From incredibly fun combat and how rewardingly violent Talion deals with his Uruk enemies, to roaming around vast parts of Mordor in a variety of acrobatic ways, I had a surprisingly great time with this title. Shadow of Mordor's key feature, the newly introduced Nemesis System, was for sure the standout here and the source of most of my mischievous fun I had. The side missions can get repetitive and the story isn't anything spectacular, but there was more than enough to have me coming back and decapitating Uruk after Uruk.
+Nemesis System is excellent.
+Combat is an absolute blast.
+RPG elements aren’t deep, but very well used.
-Side quests get repetitive.
-Story is nothing amazing.
Being the giant Tolkien fan that I am, Shadow of Mordor has been a game I have kept in my peripherals for a while now, albeit with a skeptical disposition towards it. Seeing that Monolith was taking their liberties with the Tolkien lore had the purest in me worry at the start. Now after getting a chance to spend a few days playing inside Monolith’s Lord of the Rings universe, my worries are all at ease.
In Monolith’s Shadow of Mordor, you take on the role of Talion, a Ranger of Gondor and a completely original character that has his family killed, and even himself killed at the beginning of the game by enemies from Mordor. Monolith doesn’t waste a lot of time of giving you the basic tutorials that are mixed with the opening story telling. Before long you find your family killed, yourself slain in a sacrificial manner, and all of a sudden, banished from death by our good friend in the form of an Elven wraith.
This sets up how playing the game is actually handled. You will spend your time in Mordor as Talion that now has this Elf wraith inside of him that comes with special abilities a plenty for you to kick some serious Uruk ass throughout Mordor. The game is a third person action game with minor RPG elements worked in. The level up system is spread between Talion’s Ranger abilities, which lean more towards direct combat, and the Wraith abilities which let you level up things like your magical “Elf shot” and taking over the minds of the enemy and all of the more “magical” like abilities.
The game has gotten a lot of flak for it being too similar to other games out there, primarily, the Assassins Creed games and the Arkham games. These comparisons are pretty accurate, especially with the combat being very akin to Arkham’s combat system. With that being said, I did not have a single problem with that. With Arkham having one of the greatest modern combat systems to date, I had an absolute blast with it in the Tolkien universe. Talion has the acrobatics of one of the protagonists from the Assassins Creed games, but I found it a little lazier and straight forward in Shadow of Mordor, and that played to its strength. Without really thinking too much about it, you can scale pretty much any façade, whether it is mountain sides, or man-made structures and fortresses.
The thing we all heard about this game, and all of the demos we saw leading up to its release, were almost all about the games unique Nemesis System. I probably don’t need to go into great detail about it, other than explaining that it is pretty awesome, and everything I was hoping it would be. The fights with the Captain Uruks feel much more important and (more so at the early game) are challenging enough that you need to approach with caution, especially so if you haven’t done your intel on the Captain you are fighting, and you don’t know their strengths and weaknesses. The bonus of getting runes to level up your weapons every time you kill a Captain adds to the satisfaction of the entire fight. Once you unlock the Death Threat ability, you get to threaten a specific Captain, who gains strength because of this, and the chances of that Uruk dropping an Epic Rune increase significantly.
The Nemesis System turned out to be a huge success for me, and even that you might get tired of every captain having to have a special introduction and something to say to you mid combat, I didn’t once hear a repeated line of dialogue, and I particularly enjoyed the slow motion camera every time I would cut off one of their heads. It also was a great way to slow the game down, and let you play it a little more your style. Whether that was sending death threats to every single Captain and the much harder War Chiefs, or if you’re like me, you dominated the minds of every captain you could, sent them after the War Chiefs, and watched all hell break loose.
The story was nothing spectacular and will probably only take you 10-12 hours to complete if you’re going to try and rush your way through it. The side missions in the game are nothing special and are usually used to gain money to buy more upgrades for your character, and I did get a little tired of them and the repetitiveness of them at about half way through the game. There are various collectibles and hunting and survival challenges to busy yourself with, but unless you are a completionist, you probably will only do these when you need more of the games money. I did absolutely everything I could in the game, and my play through was around 24 hours long.
Where the game hooked me was simply in the fun of the combat, and the Nemesis System being so rewarding, and once you level up Talion and the Wraith all of the way, you will have yourself an absolute bad ass roaming the planes of Mordor and dismembering Uruks every other second.
I know a lot of Tolkien purists were up in arms over Monolith digging into something that already has its own established world (even using characters like Gollum), and hundreds of stories to already pull from, but I was not bothered by it and took it for what it was, and enjoyed my time in Middle Earth, and I do consider myself a rather big Tolkien fan…yes I have read the Silmarillian multiple times. I was pleasantly surprised by this game and will continue to play with the Nemesis System for a jolly ol’ time in the land of Mordor, where the Shadows…you know the rest.