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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor" Review

Another review I'm a bit late to... but they say, better late than never, right? 

Anyways, shadow of Mordor is a game that's based in the same universe as the Lord of the Rings movies and in our experience games based on movies are usually not that great and vice versa. But is Shadow of Mordor an exception to the rule? Or is it just yet another crappy money-grabbing scheme? well, like usual, let's find out...

Shadow of Mordor, much like Murdered: Soul Suspect, is about a dead guy. Well, not technically. You see, you play as a ranger of Gondor named Talion who is played by none other than Troy Baker the Nicolas Cage of video games. Talion is forced to watch as his wife and child are brutally murdered by Sauron's right-hand man who is played by none other than Nolan North, the Samuel L Jackson of video games. Sauron's right-hand man, also known as the Black Hand, then tries to murder Talion but he is saved by a Elf-Wraith named Celebrimbor, who has no memory of his life. Celebrimbor possesses Talion, keeping him alive, and together, they set out on a journey across Mordor to exact revenge on the Black Hand while simultaneously uncovering the memories of Celebrimbor's past.

At it's core, Shadow of Mordor is an action/stealth/sandbox game. You traverse the open fields of Mordor's decaying lands, climbing on buildings, assassinating Orcs and Uruk-Hai, and collecting experience points to level up your attributes. The game is clearly very heavily inspired by Assassin's Creed. Some might even call it a rip-off. I call it an improvement. There's much to be done in this game, outside of the main story, and the game is pretty laid-back in how it let's you go about doing them. Even the main story quests, of which their are at least 2 or 3 at any given moment, can be tackled in any order. Aside from main story quests, Shadow of Mordor is littered with collectibles and weapon themed side quests, for your sword, your bow and your dagger respectively. Completing these quests not only earns you experience points but upgrades to your weapons as well.

Speaking of weapons, let's talk about combat. The combat in Shadow of Mordor is ripped directly from the Batman Arkham games. When fighting hordes of enemies you have to keep an eye out for counterattack opportunities and watch for chances to perform a finishing move on downed enemies. After awhile, the game starts to throw shielded enemies and berserkers at you, forcing you to change your strategy by using stuns and ranged attacks, which, might I add, are fantastic. Your bow and arrow are a wraith power controlled by the elven wraith within you. Time slows down momentarily, allowing you to line up and successfully execute multiple headshots within seconds. Eventually you gain combat skills that make for some amazing and often grotesquely bad ass finishing moves.

Now, let's talk about the biggest and most interesting aspect of this game: The Nemesis System. Implemented into the game's core gameplay is a sort of RTS style ranking system among the Uruk's. Going into the game's main menu and selecting Sauron's Army will unveil a plethora of gruesome baddies for you to pick off one by one. You can select one, make them a target and then go hunting. It's like a buffet menu for sociopaths. The enemies are constantly changing in rank too, mostly dependent on your actions. For example, if you die, the enemy who killed you will suddenly go up in rank, and if they weren't already a captain, you know just a regular disposable follower, well they're a captain now. Your death actually causes damn near every enemy to go up in rank and new, unknown enemies to come take their place at the bottom of the ladder.

You may be wondering how that works and how dying doesn't just entitle you to a re-spawn. Well, here's the thing. Being possessed by a wraith means you cannot die, not permanently anyways. The enemies have caught onto this though. Anyone who kills you gets marked as a revenge target and if you attempt to confront them again, they will remember you and will verbally make that clear, saying something along the lines of "hey, didn't I already kill you? No matter, I just do it again. You clearly enjoyed it so much you're back for more." On that same note, not all enemies you kill stay dead either. There's a good chance that if you kill any of them in any way but decapitation that you didn't actually kill them, but rather, fatally wounded them from which they somehow healed and are now looking for revenge. I actually had an incident where I "killed" one using wraith arrows and he came back later with a bag on his head to complain about how I messed up his "pretty face".

Now, you may notice upon first glance that a lot of enemies in the army are just silhouettes. This can be fixed by gaining intel from other enemies, papers or corpses. You can use that intel to revel an enemy's identity and, depending on where you get the intel, their strengths and weaknesses as well. This is essential when going up against enemies of a higher rank, as the higher they are up the ladder, the less weaknesses they have, essentially making mano-a-mano combat the only route to take.

Shadow of Mordor is a game I fell in love with instantly, but the second half of the game is what really sucked me in. Eventually you are blessed with the ability to brand Orcs and Uruks and make them obey you, including captains and warchiefs. I won't say much beyond that as the best aspect of it is discovering the things you can do with it for yourself.

The only part where Shadow of Mordor doesn't shine for me is the story. Which is weird, because I'm a huge Lord of the Rings fan. But something about the way it's presented makes it feel a little bland. That's not to say it's bad or uninteresting, it could just use some tweaks. There are some parts where it really stands out, and they mostly involve Gollum and an Orc named Ratbag.  

Overall, Shadow of Mordor is an amazing game, which is rare for licensed movie themed games. I suggest any fan of Assassin's Creed or Batman Arkham pick this up, because it is both of those and so much more, and in a lot of ways, it's better.

My rating: 9/10


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