Monolith’s Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a game that liberally borrows attributes from other games, Batman Arkham Asylum, Assassins Creed etc. Now Shadow of Mordors attempts at these are not as polished or responsive as these other games but having played the game for 20 hours so far I can definitely say that there is something inherently fun about what the game does and all I want to do is keep playing the small but gameplay filled world.
Shadow of Mordors best attribute is without a doubt its gameplay, yes the free running is lifted from Assassins Creed and the fighting mechanics are quite too obviously taken from the Arkham series but it’s what Monolith does with these that makes the game so enjoyable to play. The combat in Shadow of Mordor took a little time to grasp, getting all of the button combinations down and executing them at the right moments during some of the games many intense combat moments was frustrating but once you’ve got it down the results are great, hacking off the limbs of the lovely looking uruks (the main enemy you’ll be fighting in the game) or sending an arrow through the skull of a pesky archer always results in a satisfying feeling and it’s one that even in the most boring sections in the game kept the enjoyment level up. By the end of the game I was an unstoppable uruk killing machine and with the addition of the many upgrades and weapon add ons, each encounter is always a joy to play.
One aspect of the gameplay that is a little shaky is the free running mechanic. I didn’t think it possible but it is even more simplified than what you have to do in Assassins Creed. It is also hampered by the fact that it doesn’t always work, too often was I trapped on a piece of the environment and made to slowly walk away from the wall and then return to it for the animation to begin working also it’s like the game waits for high octane moments where you’re doing something integral to a mission to screw you over on that much needed wall climb. Thankfully there are some upgrades that you will unlock later in the game that make having to climb every wall or traverse you’re a way across the barren lands of Mordor a thing of the past.
Shadow of Mordor is in no way a perfect game; it does come with its flaws and one of its most glaring of which is its story and characters or to be more exact its lack of. The game starts off relatively strong, despite the rushed introduction of our main characters Talion and his Elf travelling companion (feel it best to not say his name unless some believe it to be a spoiler) the opening of the game is interestingly structured and tugs on the heart strings, sadly after the opening 15 to 20 minutes the games story begins to fall apart. Even with the 8 to 10 hours that it takes to complete just the story I never felt enough time was given to building anything substantial, major characters are used and thrown to the side with no substantial payoff and plot points feel rushed and underserved. It seemed like there were too many times that I was playing through the game and just begging it to give me a little more in the way of plot and that’s why when I did finally get to the end I had to real care for what was happening I was just relieved to be done with the nice looking cutscene and get back to leaping off towers and wiping out a garrison of enemies. It’s a shame really because it felt like Monolith had something promising in the way of a story but it just never got off the ground.
Building on from the story and the characters there is the world of Shadow of Mordor. When I was first given the chance to begin to explore Mordor I was surprised at how small and empty it appeared to be but luckily the game began to populate itself with side missions and enemies and of course everyone’s favourite the collectibles, it is also nice that at about 5 hours into the story a new area of the map opens up adding even more things for you to do and it is also a damn sight prettier to look at as the first region you play in is primarily brown and ugly. Shadow of Mordors world may not be on the same detailed level as something like GTA V or Assassins Creed 4 but packaged in to the game comes something that I soon hope to see replicated in other games and that it the Nemesis system.
The nemesis system is one of my favourite things about Shadow of Mordor. I suppose for context I’ll lay out the basics of the system, there are an assortment of enemies who hold different ranks, the higher the ranks the tougher they are to kill add onto that, that each one of these enemies has certain attributes that mean you have to plan out each attack before hand and employ a varied assortment of tactics to achieve victory. Failing in Shadow of Mordor or to be more exact dying comes with some interesting new consequences as well, yes the usual happens where you see a loading screen with some patronising tips and then your back to the last checkpoint but now with the Nemesis system there is another reason to be annoyed but raring to get straight back into the action. That enemy who just killed you, well he just got a promotion for that and he can boast for as long as he wants about killing you, also three other guys also just got promoted and there skill levels just improved making your ability to kill them harder. Having this as an added consequence of death adds a whole other layer of fun to the game, planning out your next attack on a formidable war chief (the most difficult of enemies to kill) by infiltrating his bodyguards camps and indoctrinating them to your side so that when you do finally come face to face with him you can activate the two of them and now instead of lonely old you vs the three of them it’s the much more intimidating sight of you three vs him, it never gets old.
One final thing that I personally enjoyed during my time with Shadow of Mordor was the Appendices section in the main menu. Being someone who doesn’t know a lot about the lore and such in the world of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ it was nice to be able to read quick little spouts of information on who this person was or what this seemingly small thing means in the big picture and this also helped make the under developed story of the game make more sense and you can gain more from the story I feel personally by being a little more well versed on things, that way you might gain a little more from the story overall. Sometimes it’s the little things that can stand out in a game and for some reason this was it for me.
So after the countless hours I’ve spent with Shadow of Mordor and will probably continue to spend with it I am more than happy to say that this is certainly a game that’s worth your time. The game has its flaws but none of them ever felt like they ruined the experience so much that I wanted to stop playing. With the engaging gameplay and the brilliantly structured nemesis system, Shadow of Mordor is fun and sometimes that’s all you really need from a game.