Game review: Middle-earth: shadow of Mordor
It has been almost a year since the release date of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. How does it hold up to the test of time? Does it endure, like the power of the Elves of Lothlorien, or does it fade into darkness, like the endeavors of Man?
Shadow of Mordor is a mixture of gameplay modeled from the Assassin's Creed series and the Batman: Arkham series. Unsurprisingly, it's an incredibly fun mixture of mechanics and playstyles.
The Batman-style combat, with its combo-heavy sword fighting, is brutal and engaging. Stealth fighting, either with the bow or the dagger, is satisfying and leaves many, many options to the player. Archery stands on its own as a valuable combat technique outside of stealth, too, and a slow-mo mechanic makes strings of headshots all the more satisfying. Al of this is enhanced by a progressive tree of skills that culminate in insanely deadly combos and abilities for the player. The only bad thing about the combat is that it can be too easy. Jump-dodging can be used to avoid damage, even in massive hordes of orcs, indefinitely. Certain level-ups and upgrades are near to game-breaking. The only way to extend the difficulty is by setting personal records and challenges. Overall, combat is still as engaging as it was a year ago.
The player travels across the landscape with a parkour mechanic that is modeled off of the Assassin's Creed series, but it somehow managed to beat Assassin's Creed at its own game. There are massive structures to climb, and expansive ruins to traverse, but unlike Assassin's Creed, you won't find yourself tripping over your own two feet very often. Climbing is smooth, and offers infinite tactical options to savvy players.
The Nemesis system has gained Shadow of Mordor a lot of attention. While the player is technically immortal, they can still be killed. But unlike the traditional respawn, which has usually only had minor consequences, Shadow of Mordor has introduced the Nemesis system. Whenever an enemy kills you they increase in power and notoriety. They may ascend the ranks of leadership and gain body guards. They will get more powerful weapons. And they will remember you and your shared history the next time you meet in combat. It's an excellent system that needs to show up in more games. The history I had with some of the Orcs I killed became more engaging than the actual story in some instances.
When it comes to the legendarium of JRR Tolkien, there's no competition. Unfortunately Shadow of Mordor does it very little justice. The story is a generic revenge trip, wherein the main character Talion (which is elvish for Man) is resurrected and possessed by the Elf Lord Celebrimbor, who made the three Elven rings under the direction of Sauron. Talion just wants revenge for his dead family who were slaughtered by orcs. Celebrimbor wants revenge on Sauron himself. The two have amusing banter, and there are some likeable characters, but for the most part it is a forgettable story.
What's really puzzling is the direction they chose to take. Tolkien's universe has so many engaging and epic stories of revenge to choose from. It's unfortunate that the developers chose to invent a story-line that makes absolutely no sense in the context of the Tolkien mythos. From Talion becoming an Elf-possessed Wraith to the shoehorning of Smeagol into the plot, Shadow of Mordor is just taking from a checklist of obligatory "Tolkien" plot elements and Peter Jackson film tropes.
The plot is by no means bad, but it does no justice to the Tolkien name and is otherwise unremarkable. The gameplay, on the other hand, is absolutely thrilling and has brought me back to the game two or three times. Shadow of Mordor did exceptionally well, and sets itself up for a sequel. I hope that sequel gets made.