence of warfare. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about a lack of bloodshed in Shadow of Mordor. Orcs murder one another for position within the army and Talion has no issue with spilling buckets upon buckets of his enemy’s blood.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor Screenshot

Initially, the gameplay of Shadow of Mordor is strikingly similar to an Assassin’s Creed title. Combat is largely similar with the usage of parries, strikes, and dodging and you even climb Forge Towers to reveal sections of the in-game world. Additionally, Talion is granted the sight of his Wraith companion which is extremely similar to Eagle Vision in Assassin’s Creed. While these similarities are easily noticed, they do create a solid gameplay basis for Shadow of Mordor and don’t detract from the fun of the game. The good news is that this is where the similarity ends and the unique features of Shadow of Mordor emerge.

Enter the Nemesis System. The Nemesis System delivers a new type of gameplay functionality that gives Shadow of Mordor tons of replayability. Basically, within the hierarchy of the Mordor Army there are Captains and Warchiefs. Throughout your campaign against Sauron, you will come across these officers on the field of battle. The orcs are constantly fighting each other for position and if an orc defeats you he will immediately gain entry into the upper ranks. These characters are persistent with their own strengths and weaknesses and will remain in play until defeated, either by you or another orc. This evolving cast of characters provides variety to what could have been an endless sea of 6-7 bland character models with static voices though which you would wade until the whole of Mordor laid slain at your feet. Instead you have a unique cast of Captains to hunt, slay, and sabotage. These characters are unique to your game and will evolve differently depending on the decisions you make and actions you take within Shadow of Mordor.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor Screenshot

If you couldn’t tell, this was easily my favorite feature of Shadow of Mordor. Setting targets, making death threats to Captains, and Branding orcs to my side to create an army of unwitting accomplices in the fight against Sauron was pure genius in my opinion.

Second only to the Nemesis System is the dual-role main character of Talion and his Wraith. As Talion you wield the tools of your trade as a Ranger, fighting orcs in traditional fashion. Your Wraith companion on the other hand, adds another dynamic to a tried and true combat system. Enter the Wraith world and fire Elf Shot (ghostly arrows), stun your foes with an ethereal punch, or enter the mind of your enemies. You can drain your foes to replenish your Wraith’s energy, Brand your target (later in the game), or “extract” intel. In Shadow of Mordor, Talion is an accomplished warrior, but the real power lies with your Wraith and his supernatural abilities.

I couldn’t possibly begin to explain the RPG elements of Shadow of Mordor in-depth without far exceeding the amount of space I am allotted for this review, but rest assured that a tiered system of abilities and skills are present that change the game dramatically when acquired. Add to that weapon runes that tack on extra bonuses toward combat and you have a full-fledged skill tree on your hands, without all that leveling nonsense. In Shadow of Mordor you become more powerful through your traits, skills, and abilities and not by some benign number.

One additional feature of the game that I quite enjoyed was the use of the DualShock 4 controller’s speaker. During play, if you are rustling through some bushes, clanging swords with a random orc, or entering the Wraith world, these sounds will come through your controller speaker instead of your TV screen. It is a minute feature, but I think it did a lot to help bring the game out of the television and into your hands.

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