Unlike a lot of people that had never heard of Shadow of Mordor – or barely knew about its gameplay – I’ve been watching demo videos for quite some time now. It actually happens to be one of the few “next gen” games that I’ve been excited for. I’m extremely happy to say that I am not at all disappointed and the game has lived up to its reputation, as well as surpassed all of my expectations. That statement right there is worth more than any bullshit number score that game review sites could ever slap on it. Although, it seems like critics are praising this game quite a bit which is surprising.
That said, it’s not a perfect game. There are flaws here and there, but they are easily ignored. It’s because the gameplay, depth and personalization mechanics more than make up for it.
The Nemesis System
At the game’s core is a unique nemesis system. When you look at it from a design standpoint it’s actually pretty shallow, and doesn’t do anything all that amazing. That doesn’t matter though, because it’s implemented well and it makes the game interesting. By interacting with enemies in the game – orcs – and creating personalized stories in the sandbox world you become emotionally attached.
For example, you may find yourself tasked with eliminating an enemy who previously cut you down. Before he might have been a lowly peon, but now he’s a powerful warchief assigned several bodyguards. Also, because you lost to him already, he now has more skills at his disposal, therefore the challenge has ramped up considerably. In the first battle you managed to wound him, yet he still took your life. The NPC remembers your interaction and makes this clear by taunting you. Scars from your earlier encounter are visible all over his body, and his face is now disfigured – where you burned it. Outside of the game, you’ve also built up this personal vendetta against the character as a natural reaction to the fact that he kicked the ever loving shit out of you once before.
That’s just one scenario of many. The in-game enemies have all sorts of personalities, character traits, strengths and weaknesses and more. It truly makes each playthrough personal, and therefore it’s infinitely more rewarding by proxy.
The gameplay itself is fluid, easy to master and yet still has a lot of depth. Combat is nothing more than a few well timed button presses, but there is a seemingly endless supply of possibilities that come with all your attacks, skills and abilities. In one fight, you can eliminate most of your enemies using stealth, then head right for the warchief. In another fight, you can hover on the rooftops of some nearby ruins and pick enemies off one-by-one with your bow. You can always run in guns blazing, wreaking all manner of havoc – including freeing bloodthirsty caged beasts named Caragor that will help you dispatch enemies.
The world is pretty expansive too. The story mode alone will offer about
ten to twelve twenty hours, not including all the side missions and additional content you can unlock. Then there are several different modes, one of which allows you to systematically hunt down Sauron’s warchiefs and favorite orc members.
If you haven’t already figured out, your job is to thin the herd by eliminating as many orcs as possible – climbing up the heirarchy more and more each time. At the same time, you are also creating an insurrection, as you possess your enemies and help them climb the ranks of orc society.
While playing, you take on the role of Talion who has been forcefully infused with a wraith known as Calebrimbor. Lord of the Rings’ fans will recognize the elvish lord who established the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, a brotherhood of jewelsmiths. He was responsible for forging the three rings, Vilya, Narya, and Nenya after the principal elements: air, fire, and water, respectively. No doubt his canonical role in the world of Middle Earth plays a part in the main story.
The end goal of the game is to take on Sauron’s infamous Black Hand who are responsible for the deaths of your wife and child. You must also find out more about Calembrimbor, the wraith who is now merged with Talion’s body.
Throughout the game you have the opportunity to interact with several important characters in the LOTR universe, including Gollum. It adds a bit of nostalgia, to an otherwise pretty fresh and invigorating experience.
The plot itself is solid, and the cutscenes that play out between missions are absolutely stunning. Even when playing on a PC with low settings – I lowered them all to test it out – the cutscenes still look gorgeous. It’s also worth noting that the game runs well, even on a mid-grade rig – and it still looks good to boot.
All in all, Shadow of Mordor is a breath of fresh air. It comes at a time when many developers are taking shortcuts, cutting corners and trying to milk consumers for as much money as possible – which is another way to say that the video game industry has taken a turn for the worst. That’s not to say there aren’t still some awesome games out there, because there definitely are and Shadow of Mordor is a great example of this.
The game is deep, engaging and unique – in the sense that the nemesis system adds something entirely new to the whole experience. It will be interesting to see what the developers add when it comes to DLC. There is a season pass available which makes me a little wary, but I’m hoping there will be enough content to warrant the price ($24.99). Still, the core game is excellent and you’d be missing out if you didn’t at least give it a chance.
Shadow of Mordor is – without a doubt – one of the best games I’ve played in a long time.