“Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor” came out on September 30, 2014. The game covers what happened in Tolkien’s famous Middle Earth between “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.” You play Talion, a ranger of the Black Gate who has been watching over the land of Mordor while Sauron prepares his armies for The War of the Ring. You will discover the origins of the Rings of Power and ultimately, with the Bright Lord DLC, confront Sauron.
“Shadow of Mordor” sticks to Tolkien’s source material pretty respectfully, but cause the story takes place between “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for new lore to be introduced. This results in a rather generic feeling story. Someone completely unfamiliar with Middle Earth and Tolkien lore could easily pick up this game and play it as a generic fantasy revenge game and enjoy it just as thoroughly for what it is as someone who is familiar with the Tolkien lore.
The game’s controls for the Xbox are pretty straightforward and if you’ve played any of the “Batman: Arkham” series of games you will probably recognize most of the controls right away. From the wraith stun that might as well have been a cape stun to wraith world being a duplicate of Batman’s detective vision in a blue glow, the game doesn’t even try to hide that most of its core combat mechanics are pulled straight from “Arkham.” The playstyle as a whole seems like a mashup between the “Arkham” series and the “Assassin’s Creed” series; all in all, pretty standard for the action/stealth roleplaying genre.
Caragor riding is perhaps the only truly unique combat function found in the game. Talion can leap onto the backs of freed caragor, perform a two button quick-time event to dominate the animal then ride it around using both sword and fang to defeat orcs.
The nemesis system seems intriguing at first blush. This system was hyped for “Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor” for some time as something that was going to revolutionize the game. The game should be new for each player, even different on each playthrough, because the nemesis system rolls random orcs to be chiefs and gives them random fears and personalities – if you use the term personality very loosely for an enemy that will be ultimately killed 10 minutes after learning about them.
And for a while this nemesis system is fun and interesting. You learn about the captains of each territory by interrogating lower ranked minions and interrogate captains to find where the war chiefs are located.
But after a while it loses its glamour and becomes an exercise in tedium. The weaknesses may be random each time, but each battle will ultimately play out nearly identically to the previous ones. After a few hours this becomes glaringly obvious. This isn’t too far removed from other games in the action, stealth genre though as most have repetitive combat tactics. It only stands out as worth mentioning in “Shadow of Mordor” because the game attempted to overcome this but was ultimately unsuccessful.
The wraith aspect of the game is similar to, but distinct from, the companion system many roleplaying games utilize. The wraith is a secondary person assisting Talion and conversing with him as the story proceeds but he is a part of Talion. This means the game avoids some of the stranger graphic and gameplay issues other companion games face, such as companions triggering enemies if recognized by them or ignoring them completely despite being lodged up against them – neither of which is particularly preferable.
The wraith appears as an entity outside of Talion during cutscenes so that the two may converse. During gameplay he only appears in Talion’s place, or overlaying Talion, when one of the wraith abilities is activated.
The wraith is quite possibly the most interesting aspect of “Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor” as it sets it apart from other games within the genre without adding clunky additional mechanics. Additionally, the wraith’s story was, in this reviewer’s opinion, far more interesting than Talion’s own bland revenge plot.
4/5. “Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor” is a well-designed game with mechanics that are fun to utilize and a setting that will surely be pleasing to Tolkien fans. But beyond the setting the story is rather generic. It’s fun in the same way any generic fantasy story can be fun, but not bringing a whole lot else to the table and potentially leaving Tolkien fans disappointed. The game can also get monotonous even with the nemesis system, but this system does hold up well for a few hours of playtime in each go.