Review: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Written by The String Player Gamer
Title: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Platform: Microsoft Windows, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: September 30, 2014
Plays like: The prettier and beefier love child of the Batman Arkham series and Assassin’s Creed series.
Why you should play: As an action game, the excellent melee combat system is very solid and you can feel the weight of your sword swings as it severs some orc and Uruk heads. Also, for Tolkien fans, there are numerous lore shout outs for you to find including a highlight cameo from our favorite skulking creature.
Why you shouldn’t play: If you’re not into Assassin’s Creed games from the get go, you might not appreciate ME:SoM since it borrows heavily from the stealth series. The open-world, the combat, and the stealth kills, though vastly improved are still reminiscent of the look and feel of the AC games.
The Combat – The combat in ME:SoM feels very solid and grounded. The counter system is very responsive and there are a lot of flashy combos you can pull off. Battle mistakes can really be fatal in the short and long term, so you’re really encouraged to make all your hits count. There’s also detailed equipment upgrade system that lets you add additional skills to your sword and bow over time.
The new Nemesis system – ME:SoM introduces the Nemesis system, a new way of punishing in-game death. You see, when you get killed by a normal orc grunt, that grunt will be promoted to captain, and can rise through the ranks while also earning more combat upgrades.
When I was killed by an orc patrol named Zunn Black-thorn, he was immediately promoted to captain and even left me some verbal taunts. But thankfully, through some intel gathering and orc head bashing, I was able to track him down and eventually sever his head from his neck! It actually felt personal and thus more satisfying when I finally got my revenge!
Mordor itself – In the Lord of the Rings films, we never really got to see much of Mordor save from some barren landscapes and some dark towers, and of course, Mount Doom. But in ME:SoM, we see another side of Mordor that feels very much lived-in and organic. Orc Patrols roam around the vast open-world, petty fights occur between uruks and orcs, and you see orc slave masters taunting and torturing human slaves. Who knew that life in Mordor could be very vibrant, never mind that it was the negative kind of vibrant, but it works well in this game setting.
The several ways of decapitating an Uruk hai/orc – Just really satisfying and fun!
Stealth Running – A really convenient feature that I was looking for in Assassin’s Creed games.
The repetitive nature – Because this game is modeled after Assassin’s Creed, there are a lot of similar repetitive side quests and collect-a-thons that are standard fare for open world games such as this, and for other gamers this can be a turn off.
Lackluster story – The game squanders its source material by not really fleshing out the story. Though it is passably entertaining and there are a lot of callbacks to the lore, and Talion is a likeable hero, it does not come close to the story telling prowess of its source material.
Longevity: Aside from main quests and side quests, there are lots of weapon runes, Ithildins, Mirians, slaves to rescue, power struggles to resolve, and not to mention the almost endless stream of the bosses generated in the Nemesis system. There is a lot to do here! Maybe 20-30hours of game time to maximize everything.
Fun moments: The interactive opening montage/tutorial is one of the most creative sequences I’ve seen, and it’s very similar in pacing and treatment with the opening montage of The Fellowship of the Ring film, albeit with a more intimate set of characters. And also, that Gollum cameo!
Music: The music composed by Garry Schyman and Nathan Grigg is comprised of mostly orchestral and atmospheric pieces that set the right somber, dark mood that feels at home at the rugged landscape of Mordor.
But when I’m in combat, the music shifts to big, epic bass drums, reminiscent of the Battle of Helms Deep score from the Two Towers film. There’s even a deep voiced male choral song with lyrics based on the “One Ring” poem sung in the dark language of Mordor! Goosebump inducing.
Nitpick: In my 10+ hours of playing, I have yet to see a standout nitpick, so I guess none for now. Maybe I’ll update this the more I play.
Final Word: If you love Lord of the Rings lore, Assassin’s Creed and Batman Arkham games, then it’s a no-brainer, this game was made for you. To be honest, even as a long time Tolkien film and book fan, I didn’t care much about the story quality anymore since the combat and stealth is just loads of fun to play! Play it!
SPG Score: 9/10