Developer(s) – Monolith Productions
Publisher(s) – Warner Bros. Interactive
Director – Michael de Plater
Producer – Mike Forge
PEGI – 18
Set in the fictional world of JRR Tolkien’s epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, fore easily makes for the best game ever to be based on the popular license, far surpassing my previously favorite based on Return of the King. Featuring addictive gameplay, breathtaking visuals, and an immersing story, it far surpassed my own expectations, and despite a couple of flaws, I consider it to be one of the best games of the year so far.
Graphics – 8.5/10
The vast open-world of Mordor set in the game, as well as the Orc characters and other supporting characters, give the game a beautifully dark and gritty atmosphere indeed. The attention to detail has also been made obvious with textures such as rainfall on buildings and the superb use of lighting throughout. However, what prevents this game from getting a perfect score in terms of visuals is that I did find a good number of glitches; most notably on character’s faces. Sometimes, character’s faces can blacken out unexpectedly make obvious the fact that the game hasn’t been tested properly. Orcs have black blood in the game, and it could be argued that killing enemies is what causes this to happen to give the effect of blood being splattered onto character’s faces, but even if that is true, I still think it makes the game look flawed to a small extent.
Gameplay – 9/10
Regardless of this one big flaw in the game’s visuals, how excellently it plays out is more than enough to keep players hooked for an extremely long time. A love letter to fans of both the Batman Arkham series and Assassin’s Creed series, the gameplay is mission-based across a decently sized open world, with plenty of side quests and extracurricular activities to keep players busy. The game also introduces something very new to the medium; the nemesis system. How it works is that the game has Orc captains and war chiefs to command over lesser Orcs, and these enemies are much more powerful and unique in how they operate. Orc captains can compete against each other to earn promotions and progress through the ranks as time passes, and regular Orcs can even rise up the ranks for killing the player character. As Orc captains are killed by the player character, new captains are automatically brought up through the ranks to replace them. The player also has the option to interrogate lesser Orc soldiers in order to find out the identities of Orc captains and even learn their strengths and weaknesses in order to determine how best to proceed while engaging them in combat. The nemesis system results in what is essentially an infinite side quest throughout the game and ends up giving the title some serious value in terms of gameplay.
Controls – 9/10
The control scheme in Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor borrows elements from both Assassin’s Creed and the Batman Arkham series; the combat system is extremely refined, and stealth and acrobatics are essentials that players must employ to play the game most effectively. However, I found that the climbing mechanics, very much like the first Assassin’s Creed game were a little bit inconsistent. Some things can be traversed and others can’t, and there isn’t any clear indication as to what can and can’t be traversed throughout the course of the game, and it can lead to unnecessary complications; especially whilst the player is trying to escape overwhelming enemy numbers. Other than this, however, I have no further complaints. The combat system is handled exquisitely well, and the flaws in its controls don’t make it unplayable by any means.
Lifespan – 8.5/10
Even without any prolonged use of the nemesis system, this game can easily be made to last around 30 to 40 hours, which is incredible for a game based on a pre-existing license. The Batman Arkham series has since included a long lifespan following Arkham Asylum, but for something, which could easily be the start of a new series of games based on the Middle-Earth mythos, this is incredible. It makes me wonder how long Monolith could make a sequel last if they decided to develop one. All they would have to do is design it in the traditional fashion of which a video game sequel is developed; make it bigger and better. It would be especially interesting to see how they would also refine the nemesis system.
Storyline – 8/10
The game’s story is as wonderfully gripping as it is gut-wrenchingly dark and intense. It takes place in the interim between The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, as the Orcs of Mordor prepare for the return of their master; the dark lord Sauron. Over 3000 years after the defeat of Sauron at the hands of Isildur, the city of Gondor has since posted rangers at the Black Gate to watch over the land of Mordor for suspicious activity. One of these rangers, Talion, is caught in the middle of the Orc invasion of Mordor and the Black Gate along with his wife and son, and the three of them are executed. However, Talion is revived by an initially unnamed elven wraith, which merges with Talion, granting him ghostly abilities. Together, they resolve to learn of the wraith’s mysterious past and to avenge the death of Talion’s family by mounting an effective resistance against the armies of Mordor and their leader, the Black Hand of Sauron. Although it will inevitably be much harder for newcomers to the Middle-Earth mythos to take in everything that is happening since, for example, familiar characters such as Gollum will be largely unfamiliar, there is enough drama and suspense, and focus on the game’s narrative, in general, to keep newcomers interested, as well as fans of the books and films.
Originality – 7/10
The reason why I think Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is somewhat unoriginal is that it borrows many ideas from already existing games, which makes the title mostly evolutionary as opposed to it being revolutionary. That being said, the nemesis system does make it stand out greatly among most other eight-generation titles I’ve seen so far, and it is refreshing to see that mainstream developers are attempting to innovate within the industry, as opposed to it being exclusively indie developers.
To summarize, whilst it does indeed have its fair share of flaws, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is most definitely one of the best titles I’ve seen in the eighth generation of gaming yet, as well as being one of the standout titles of 2014. It’s enjoyable to play as well as pleasant to look at despite graphical flaws, and there is enough fan service present to both satisfy long-standing Tolkien fans, and adequately introduce newcomers to the mythos.