I’ll be the first to admit that I did terribly at reviewing the games I played last year; so this year I’m going to try and review at least one game a month. January has been a great month of gaming for me but today, I am going to take a look at one of the first games I finished in 2021, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
Well, this rather famous quote is a rather appropriate way to start this review off, as in Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor you are Talion, one of the rangers of the Black Gate, whose fate is linked to the One Ring and is now trapped in the land of Mordor. How did this happen? Well, after the Orcs of Mordor take over the Black Gate and Talion, along with his family, are used as sacrifices; Talion finds himself in Mordor, stuck between life and death, as well as accompanied by the wraith-like Elf lord, Celebrimbor. Naturally, Talion wants revenge for what has happened to him and Celebrimbor want to uncover the truth about his past, so the two team up to give the Orcs and Sauron a taste of their own medicine. I’ll be honest, as far as plots go, this isn’t the most original nor unique plot for a video game. In fact, anyone who has played Assassin’s Creed II will definitely see some simlarities in Talion’s and Ezio’s stories. Except for the part about being dead and having a ghost for a friend, that is completely just Talion.
However, the plot of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is not the only thing the game shares with the Assassin’s Creed series. Both are open world adventure games, filled with collectibles to find, side quests to complete and towers… to climb to reveal more of the map and use as fast travel points. OK, I’m starting to get the feeling that someone at Monolith Productions is a fan of the Assassin’s Creed series. To be fair, the setting of the game, Mordor itself is fantastic. Going into the game, I was concerned that I was going to spend twenty to thirty hours running around a dull wasteland, which I was happy to be mistaken about. The developers were able to give some colour to the land of Mordor and whilst in places, it does feel a little empty, it does have varied wildlife for you to slay and ruins for you to clamber about on.
Speaking of clambering about, some of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor‘s game mechanics are also inspired by the Assassin’s Creed games. As Talion, you can climb and dive off of ruins, as well as run along ledges and wodden beams. However, I found that the free running in Shadow of Mordor was a bit clunky and slow. It reminded me a lot of the earlier Assassin’s Creed games, where it was hit or miss whether the assassins actually climbed the building instead of body slamming it. Towards the end, I would often avoid free running, unless a mission required me to do so. Shadow of Mordor also has some basic stealth, in which I mean, as long as you don’t run in front of an enemey, then you are completely imvisible to them. Don’t worry, if you are spotted, just run into a bush or even duck behind a wall and the Orcs will just forget about you and go about their business. The game has many missions in which you must be stealthy, in some cases being spotted will cause you to fail the mission, however with the slowness and cluniness of the stealth and free running mechanics, this becomes a difficult task and in most cases you will have to resort to combat.
The combat itself is decent. There was definitely inspiration from the Batman: Arkham games as in Shadow of Mordor , you have the square button as your attack, the triangle button as your counter move and the x button as your dodge/roll move. There are a handful of your standard video game enemies: the standard no startegy needed enemey, the range weapon enemy, the enemy with a shield and the enemy you can only stun and not counter. The game will tellyou when you need to dodge or counter and for the most part combat is not a challeneg. In fact the only time, I really struggled was when I was being swarmed by about thirty Orcs and I couldn’t counter five separate attacks. I’ll be honest, the combat is fine, its not revolutionary nor does it do much different to any other open world adventure game but I was finding that by the last third of the game that the combat was getting dull as it wasn’t really offering any challenge.
I imagine by now, some of you are thinking that Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is just a love letter to Assassin’s Creed and Batman:Arkham, with little originality. That is not true. There are a couple of Shadow of Mordor‘s game mechanics that I really enjoyed and were unique to it. The first is the Nemesis system. The Nemesis system allows Orcs to rpogress through the ranks of Sauron’s army and hold a grudge against you, remembering the time that Talion and the Orc have crossed swords and who won. I love the idea of this- having your own Orc enemy, having a grudge and seeing your nemesis be rewarded with a promotion for taking you down, sounds like a fantastic opportunity for roleplaying and really engaging in the story and making it their own. Unfortunately, the Nemesis system does need a little polish. The Orcs tend to have similar appearances and names, making it hard to distinguish them, in fact, I didn’t realise who my Nemesis was until the final part of the story, where we had a showdown. It was pretty awkward, as he finished his monologue and I was like, who are you? Speaking of the monologues, I wish Monolith Productions had given the player the option of skipping the Orcs’ monologues. Don’t get me wrong, these were fun to begin with but when Krosh is telling you how he is going to beat you for the fifth time, it loses its impact. Still, overall, the Nemesis system is a fantastic idea that I hope the developers will work on for the sequel.
The other gameplay mechanics that I love are the wraith skills. SOme of these are a little mundane, such as gaining a small speed boost when jumping over obstacles, but some of the skills are amazing. Early in the game, you will be able to interrogate Orcs to game intel on the Orc captains, allowing you to use the captain’s weaknesses against him. However it is the branding skill that really makes the experience of playing Shadow of Mordor great. Halfway through the game, you will be able to control Orcs, allowing you to command them to fight other Orcs and to defend you. Whilst this is fun in itself, its when you can help your Orc progress through Sauron’s army, making them stronger and useful, that Shadow of Mordor reveals its potential. This one skill transforms Shadow of Mordor from being a standard open world adventure game with a Lord of the Rings theme to a game that offers you more backstabbing and political maneuvering than a season of Game of Thrones. The only downside is that you have to play through half the game before getting to this unique ability.
Overall, would I recommend playing Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor? All in all, I would say yes, especially if you are a Lord of the Rings fan or someone who enjoys open world adventure games like the Assassin’s Creed series. I would caution you to bear in mind that Shadow of Mordor does suffer from ‘first game’ syndrome- it has some great concepts and mechanics but those concepts and mechanics do need some polish. However, if you are prepared to look past the game’s flaws, then you are in for a great experience set in one of the most iconic fantasy worlds.
Have you played Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor? Let me know what you thought of the game in the commenst and I’ll talk to you soon!