The Lord of the Rings franchise has had numerous gaming outings over the years with varying success. The latest release – Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a title that does what the Arkham franchise has done for Batman in the video game genre. It bridges a franchise between different genre’s and media, placing the player into a world that feels rich, genuinely populated, and puts you in control of a character you are helping to craft and forge.
The Lord of the Rings franchise has always struggled to find what type of genre’s work best for a rich, vibrant and in depth world such as Middle Earth. Games such as Battle for Middle Earth and The War in the North try very different game styles but Shadow of Mordor has managed to carve a fantastic new direction, and standard, for other Lord of the Rings titles to follow. The game has a great feel to it, making use of elements from games such as Batman: Arkham’s free-flow combat system and Assassins Creed’s open world exploration to a perfect match made in heaven.
Developers purposefully left out “The Lord of the Rings” from the title of the game, so as not to give the casual gamer and non-Lord of the Rings fans a reason to be cautious and give the title a wide-birth. The game has plenty of connections to the incredible world that Tolkien created and gives us Lord of the Rings fans enough to keep us satisfied. Making good use of Gollum, who makes an appearance on more than one occasion, to help you on your journey. The character being true to form, staying as the villain you love to hate.
However, without giving too much away and dishing out spoilers for those that are yet to play the title, true Hobbit and Lord of the Rings purists may be a little disappointed with some of the liberties taken to try and shoehorn the title into the canon of the Tolkien universe.
The game follows Talion, a ranger of Gondor, who is led down a dark path, past his death at the hands of Sauron’s men. When an Elven Wraith takes refuge within Talion to forge an alliance in an attempt to stop the coming dark times and ultimately take revenge on, not only his own killers, but that of Talion’s family.
The Wraith has an agenda of his own, who strives to remember who he was and how he came to be. Through Talion’s and the Wraith’s journey you find that the pair have a mutual interest for them to work toward.
Your journey to discover who the Elven Wraith is, will unlock abilities along the way, which can be used during combat, making Talion more powerful and giving more reason for Orcs and Uruks of Mordor to fear you.
Abilities include a prolonged period of slowed down time when using your Bow, a drain ability which weakens and can kill your enemies while replenishing your wraith energy and a dash and teleport attack. The wraith can do even greater things such as dominate the minds of your enemies. This ability will allow you to reveal who holds the different ranks within Sauron’s army and then ultimately their strengths and weaknesses, this is known as the ‘nemesis system.’ The game ensures to make good use of the nemesis system from start to finish and nothing is more frustrating than being in a fight with a captain and not knowing how to defeat him. This is a great touch with every captain having it’s own unique look and behaviour, strengths and weaknesses that means you will have to re-evaluate your approach and think about how your battle with a captain will pan out before simply charging in and doing your best to fight the Captain unprepared.
During the course of the game, the ‘Sauron’s army’ function plays a pivotal role to the unfolding of events. It provides not only a great way of testing your skills in battle but ultimately gives you a reason to fear death, something that is a struggle to find in most games today. If you are defeated in battle by a Captain or Chief, they will grow in strength and ascend through the ranks of Sauron’s army. Multiple defeats at the hands of the same captain will lock them in as a nemesis and will make them very difficult to defeat as they grow in strength and their weaknesses become more and more difficult to capitalise on.
It is not only when Orc’s are victorious in your defeat when they will grow in strength though. Orcs and Uruks being as volatile and power hungry as they are, will frequently turn on one another to prove their strength and climb the ranks to become Warcheif, the rank that all Orcs and Uruks aspire for. It is in the fights where you square off against insurmountable odds. The free-flow combat, which is heavily inspired by Batman: Arkham, helps to make you not only feel all powerful and unstoppable, but allows you to overcome the odds with incredible ease and with gloriously satisfying results.
The beautiful flow of combat is animated in such a manner that makes Talion’s style of fighting something reminiscent of Aragorn mixed with Legolas , this coupled with your abilities from the Wraith makes you feel as though you are an unstoppable force. However, with this power at your disposal, it is easy to get carried away in combat. Picking the wrong fight in the wrong area and at the wrong time (say when you aren’t quite levelled up yet) can end badly and sometimes you realise when to cut your losses and run from the seemingly endless hordes of Orcs and the Captains, that are drawn towards the bloodshed.
The combat is only one aspect that is refined and perfected in this game. Exploration of Mordor is also something extremely pleasurable as you freely roam to find hidden artefacts, ancient writings, creatures to hunt and herbs to find and collect, all of which will keep you busy and net you some additional XP to unlock further abilities.
Exploration does have hints of Assassin’s Creed to it and many people will be able to spot the similarities such as climbing towers to unlock area’s of the map, but this is by no means a bad thing. Traversing cliff sides, buildings and even sprinting across the land is easy and perfectly refined and I never once during my time playing, found myself leaping somewhere that I did not intend or accidentally fall.
The graphics of Shadow of Mordor are something else that is quite impressive. Cutscenes are beautifully detailed and give the characters and creatures of the Tolkein world the justice that they deserve. Characters such as Gollum are perfectly represented and the Orcs and Uruks look and behave as vile as you would expect if you have seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Something I was particularly impressed with was the level of detail on the faces with some of the best mouth animation and lip syncing I have seen in a game – a small detail perhaps but it is something that really helps to keep you engaged in the game and help bridge that gap between a computer generated creature and perhaps a real living villain.
Playing the game to its fullest, and to 100%, gave me a real sense of satisfaction and easily 20 plus hours worth of play time for those that want to get the most out of this title. I guess satisfaction is a word that could sum up my entire time with Shadow of Mordor. As a major fan of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I was reluctant to believe that this game would be something more than another title with a Lord of the Rings paint job.
Thankfully this is not the case. Shadow of Mordor has plenty to keep you busy and entertained, skills to perfect to satisfying glory and a world to be completely entrenched in. You may not ever be able to fully defeat Sauron’s Army but you feel as though your work despatching Captain’s and Warchief’s helps to make a difference for the future of Middle Earth. With Sauron’s Army always stocked up of Orc’s to slay, even after I 100% completed the game, I had just as much fun making my way through Mordor looking for a fight that could get ridiculously out of hand and see if I could last.
Shadow of Mordor is fun, beautiful, brutal and stylish and whether you are a Lord of the Rings fan or not, this is a title that will provide hours worth of gameplay and you will be utterly satisfied with every single second.