After spending a solid 20 hours with Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, I question how this one slipped under my radar. This is not a Lord of the Rings trilogy game, but rather a fresh story within Tolkien’s Middle-earth universe set between the events in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Read on to find out more in our Shadow of Mordor review.
In Shadow of Mordor, you play as a Gondorian ranger captain named Talion. In events that take place between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Talion and his family are captured by Sauron’s orc army and sacrificed in an attempt to summon the spirit of an Elf lord called Celebremor. Unfortunately for Talion, Celebremor’s wraith form enters his body and as a result he does not die, but gains wraith abilities which assist him through the game as he tries to uncover Celebrimbor’s identity and avenge the death of his family.
The story is pretty decent, and ties in very well with Middle-earth lore and the saga of the rings. As with most open-world type games there are main story quests and plenty of side quests to distract you from your main goals. These side quests aren’t pointless though and they help bolster your skills and abilities, making it easier to complete the main story as you gain in strength and unlock more real world and wraith world abilities.
The main story took me about 23 hours to complete, including various side quests. After completing the story though, you are given the ability to go back and continue weakening the Uruk hordes – which while perhaps a bit meaningless still brings an odd sense of satisfaction each time you brand, execute, or otherwise dispatch captains and warchiefs.
There are a couple of DLC packs as well. “Lord of the Hunt” which allows you to join forces with Torvin the Dwarven Hunter and use Talion’s powers of Domination to turn these menacing new beasts against the Warchiefs. New story missions are also added, as well as different runes to utilize. The upcoming “The Bright Lord” DLC is set thousands of years before Shadow of Mordor, and offers ten campaign missions in which you can play as Celebrimbor and face off against Sauron himself.
While Shadow of Mordor plays out somewhat like an Assassin’s Creed type game with the stealth abilities and constant climbing structures, the Wraith mode adds another level to the game. While in Wraith mode you have access to another set of abilities that include the ability to slow time, drain focus, and my favorite brand Uruks to fight by your side. Not only that, Wraith mode is required for tracking certain characters and for other elements of the story. Killing Uruk captains causes them to drop Runes which can be used to modify your bow, sword, or dagger which affect your abilities.
One very cool part of the game is what is called the Nemesis system. At the beginning of the game, Sauron’s army is an arrangement of Uruk leaders, namely captain’s and warchiefs. When Talion is killed by an Uruk, that Uruk gains rank within Sauron’s army and power struggles ensue. As Talion, you can disrupt these power struggles to further weaken Sauron’s army, but at the same time you are making it easier for other Uruk captains to gain strength and move up the ranks. Each time you die or kill an Uruk captain, you have the option to watch the shift in ranks to see how your death or the death of the captain affected the other Uruk’s within Sauron’s army. It really is a cool system and gives your actions even more purpose and impact on the game.
Later on when you can brand Uruks to fight for you, you can even command captains and warchiefs to fight for you by murdering other Uruk captains, undergoing trials to try and become bodyguards for a warchief, and even betraying the warchief they are bodyguards for. You are given opportunities to assist your branded captains in order to ensure their success against their targets.
Each Uruk captain or warchief has a specific set of strengths and weaknesses which you do have to be aware of before taking the battle to them. Some are invulnerable to ranged or stealth, others have a fear of fire or Caragors (beasts within the game you can mount and control to give you a speed and/or fighting advantage), and so on.
While there is no multiplayer, there are Vendetta missions you can undertake. These missions allow you to track and kill Uruk captains who have killed other players in your friends list, earning you experience and thus avenging their deaths.
Shadow of Mordor looks absolutely gorgeous on the Xbox One. The game runs smoothly, and I didn’t notice any freezing or stuttering during game play. The detail of the environments is exceptional.
The variety in features of not only the minion Orcs but also the named Uruk captains and warchiefs, each having their own unique look – not only in facial features but in height, weight, and movement. The cutscenes look great as well, and there is great detail in the movement and expressions of characters.
Whether it be the clanging of swords, crackling of fire, or the insults from Uruk captains, the sound design in Shadow of Mordor is well done and very immersive. Each of the Uruk captains have unique enough dialogue and sounding voices that you can tell a lot of effort went into giving each of them a personality of their own.
Shadow of Mordor is a fantastic open-world game with a terrific tie in to Middle-earth lore. The combat abilities and dynamic power struggle created by the Nemesis system and how they affect the game is a great addition to what would otherwise be the same old routine. Even though it does get a bit repetitive, branding and killing Uruks execution style is strangely satisfying and doesn’t get old.
Shadow of Mordor is definitely worth picking up, especially if you can get it on sale as it has been a couple times in the past couple months already. And there you have our Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor review. Let us know in the comments below, or on Google+, Facebook, or Twitter what you thought of the game!
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