Developers: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows
MIDDLE-EARTH: Shadow of Mordor is an example of what can be achieved when developers understand their audience.
What Monolith Productions have created is a game that gives nods to the best traits from the top games in the action RPG genre and then amplifies them with its own innovation.
Yet, despite how much the gameplay shines, Shadow of Mordor is not perfect.
It seems that one CAN simply walk into Mordor as the game opens with a brief and functional introduction, diving straight into a quick tutorial on combat, the cutscenes are short and give no more information than is needed about the protagonist, Talion.
The interesting narrative is disappointingly given a back seat, lore from Middle-Earth is trickled to the player through cutscenes and collectibles, it is just spread too thin and story missions don’t do the premise justice.
I found myself losing interest in the narrative but not in the game.
The gameplay is a beautiful fusion of Assassin’s Creed’s mobility and stealth along with Arkham’s free-form combat mechanics.
It provides an intense assault on the senses as you complete a fifty hit combo, swinging your sword behind you to decapitate the last orc (aka Uruk), with the shing of the metal reverberating from the TV and the controller’s speaker in surround sound bliss.
This combat never gets boring, but it isn’t the reason why I invested so much time in Mordor.
No the credit for this goes to the refreshing ‘Nemesis System’.
The open world is full of orcs who all play a part in a large social hierarchy, there are grunts, captains and warchiefs.
The latter two of which are randomly generated with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Taking one down will shift power in the ranks, leading to promotions for other orcs.
The benefit of this comes with your ability to infect the minds of certain enemies, meaning by displacing powerful foes you can infiltrate the chain of command with your own minions, though, this system does not always benefit the player.
Much like in Dark Souls, Shadow of Mordor goes lengths to ensure that death is an integrated mechanic in the game.
If you are killed, the captain of the forces that killed you will gain a promotion, making him stronger and potentially undermining your hard fought plans.
There is also a chance that captains you have killed will return with hideous wounds from your last encounter, making them angrier and harder to kill.
This intriguing mechanic means that every player will see a different arrangement of boss fights and enemies.
In terms of progression and unlockables, the Nemesis System also affects how the player grows.
Each time a captain is defeated they will drop a rune, a weapon modifier that applies a perk to either your sword, bow or dagger.
As I applied different runes to weapons, I changed my method of play accordingly, for example, a rune that has a chance of giving you health when you kill something means that hacking and slashing through a crowd without slowing down is the best option, while a perk that enhances stealth kills means the shadows become your best friend.
It’s organic and a brilliant step forward in the industry.
There are also levelling up ability trees that seem to appear in every game now, so Talion always feels satisfyingly powerful, this does not mean the game is easy though.
Without proper planning or razor sharp reactions, battles can quickly turn into a scramble to survive.
As for how the game looks, everything runs smoothly at 40 to 60fps (PS4) and there is an impressive amount of detail in textures.
Animations are fluid with very rare clipping and the facial movements perfectly sync up with the voice acting.
The lighting is superb with shadows naturally shifting across textures and sunbeams framing open vistas; sunset over Mt. Doom has never looked better.
Though, when everything stops moving, there are holes to pick at.
The polygon count of some character models are slightly too low to really astound (looking at you, Gollum/Smeagle) and there are sections of the world map that have the aura of ‘copy and paste’ about them.
Yet, it is possible to forgive Shadow of Mordor for this, as everything happens in real-time.
The orcs are not scripted and every one of them is simply wandering the map, meaning you can bump into a captain at random, or stumble upon a power struggle between two commanding officers with fifty orcs filling the screen at once.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is the best Lord of The Rings game to date, the mechanics take inspiration (and maybe some code) from other top franchises and then apply them to an impressive enemy generation system.
This is the first original triple-A action RPG to hit the next generation and it has brought a strong new IP.
Don’t get off this road, it’s going to some interesting places.
+ Visceral and responsive combat
+Innovative Nemesis System
Try if you like:
Batman: Arkham Asylum – Assassin’s Creed – God of War