Fans of the Tolkien universe of Lord of the Rings can be happy that they get a new change to dive in with Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. A third person action adventure game by WB Interactive and Monolith Productions for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC versions, or Behaviour Interactive if you have the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 version. Some features of the game such as the Nemesis System have been cut back for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 but this was reviewed on the Xbox One so it will cover all of the features.
Shadow of Mordor blends the concept of stealth movement and action incredibly well as you take to Mordor to face countless hordes of Uruk. As you run, jump and climb in this world the movement system will be similar to those who have played Assassin's Creed titles. Using a button hold you're able to sprint through the flats of Mordor or charge towards a building and you'll begin climbing up it. The stealth system is also extremely similar taking the best elements as well as adding new ones to allow you to gain the upper hand as well as to avoid getting detected such as the ability to take over the allegiance of Uruks. In the case that you are caught though the combat style, similar to that of the Arkham series also produced by WB Interactive, will immerse you in the fight. Be warned though as the Uruk surround you there is a tipping point in which the number of foes will be far too great for you to handle so you have to flee and return to a more stealthy approach. While in stealth your dagger is your friend, when in an open battle you will unsheathe your sword and there is also a ranged method as you draw your bow to take out Uruks from afar, there is even a limited slow down to aid in getting those precise head shots. At all times when you are in the world there are constantly missions appearing to do with attacking Uruk to free slaves, each with bonus objectives for extra rewards, and also missions about the Uruk Captains if they are recruiting, are challenging another or even if they are just having a feast. These added missions add to the changing world as well as add replay value to this game without becoming too repetitive.
One of the big features of Shadow of Mordor is the inclusion of the Nemesis System. In the Nemesis System there is a hierarchy of Uruk captains and the five War Chiefs that are present in the world. At first they are all unknown but as you explore the world, interrogate other captains and complete missions you'll learn the identity of them. Each of the captains has their own style, strengths and weaknesses that you can use to make the battle turn in your favor. The best part of the Nemesis System is that Uruks will also have power struggles in among themselves, gain new recruits and become more powerful as time goes on. If you're afraid that this means that once you've killed them all then you're sorely mistaken as each time you pass the time at a forge tower or get killed in battle then new Uruks will become captains or any missions where a captain had a chance to gain more power, they will. This means that there is no end to the Nemesis System which allows for a changing game as you continue to play.
In Shadow of Mordor you play as a Ranger of Gondor Talion who was banished from death by the Black Hand of Sauron using blood magic during an attack on the Black Gate. In this attack Talion's wife and son were killed in front of his very eyes before the spell was cast. A powerful wraith greets Talion in the void between life and death and brings him back to life. The wraith chooses to journey with him in an effort to regain the memory that was lost to him and Talion begins his hunt for the Black Hand and the rest of Sauron's elite guard. The story delves deep into the lore of the universe and is set in between The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings and features characters from the series such as Gollum. The story may not be the most lengthy but with distractions such as the Nemesis System you can easily get distracted and lengthen out the spacing of the story.
In Shadow of Mordor both the characters and the world that they inhabit have been created with originality and great detail. Talion has the look of a Ranger of Gondor with an intricate but free moving outfit and costumes such as the Dark Ranger outfit have had just as much time put into it so you can travel the lands in style. One drawback from the outfit changes is that all of the cut scenes are pre-rendered so that no matter what you look like in game once a cut scene begins Talion is wearing his original outfit again, not an extremely big deal but it is strange to see. The standard Uruks come in a variety of forms like the regular ones, the slightly bigger one with a shield and the ones with crossbows. Once an Uruk gets a promotion to a Captain or a War Chief then components are added to their outfit, a normal looking Uruk may get light bone armour when becoming a captain and then more plating will be added when ascending to War Chief. All the random outfits for the Uruk have had a lot of time spent and will usually even correlate to the title that the Uruk possesses. The terrain around Mordor is just as you would expect it to be, filled with Uruk encampments and plenty of mountains and raised plateaus to climb upon. Small obstacles such as rocks or deserted wagons are strewn around the world equally so as to give the world the feeling that it has been lived in and that everything was placed for a purpose.
The soundtrack in Shadow of Mordor is fun and gives you a sense of immersion in the game as you move through your missions and side quests. It is good when it is present but it also isn't memorable to keep with you after you've put down the game, this could be seen as a positive or a negative for many different players. The background music has had a lot of attention paid to it so that each sword hit or parry makes a believable sound and hearing your sword go through an Uruk is all too pleasing.
As someone who has interest in the world of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings but also a fan of the Assassins Creed series and the Batman Arkham games I originally felt that I would play the game but I wouldn't love it but Shadow of Mordor has completely enchanted me. There's no time that you ever feel like there's a 100% chance to win in any fight you come across as so many small factors can completely change the tide of battle. The story has me interested and wanting more but having the Nemesis System in place I still find myself taking off from my path to slay or learn about more Captains or take the challenge of defeating a War Chief. For fans of Lord of the Rings and the silmarillion I will warn you that there are some aspects of the game that do not line up with the canon lore but if you still want to experience a fun game set in a universe you know so well then you will enjoy Shadow of Mordor.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is currently available for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. On November 18th Shadow of Mordor will release for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Shadow of Mordor is an extremely fun action/adventure game set in middle-earth. Fans of the books and those who want to learn more will both enjoy the experience that this game has to offer.