Shadow of Mordor
I remember when I was younger, I would play the Lord of the Rings games on my PS2. The Two Towers and Return of the King games were two of the most fun games I’ve ever played. And for the past several years I would occasionally think, “They should remake those”.
Well, Warner Brothers didn’t exactly fulfill my wish, but they did give me something to fill the void.
Shadow of Mordor is the LOTR game you didn’t know you wanted. Taking place somewhere between the end of The Hobbit and the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, you play as a Gondorian Ranger, Talion, who watches over the land of Mordor (where shadows lie) as Sauron’s forces begin to resurge and repopulate the country.
[Spoiler alert] You, your wife, and your son are killed immediately...
[Spoiler alert] ...and then you are reborn as an immortal wraith of vengeance.
If it seems a little convoluted, that’s because it kind of is. Plot-wise, the game is fairly flimsy and doesn’t really add anything substantial to the LOTR universe. Mostly, the plot serves as a context for the more engaging elements of the game. So I won’t talk a lot about the plot.
What I WILL talk about, though, is gameplay, because that’s where this entry into the world of LOTR truly shines.
Have you ever played any of the Arkham Batman games (the ones by Rocksteady)? Then you’ve got a pretty good idea of how Shadow of Mordor plays. If you haven’t, then shame on you. Rocksteady developed one of the most fluid combat systems of the decade for the Arkham games, and when Warner Brothers took over for Arkham: Origin, they commandeered a lot of the gameplay elements and implemented them in Shadow of Mordor. And I’m TOTALLY cool with that. Because in the end, why fix what isn’t broken?
You’re able to level up Talion by taking on the Orc/Uruk Hai forces in Mordor and using the experience to buy abilities that enhance your combo strings and make it easier to kill more Orcs/Uruks. For example, the Wraith Stun is an ability Talion has from the beginning which allows you to stun an enemy and get a massive combo chain on him. One of the upgrades for the Wraith Stun is the Wraith Cone, which allows the stun to affect multiple enemies in a -- you guessed it -- cone-shaped area. Other abilities include the Elf-Shot, which is basically a ghost-bow that lets you take down enemies from a distance; the ability to poison the Uruks’ alcohol supply; the ability to convert an enemy to fight for you; the ability to mount and ride the beasts of Mordor; and so on.
My only gripe about the combat is that sometimes it’s hard to target the exact enemy you want to hit in the middle of a fray (because frays happen quite often because there are lots of Orcs and Uruks in Mordor) which can sometimes result in an unexpected death. Which brings me to my next point.
Death is impermanent in Shadow of Mordor, as in all video games, but it has a unique twist. In the game, you are an undying wraith of vengeance (as I said earlier). So when you “die” in game you don’t actually die. This means that when an Uruk kills you, they get promoted and they remember you. This is the “Nemesis System”. There are always a set number of Uruk/Orc captains in an area in Mordor. These are the commanding forces of the armies of Sauron, and they often have more abilities/strengths/weaknesses than your standard enemy. Each one is named. Every time you face one, there’s a possibility you’ve already fought him. Each time you fight an Uruk captain, there’s a chance that he’ll return with visible wounds and scars, and a bone to pick with Talion. When an Uruk manages to kill you (and it will happen), they’ll be promoted and given more abilities, which makes it a little more difficult to take revenge (which you will want to do). I would say that 70% of my gameplay in Shadow of Mordor has been hunting down and killing all the Captains that I end up finding. It’s a satisfying system that enables more enjoyable replayability.
Shadow of Mordor is an inventive, enjoyable experience. It may not be as LOTR-immersing as past installations into the universe, but it’ll satisfy your Orc-killing desires just fine.
I’ll give this game an A-.