The sound of cold steel striking flesh with all a man’s force behind it. The crack of bone and spilling of blood that follows. The resounding thud of a head falling from its body and hitting the rain soaked ground. These are usually things that make the average person cringe or feel a sense of nausea about. I can honestly say, I’ve never had so much joy cutting down my enemies than I have in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. It’s only the start of the fall video game avalanche and yet, I believe we already have a Game of the Year contender.
Shadow of Mordor sets players loose in a world crafted by famed author J.R.R. Tolkien and continues the tales surrounding the Rings of Power. As the main character, a Ranger of Gondor named Talion, you’re set off on a quest to avenge your family’s untimely demise by the Black Hand. The catch here is that you too were brutally murdered and have been seemingly sacrificed and bound to an unknown Elvin spirit, endowing you with powers beyond any Mortal man.
You know what? Flat out, the weakest parts of Shadow of Mordor happen to fall wholeheartedly on its plot. I won’t spoil it for you, but unless you’re a diehard Tolkien fan, most of this game’s story is going to be hard to follow. A very familiar face returns to move the main character along, in a pretty interesting way, but ultimately its the product’s overall execution that really stands out here – So let’s get to the incredible parts of Shadow of Mordor.
Gameplay ripped almost completely out of the Batman Arkham franchise makes Mordor’s combat feel fantastic. The mature rating and content allows the fighting to feel visceral and gritty in a way Batman hasn’t. Multiple presses of the attack button send Talion into a combo counter called “Hit Streaks”, which in time builds to a “Combat Finisher”, for a brutal kill preformed on your opponent. Countering is also present, although this time it feels much more responsive than any of the aforementioned Batman games. Very rarely did I miss a counter while fighting multiple grunts, even in the middle of another attack animation. Monolith definitely got it right here. It’s so smooth, I can’t believe it’s not butter.
Traversal is another aspect of Mordor that seems to be borrowing from another franchise. In this case we’re talking about Assassin’s Creed, which in my opinion if you’re going to copy someone, you’d better copy the best. Challenged only by the InFamous series, Assassins Creed is the only game doing Parkour correct in games lately. Scaling a tower in Mordor feels quick and nothing really ever feels like an obstacle in the world. Getting from one mission to another feel just as good to run to as it does to Fast Travel through your map and save some time between splitting Uruk into pieces.
The main campaign will take you about 20 hours or so to beat but getting sidetracked with all the optional missions was never something I felt hindered by. Shadow of Mordor implements what they call the “Nemesis System”, an intricate design of procedurally generated enemies that all have distinct characteristics and personalities like I’ve never seen done in a single player game. The Uruks are shaped by their personal encounters with Talion, meaning that if you are killed by a specific Uruk, they rank up and remember you the next time you face them. Dying at the hand of one particular Uruk several times powers up that Uruk’s rank moving him ever closer to becoming War Chief, the top dogs in Sauron’s army, and becoming a more skilled fighter. One Uruk in particular was such a pain in my ass, and killed my so many times that he ranked up to level 20 before I could take him down. By that point things had become personal and I ignored all the main campaign missions to focus all my efforts on taking this guy out. Such a satisfying kill.
Middle Earth:Shadow of Mordor does very little wrong and executes perfectly on so many levels that it’s hard to believe that this game wasn’t on many people’s minds this holiday season. A well crafted and polished experience, set in a beloved world, wrapped in a blanket of gore puts Shadow of Mordor in a league of its own. Monolith Studios set out to make an amazing Lord of the Rings game and in succeeding also created one of the most entertaining video games this year. This Fall’s Black Gate has opened and the flood of games is here but this one might have been destined to rule them all.