Shadow of Mordor review

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Following years of fairly unimpressive Lord of the Rings inspired games, Shadow of Mordor arrives, ready to not only prove that games set in Middle Earth can be amazing, but that open world games can offer more structured and interesting gameplay than we’ve seen recently.

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Shadow of Mordor is set during Sauron’s return to Mordor as he builds his armies and prepares for his assault on Middle Earth as he attempts to retrieve the One Ring.  The game focuses on a ranger (just like Aragon), Talion, as he attempts to gain revenge for the murder of his wife, son and his own at the hands of The Black Hand of Sauron.

The story takes Talion into Mordor as he attempts to find the Black hand and discover the past of a mysterious spirit who is tied to him, Celebrimbor.  Celebrimbor allows Talion to access some special abilities that allow for a far greater amount of gameplay options than that of being a simple ranger would do.

The game plays in a very similar fashion to other popular action adventure games like Assassins Creed or a Batman Arkham game, all be it set in the Lord of the Rings Universe.  This is a very, very good thing!

As you work your way through Mordor you will gradually improve your character and as you do so a larger and larger variety of genuinely interesting gameplay options open up to you.  At the beginning of the game you will fight through Uruks slowly and carefully for fear of death and by the stories’ end you will find yourself building an army of your own to prepare to attack the Black Gate.

That fear of death seems misplaced in a game where the player’s character is already dead, but death in Shadow of Mordor dramatically affects the world and this is without doubt the game’s strongest feature.

Shadow of Mordor features a “Nemesis” system that results in a constantly shifting hierarchy of Uruks for you to battle against.  This Nemesis system runs perfectly alongside the game’s storyline and intermingles with it at times.  The system works a little like this:

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THE NEMESIS SYSTEM EXPLAINED

At all times there are 5 Uruk Warchiefs, they all have Captains and other underlings working for them.  Some of the Captains are bodyguards to the Warchiefs.

The Uruk hierarchy is constantly shifting as the Captains and Warchiefs battle each other for supremacy. The Uruks are always roaming the map, you will at times enter combat with a group of Uruks only to discover that one or two of them may be Captains.  You can use your special sight ability to check for them but I found myself unexpectedly running into the often.

Each special Uruk is a unique individual with a name, personality and traits that affects how you can and should fight against them.  This information is not initially shared with the player but by finding intel or forcing it out of some Uruks you can find the Captain’s and Warchief’s strengths and weaknesses.  This makes the difficult fights far more manageable if you use the information well.

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The great thing is, if you’re skilled in combat you can beat any of the Uruks, but knowing their weaknesses and using them against them can make the job dramatically simpler.  For example some may be killed in one hit if it is a stealth hit, have a fear of fire or of the wild beasts found throughout the game.

As they jostle for dominance the Uruks have missions pop up on the ingame map showing you events that you can get involved in if you want to.  These range from feasts to executions to ambushes.  If you do get involved in these you may be able to steer certain Uruks towards promotion or end one of their lives to open a position for another Uruk to fill.

When you are killed by an Uruk that Uruk is instantly promoted.  If they were previously an unknown soldier they are given a name and set of traits and will begin slowly rising up the ranks.  If they were already a known Uruk they will power up gaining more strengths and losing weaknesses.  They will also remember you!

Every time you interact with a Captain or Warchief they will issue a short taunt aimed at you.  If they’ve fought you before they will comment on it.  This adds a huge sense of personality to the Uruks and makes each fight much more personal.  Being taunted before a fight about a previous mistake you’ve made in battle definitely inspires you to fight that bit harder.

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All of this is impressive enough but gets far more interesting once you hit a point in the story where you can bend Uruks to your will, allowing you to build an army yourself and task Orcs with infiltrating their own ranks.

The Nemesis system has resulted in me coming back again and again to the game, even when the main story was complete as it is so incredibly well put together with layers of interest and personality.  It would be amazing to see this system expanded in any sequels and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if other open world games attempt to emulate it.

The game’s graphics are wonderful.  The characters are all very impressively detailed, particularly the Uruks.  It is breathtaking how many I have come up against now and how they have all felt truly unique.  The world itself always deserves mention as the level design is brilliant.  The two locations are large, open and detailed with interesting areas to explore and battle in.

Shadow of Mordor has great sound too.  The PS4 version made great use of the controllers speaker to create a 3D sound effect that worked really well, though I did have to turn it’s volume way way down.  The voice acting throughout is really strong and helps the story remain interesting and easy to follow.

The good

The ground breaking Nemesis system
A genuinely fun Lord of the Rings game
In interesting story that will, hopefully, lead into a sequel.

The bad

The camera is troublesome at times

Overall

Shadow of Mordor is amazing. It is a perfect mixture of Assassins Creed and Batman in gameplay but trumps them both with the Nemesis system. The Nemesis system is truly game changing and could have a lasting effect on future open world games. This is very much a new generation gaming experience.

9/10

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