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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Review


Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Review

J.R.R. Tolkien’s people are protective of the late author’s fiction, and rightfully so. This high level of quality control led to three epic Lord of the Rings films, with Return of the King winning the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2004, and also two The Hobbit movies and even notable video games. That said, publishers based the majority of these games specifically on those movies. Rarely do we see a company receive permission to create a new story within Tolkien’s universe. With that in mind, WB Games and Monolith Productions achieved this, and the result, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is without question one of the best games of the year.

Since we live in a world of constant comparisons, Shadow of Mordor is a cross between WB Games’ own Batman titles and Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise, set between events in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Playing as a resurrected Ranger named Talion, the developer leaves you in the dangerous Valley of Udun where nasty Uruk creatures carry out the Dark Lord Sauron’s bidding. Your mission, aside from exacting revenge, is to throw a virtual wrench in Sauron’s plans while spilling as much Uruk blood as possible.

A world that evolves based on your actions


What separates Shadow of Mordor from the competition is the exceptionally crafted open world and the constantly-changing dynamic among its inhabitants. Using a feature called the Nemesis System, Monolith successfully created an environment under constant duress. You’ll see Uruk harassing human slaves and wandering off on patrols, but the Uruk Captains represent some of the more important targets. These power-hungry monsters never hesitate to stab each other in the back, and you’ll often see two of them (along with their followers) squaring off against each other in battles where there can only be one winner. From there, the victor grows in power and may even command a different section of the map.

Naturally, the player is free to watch things unfold, but WB Games certainly hopes they’ll play an instrumental role in hundreds of potential outcomes. In fact, hunting Captains is essential to upgrading Talion’s many Abilities, which range from throwing daggers in rapid succession, teleporting a sizeable distance to a targeted foe and even making their heads explode.

Most of the fun comes from sneaking around with the game’s stealth mechanics and scoring silent kills on Talion’s adversaries, resulting in terrified Uruk speaking of a ghost in their midst. Conversely, dead bodies draw suspicion, as curious Uruk immediately call over some buddies in a desperate attempt to identify the threat.

Despite stealth being a major facet of the experience, combat is equally rewarding, though far more dangerous given the fact that eight or more Uruk may surround Talion at any given time. Despite these overwhelming odds, you should have little trouble getting the hang of the controls in the most stressful situations, and before long, you’ll parry attacks, bust through wooden shields and ultimately perform wicked executions that result in slit throats and heads flying through the air. Of course, if you prefer to attack from range, Talion’s Elf-shot ability lets him unleash ghostly arrows; head shots are the most effective, but an unlocked Ability lets you pin an Uruk to the ground with an arrow through its foot.

Speaking of the supernatural, a mysterious Wraith accompanies Talion on his journey. In addition to adding depth to the plot, this character gives you the chance to enter the Wraith world. Although it does not make Talion invisible, this alternate reality reveals enemy locations (even through walls) and collectibles, which are essential to obtaining virtual currency. The Wraith world also proves invaluable for identifying Captains and Worms, the latter extremely important, since killing these special Uruk grant Talion access to strengths and weaknesses of specific Captains. Example: finding out a particular Captain is impervious to ranged attacks but terrified of Caragors, one of the creatures in the game. Set one of these animals free near a Captain and you’ll catch your target in a weakened state.

Next generation Middle-earth


Meanwhile, Shadow of Mordor looks incredible. We don’t know exact specs for the Xbox One version, but the PlayStation 4 edition runs at 60 frames per second and displays in 1080p. Regardless of which platform you choose, though, you’ll happily get lost within this troubled land. Winged critters fly overhead, the sun casts a warm glow on buildings and Uruk and other enemy detail is top notch, particularly their animations. Later, you’ll even get to mount a Caragor and ride through Udun, leaping great distances but also scaling high walls in pursuit of Talion’s prey.

Where Shadow of Mordor misses perfection is with its controls. They’re great for the most part, but you’ll occasionally climb up something when you intended to hang off a ledge. It seems like a small problem at first until it results in getting seen by several Uruk, resulting in a fight you never wanted in the first place.

That tiny issue aside, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is worthy of the Tolkien brand and a superb effort, one that’ll go down as a must have title this holiday season. Everything about this game, from its graphics and combat to its rich lore and voice acting is gold standard, and we can’t imagine many action adventure fans leaving copies on store shelves. You don’t have to like Middle-earth to appreciate the game, but a deep love for Tolkien’s work definitely helps.

GAME's Verdict: 9/10

The Good

  • Nemesis System is unlike anything we’ve seen in an action adventure game
  • Visceral combat with plenty of gore
  • Quality storytelling that bridges The Hobbit and War of the Ring

The Bad

  • Somewhat finicky controls, but issues are rare

Published: 02/10/2014

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