The wait for a truly great game set in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth has been a long one, but the wait is finally over. Wandering from the path trodden by Frodo, Sam, and the rest of The Fellowship hasn’t always worked well for games; who can forget the dreadful Third Age, but the combination of mechanics similar to Assassin’s Creed and the Arkham series works really well making Shadow of Mordor a pretty impressive title.
Shadow of Mordor takes place between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Following the murder of his family at the hands of Sauron’s sons, former ranger Talion sets out on a quest for revenge. Talion is possessed by the spirit of Celebrimbor, the greatest Elven smith of the Second Age, forger of the rings of power and victim of Sauron’s treachery.
Shadow of Mordor’s combat is split in to three different categories: Hand to Hand Combat, Range, and Stealth. Anyone that has played the Batman Arkham games will instantly feel right at home as counters, stuns and frenzied attacks all make an appearance. The only gripe I have with the fighting mechanics is at points they didn’t feel quite as responsive as they do within the Arkham games.
The stealth mechanics also feel lifted from the Arkham series, not that this is a bad thing, but does feel a little too familiar. Holding down the right trigger/ R2 activates Talion’s stealth mode making him harder to see and hear as well as enabling an array of brutal stealth attacks.
In Shadow of Mordor, Talion also has access to the wraith world, allowing him to spot enemies from afar or through walls, similar to Batman’s Detective vision.
Range mode does exactly what it says on the tin, giving Talion access to Celebrimbor’s bow and elf arrows. Along with health and focus, elf shot can be upgraded allowing Talion to fire more arrows at once. Elf shot can be also regained by collecting arrows lying around the map or by draining enemies.
The wraith powers are where things get really exciting. Unlocked by completing missions along side fan favourites like Gollum, the wraith powers start off with your standard affair of abilities such as executions or mass stun attacks. The one I found most useful was the Shadow Strike ability allowing me to swoop across the map and take out enemies easily.
As a big Assassins Creed fan the parkour elements in the game felt familiar although not as intuitive as AC’s, although this is understandable as Ubisoft have had six major game to refine the controls. While most of the time everything worked with out a hitch, easily allowing me to climb an advantage point if I was getting over-run, a couple of time Talion would get stuck or not interact with the surroundings how I would have liked.
Walls I had climbed hundreds of times before suddenly became impassable, it may have been that I had not had a decent run-up or I was coming it from the wrong angle but it did become frustrating.
On the subject of Assassin’s Creed, Shadow of Mordor’s two maps are scattered with elf towers, the last remainders of light in a land covered by darkness. Climbing these towers unlocks fast travel points as well revealing the surrounding area, much like Assassin Creed’s look-out points.
Mordor’s first area is similar to those seen in the films, a desolate land covered by ancient ruins, slaves and Uruk-hai. The second area which is unlocked half way through the game gives us a look at a very different looking Mordor, with farm lands needed to provide for the giant army.
The hyped Nemesis system is a real achievement in Shadow of Mordor, every Uruk-hai is given their own name, personality, and stats. One of the strangest moments I came across was a Uruk not wanting to fight and inviting me to have a drink instead.
Every interaction with an Orc or Uruk helps create a unique story for every player. As Uruks kill Talion they gain power and are able to move up the ranks. Players can interfere with Orc society by taking side missions, killing a chief while he is out hunting or helping one captain defeat another in open combat. Taking part in these side missions increase Talion’s power, unlocking new skills.
After killing a captain Talion is rewarded with a rune to upgrade one of his three weapons. While most of the runes are equal to the captains power, Talion is able to send death threats. Sending a death threat to one of the ten War Chiefs before killing them will increase the chance of them dropping an epic rune. While some of the epic runes I received felt like powered up versions of lesser ones some changed the way I played. For example gaining a poison immunity rune allowed me to take the fight to certain captains that I would have had to defeat at range before.
Middle-Earth is looking better than ever in Shadow of Mordor and makes full use of the current gen hardwear. While I was playing I did come across a few glitches, mostly Uruks falling through floors while they we being executed, it was ugly but nothing game breaking.
The game also makes use of the speaker in the DualShock 4 controller on the PS4, alerting players to near by collectables in the wraith world or to voice some of Talion or Celebrimbor’s memories.
The team have paid close attention to all of Tolkien’s work and this really shows with the details put in to all the little things. It was really nice to see the team show a different side of Sauron in Celebrimbor’s memories.
The fact Monolith Productions decided to leave the ending open was a little strange, however, while it allows players to continue explore Mordor it left me wondering where was Talion during the events of Lord of the Rings.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is not only one of the best Lord of the Rings game available it is also one of the best games of the year. The combination of Assassin Creed and the Batman Arkham series works perfectly in Middle-Earth.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game provided to us by Warner Bros Interactive.