Game Review: Shadow of Mordor

Thorgrim Gunnarson gives the new video game <em>Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor</em> the Viking treatment.

For my first ever review I’ve chosen carefully. I wanted something fun but concise, a game that was visually appealing, but also well-made and well-written. After some thought and careful evaluation I have chosen Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor to draw first blood. Besides this written review, I’ll be providing a supplementary gameplay video below as part of the reviewing process.

For those unfamiliar with the game, Shadow of Mordor is by far the best Lord of the Rings game ever made. Yes, even better than Battle for Middle Earth one and two. (Hear me out, before you grab your clubs, torches and pitchforks!) It combines the rich storytelling of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books (and their movie adaptations) with character-driven gameplay, putting you in the boots of Talion, a ranger who was stationed on the Black Gates of Mordor (huge gonads much?) when Sauron made his huge fiery-eyeballed return to Middle Earth. Long story short, our ballsy protagonist becomes a sacrifice in a nasty ritual to ensnare the ancient spirit of a noble elf. Instead, the elvish spirit bonds with Talion and resurrects him in order to discover what sinister plot is afoot, all while wreaking epic levels of havoc on Sauron’s army north of the Black Gates. The game delivers on the story like any other LotR franchise title, with full cut scenes and an engaging plot, but also delivers solid action and stealth gameplay as well as a decent leveling-up system with many hours of content to keep your thumbs very busy. Gameplay-wise, in any case, the most impressive aspect of the game — by far — is the Nemesis System.

As you make your way around the sizable map dispatching orcs and goblins aplenty, searching for collection items, and otherwise having a blast wreaking havoc at levels that would make Gandalf blush and then piss himself (I’d pay to see that—just saying), you’ll find that your foes develop as you do and as the story does. This, friends, is the Nemesis System I mentioned and it is one of the major interactive features of the game. The captains and so forth of Sauron’s army feel like living, breathing, learning entities — and the evil forces of the Great Eye accordingly evolve as you progress. A new orc is appointed captain, you engage him, and he kills you (this will happen); in-game, time will pass and that orc will gain power and prestige, and even be promoted to a higher rank. He is now a revenge target but will also be stronger than before. Each one of these leadership characters has his own strengths and weaknesses (a list sometimes ten or more stats long, so do your homework!) and the info doesn’t come free. Yes, Talion must hunt down other captains or orcs that have information (i.e. green snitches) to gain essential intel and plan against harder foes. This system lends a depth which I’ve not previously seen before in a game of this type — or really any game ever, for that matter.

Naturally, the next consideration after finding your enemies is the whole question of combat mechanics. The game delivers on that score too.

Stealth and open combat flow seamlessly. One moment you’re in the bushes attracting an enemy for a quiet kill, the next you’re raiding an execution or a feast and taking on an entire horde of raging, green, killing machines. No, Shadow of Mordor doesn’t disappoint. Talion, in the hands of a skilled player, becomes a flying razor dispatching numerous foes and looking damn good while he’s doing it. The wraith bonded to him grants spectral powers that aid in stunning foes or even countering two attacks at once (which is so satisfying). It leaves you with a sense of being both bad-ass but also well-put-together, not an overpowered death-god. The game is thus able to hold interest. Skill and quick reflexes really do make a huge difference. Poor planning or laziness in combat will end in death every time, as one does not simply button mash into Mordor!

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Now let’s be real, what is a Ranger of the Black Gate without his weapons? And this game has you covered. Talion has his sword, bow, and dagger to rain destruction on his foes and, like all LotR weapons of note, Talion’s arsenal is special. Each of his weapons has multiple rune slots that can hold augmentations that will enhance various aspects of combat, lending that little edge when you take on three captains and/or a Warchief and hope to survive the fight. Everything from increased damage to elemental effects or even increased health recovery (indispensable in the heat of battle) can be slotted into your weapons at will. All of the varied and original content offered in this rich title definitely helps the player to feel like everything has a place and serves a purpose in Shadow of Mordor. This allows a complete and robust gaming experience with an equally detailed and lavish story arc to enjoy along the way.

How did I rate the game? Well, I score games as either ‘Raid It’ (which means torrent away, as paying for trash is not cool and gamers have it hard enough) or ‘Buy It!’ (which means even if you do torrent it first, I’m betting you really will enjoy it and, in that case, the developers deserve your support). So, what is my verdict for this first review? I think Shadow of Mordor is one you’ll really enjoy, so I say ‘Buy It!’ or go home. The content is decent and the gameplay superb; that, paired with all the bells and whistles expected of something in the Tolkien franchise, means that you really can’t miss with this title. So, stay tuned, little raiders, as this show has only just begun. Thorgrim Gunnarson, your stalwart Viking Gamer, will soon return with more awesome reviews and videos for you to enjoy. Thanks for your support and please subscribe to my YouTube channel and ‘like’ my videos.

Until next time… Skol!!!

About Thorgrim Gunnarson