January 29, 2023

There is nothing more satisfying in a video game than watching the hours upon hours of work you’ve put in paying off. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is one game that delivers that experience on a very bloody silver platter.

Shadow of Mordor is a role-playing game set in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy realm of “Middle-earth.” The events take place between the stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings saga, and tell the tale of Talion, a ranger captain garrisoned at the Black Gate. On the night the dark lord Sauron returns to Mordor, the Black Gate is overrun, and Talion is forced to watch his wife and son die before he himself is executed.

Talion is resurrected, however, by the spirit of an ancient elf lord and gifted with strange and powerful Wraith abilities. Players take the role of Talion as he fights his way back to Mordor on a quest to exact vengeance upon those who took the ones he loved. Along the way he uncovers the story of both the ancient spirit that now resides within him and the infamous Rings of Power.

The gameplay at first seems very reminiscent of that of Assassin’s Creed titles mixed with Batman: Arkham Asylum. A seemingly linear progression of main story quests set in an open, exploration based world with a massive amount of side quests and missions. That is followed up by surprisingly fun, free flowing combat that is improved by an expansive set of skills, weapon upgrades and abilities to unlock, and polished by never eliminating the true challenging nature of the game. As you play more and more you discover that Shadow of Mordor takes a very original stance on RPGs.

The game’s most fundamental and recognizable feature is the “Nemesis System.” This system is based around the primary enemies of the game, the “Uruk-hai,” an advanced breed of Tolkien’s “Orcs.” It generates Uruk warriors, captains and war chiefs in organized “warbands” or military units specific to each individual playthrough of the game. Every enemy you encounter is armed with unique abilities, traits and personalities and are shaped by every action the player takes within the game. This plays a huge part in creating a living, breathing and evolving game world.

One of the best parts of Shadow of Mordor is the fact that it makes use of Tolkien’s world without relying solely on fan service. Of course there is talk of Sauron, and you venture through the Black Gate and Mordor but you are never barraged with the set pieces that defined the books/films. At most, the game fleshes out the stories behind pieces fans had already known and loved. Monolith Productions, the developer of the game, did well to create a solid RPG without having to ride the coattails of the name.

This is not, however, a perfect game. The story, although interesting, falls off as you progress through it. Besides being given a main, clear goal, I found myself lost in it, and not in a good way. Every once in a while, after a long session of slaughtering Uruk warriors and infiltrating their ranks, I’d pop back into the story and try to progress. Unfortunately, I would find myself wondering why exactly I had to do what I was doing.

Also, although just nitpicking at this point, I’ve taken keen interest in game soundtracks. Games like The Last of Us and Wolfenstein: The New Order had soundtracks that drew me in and immersed me further into the game. Shadow of Mordor, however, never really had me stopping my game just to appreciate what the composers had done. Everything just seemed to blend in and never made me feel like the awesome killing machine I was like Wolfenstein did.

Shadow of Mordor puts a fresh face on Tolkien’s fantasy world like no other. Additions like the “Nemesis System” overshadow the few flaws that do exist and give hours upon hours of gaming possibility. Even with a story that is lacklustre, this is by far one of the best games I have played in a long time, and I strongly recommend it to Tolkien and RPG fans alike.

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