Shadow of Mordor Review

I hadn’t played a Lord of the Rings game for quite some time, so when Shadow of Mordor was announced, I was pretty excited. And rightly so.

Most of the Lord of the Rings games I’ve played in the past (primarily, the original games on PS2 which were based on the films) were pretty rubbish. I wouldn’t say they were completely awful, but they were mostly awful.

Naturally I watched all the gameplay trailers for Shadow of Mordor before it was released. It looked to be taking the best bits from Batman Arkham Asylum and Assassin’s Creed and merging them into Mordor. In short, that’s exactly what it is! The game is also conveniently set somewhere between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which gave the developers some breathing room because it meant they could avoid stepping on the toes of any pernickety fans.

One significant disadvantage that I feel I need to disclose straight away, is the lack of depth in the story. You play as Talion, a former ranger of Gondor. In the opening scene, after a bit of a combat tutorial, Talion and his family are ritually executed by The Black Hand. Talion’s spirit is then bound to an elf ghost / wraith and he’s returned to Middle Earth with the opportunity and abilities to exact vengeance against Sauron’s forces. That’s pretty much as deep as the story ever gets, and the entire motivation for the rest of the game (there are no spoilers there, all this happens in the first 20 minutes).

So yes, the story is something we’ve seen many times before, and if it doesn’t draw you in to begin with, it never will. But what the game lacks in plot depth, it makes up for in gameplay. The combat can be a little repetitive, but it’s also good. So as long as you enjoy that style of combat, it won’t grow old particularly quickly. Like with most games, you unlock more abilities as you progress. This helps to keep the combat a little bit more fresh as you unlock more inventive and brutal ways to kill enemies.

Some of the abilities you unlock make a heck of a difference! My favourite is easily Shadow Strike, which gives you the means to target an enemy with your bow, and you can teleport straight to them and either knock them to the ground, or kill them instantly (there are two versions of the move). It makes it so much easier to get to a good vantage point (and is pretty useful for just travelling around to be honest)! Once you unlock the ability to brand enemies as well (i.e. turn an enemy into an ally and have the ability to command them to start attacking other enemies), this becomes far more useful. You can teleport around the vantage points of a stronghold, branding the archers in preparation before attacking a Captain or Warchief.

shadow of mordor

Speaking of Captains and Warchiefs, the reviews so far place a lot of emphasis on the game’s Nemesis system. This is partly because the paid brand deal contract that some of the YouTubers took up seems to state that they have to (more info about this can be found all over the place online: here’s an article about it on gamerheadlines, or you can watch Jim Sterling’s video about it), but also because it is kind of a big part of the game.

The enemies in Shadow of Mordor are quite varied, both in looks (which is certainly good - if all the Uruk-hai looked the same, this would have been a very bland game), and in combat. The Nemesis system basically means that your more powerful enemies (the Captains and Warchiefs) have different strengths, weaknesses, and power levels. You can interrogate enemies to discover who the Captains and Warchiefs are, and the details about them. Some may be afraid of Caragors, or in fact hate them, and end up being significantly stronger when they’re around. Others may be weak to stealth attacks (so can be killed instantly if you take them by surprise), or may be immune to ranged attacks. Basically, there are quite a lot of variations. And it does keep the combat interesting. If you kill a Captain, eventually, another Uruk will be promoted to fill the space. So there are always a fair few powerful enemies around.

The Captains can present quite a challenge, especially at the beginning of the game before you’ve unlocked some of the better abilities. Every now and again, you may encounter about 5 of them in one place, and then you’re really screwed. Dying isn’t as bad as it used to be though because, well, you’re already dead… so you just come back again. Interestingly, the Uruk that kills you remembers that they killed you, so their reaction changes when you go back for a second round.

If you are finding things a bit challenging, the Nemesis system helps with that too! The Captains often have different missions relating to them, where they may be trying to recruit other Uruks, or prove their strength by fighting a beast. These scenarios give you more of a chance to kill them. Once you’ve unlocked the ability to brand an enemy, you can also command Captains to attack other Captains, or betray their Warchief. So the Nemesis system certainly helps to keep things interesting.

By killing Captains and Warchiefs, you get different runes for your weapons that give you some advantages in battle, such as some which have a chance to restore some health when you kill an enemy, or that replenish your arrow stock when you get a headshot, etc. Naturally, once you’ve unlocked more abilities and more powerful runes, the combat does get easier. But there are always scenarios where it’s challenging. Regardless of how many abilities you have, if you’re surrounded by 5 captains and 20 other Uruks, then things are going to be a bit challenging! But this is a good thing. The combat itself is most similar to that of Assassin’s Creed - but in Assassin’s Creed it was far too easy. So the increased difficulty is definitely a good thing.

I’ve spoken a lot about the combat, but that’s because it’s important. There’s not much story to fall back on, so the combat really is what will make or break the game for you.

If you liked the combat in Arkham Asylum or Assassin’s Creed, then you’ll like it here too, and you’ll like the game as a result! I did.

Posted: October 12th, 2014
Categories: video games, reviews