Release Date: September 30, 2014Platform: PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One (Reviewed), PS3, PS4Developer: Monolith ProductionsPublisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentGenre: Action RPG
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor‘sstory grabs your attention immediately with one of the best opening sequences to a video game that I’ve ever seen, and then keeps you hooked on your long journey through Mordor. And, it’s going to be quite a long journey. After playing for 29 hours and 15 minutes, I was only 17% through the story. Yes, you’re reading that correctly. 29 hours, 17%.
Once I read just how many hours I’d already spent playing the game, I began to wonder if it was all worth it. There comes a time in every game when you have to debate with yourself about whether to keep playing or not. And the short of it all is yes — Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordoris an incredible game, albeit a few kinks in its armor. But there I was, nearly 30 hours in, and I wasn’t bored, tired, irritated or disinterested in the least. No — I was absorbed, captivated, entertained and having fun. That’s definitely a tough feat to achieve, especially for me, someone who has the attention span of George W. Bush.
Shadow of Mordordoes most things right, although it doesn’t come with a ton of originality. Basically, the game plays like Assassin’s Creed IVmeets any of the Batman: Arkhamgames meets the rich lore of The Lord of the Ringsand The Hobbit, but somehow it’s better than all of its parts. It takes Batman: Arkham’s fluid combat and adds more options, abilities and possible combinations. It takes Assassin’s Creed IV’sstealth and preying on your enemies and makes it more interesting. It’s a simple formula, really: take two great games, put them together, and make them better. Well, kudos to Monolith, because it worked wonderfully.
There’s a lot of love for lore in Mordor. There are numerous characters and beings from the world of J.R.R. Tolkien in Monolith’s gem. Gollum’s screen time is most notable, his cutscenes delightfully creepy and memorable. Naturally, there are mentions of Celebrimbor and the Rings of Power, but Monolith also created their own memorable characters, such as Ratbag the Coward, your orc comic relief, and Talion, the story’s protagonist.
You spend the majority of the game hunting down Sauron’s army through the Nemesis system, which gives you details about captains, elite captains, and warchiefs. Some of the orc captains are throwaway characters, but the majority of them are unique, interesting, and can provide for quite the battle, depending on their surroundings.
You can spot some of the captains while completing the story quests, which provide for some unexpected difficulties in completing these missions. And one thing I really love about Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordoris that if you enter battle with any captain/warchief in Sauron’s army, and you are slain in that battle, the captain/warchief gets tougher to beat next time. If you fail again at beating that captain/warchief, he can level up again. It creates a difficult battle for Talion, but the fights never feel too challenging once you gain more powers and abilities. With the vast number of abilities and options, you’re bound to find a way to win.
You (usually) can’t just run in and take out your target — there’s strategy involved — and that’s one of the elements that makes Mordorso great. Planning your attacks that would allow you to make your way through a fortress undetected and then getting that final kill is what makes for the truly great moments in the game.
Should you shoot the bee hive to create choas and distract your foes? Should you shoot open the Caragor gate to let the beast out of its cage so that it will help take down some of those ugly Uruks? Should you climb to the highest point and rain down deadly arrows or use some of your badass wraith abilities for your kills? These are all strategies to consider nearly everytime you are tasked with taking down an army of green monsters.
Although you always know you’re in Mordor, the game still provides for a good assortment of locations. Sometimes you’re tasked with fighting your way through a fortress, or you’re asked to escape the depths of a cave while running from a horned Graug, and other times you’re fighting through various ruins. Mordor never gets stale, and that’s likely due to the fact that all of the areas look stunning and are highly detailed.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordoris a definite game of the year candidate. Even if you aren’t a fan of The Lord of the Ringsbooks or movies, there’s more than enough enjoyable combat to keep you interested. And unlike any of the Hobbitmovies, Shadow of Mordordoesn’t overstay its welcome.