It was easy for me to be skeptical of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. It’s based on a major franchise and it takes obvious inspiration from the Assassin’s Creed and Arkham series.
I guess that’s why you play the games before judging them, because Shadow of Mordor is an outstanding open world action game with an absolutely phenomenal melee combat system.
Utilizing the same control scheme and free-flow style of the Arkham games, Mordor bests even that magnificent system. One reason is that countering enemy attacks is more forgiving. Even mid move, a tap of the counter button will immediately block an incoming attack. Fighting off hordes of Uruks feels a bit more manageable than Arkham’s thugs, and ultimately more satisfying thanks to the ultra-violent executions. Heads will roll (and fly through the air) with frequency.
In addition to the swordplay, there are also a series of ‘wraith’ abilities to utilize. They can be used to stun enemies, fire elf shot (a ghostly bow and arrow), create a wave of energy to knock back enemies and even dominate Uruks’ mind to fight at your side. Utilizing the elf shot slows down time, making it useful even in the middle of a crowd. It can also be used to pin a retreating enemy to the ground. This is especially useful when hunting down key members of Sauron’s Army.
A key component of the game allows the player to gain intelligence by interrogating certain enemies to find the location and weaknesses of high ranking Uruks. Defeating them unlocks to skills to purchase.
Uruks that defeat you will rise in rank and become revenge targets. They can be pursued again, and will even reference previous encounters with their dialog. Likewise, some defeated Uruks may track you down as well. It’s a clever system that is only held back by its somewhat random nature. I never felt as if I was actually ‘weakening’ the army. In the inevitable sequel, you can bet this system will be expanded upon, because developer Monolith is definitely onto something with this concept.
As an open world title, Mordor isn’t overwhelmingly large. It’s a fairly concise creation and it doesn’t take all that long to become familiar with its layout. Mordor also doesn’t adequately reward the player for exploring, as I never really understood what discovering ancient trinkets and symbols really did other than yield a minimal amount of experience points.
Runes dropped by defeated captain can be used to grant special enhancements to your weapons, but I never found this a compelling component either.
The main missions are well-done and the story is good enough, but it’s really the combat that steals the show here.
It does have one of my ultimate game pet peeves, however, with occasionally awful sound mixing. There are moments during the cinematics where dialog is almost incomprehensible beneath the music and effects. I hate that.
The game’s final confrontation is also a big disappointment. For a game with such incredible combat, it sure does have a lame final boss.
There are definitely areas in which Shadow of Mordor could improve, but the action is so compelling that it still manages to be an outstanding experience. This is a must play for any fan of the genre.