The land of Mordor is once again exploited to another media. We’re treated to another venture into the dark and Orc infested land in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
To be honest, I’m not a huge LOTR fan and haven’t been keen on anything to come out recently that has been related to it. I played the hack-‘n-slash games that came out on the Playstation 2 about ten years ago, but never could get back into Mordor. So I picked this game up and frankly, I was shocked at how this game measured up. What in Middle Earth am I talking about? Let me explain.
Shadow of Mordor‘s story is a rather generic affair. A typical fantasy tale of orcs, warriors and bloody revenge on those who wronged our protagonist Talion. This is a story of revenge whose plot’s basically Assassin’s Creed. It’s hardly original, but the world of Mordor finds its depth in its smaller stories – from locating artifacts to meeting new characters.
The humans of Mordor are somewhat dull and lack any depth other than to curse bloody revenge on everyone that’s evil. Other creatures, like orcs, are brilliantly portrayed and carry all their swagger from in the films. Every time I hear them speak, I’m filled with fear and expel fits of laughter. Anything non-human in Shadow of Mordor’s got a strong personality and memorable character traits.
The story lacks anything engaging but this is made up with the supporting cast of characters and antagonists are campy, menacing, and delightfully theatrical at the same time. Even Gollum makes an appearance. He’s still a douche, but lovingly creepy and amusing to watch.
Mordor looks stunning and is one of the best representations to date. There’s a great emphasis placed the design, color, textures, and interaction between NPCs, player character, and the nature of the world. The world and its inhabitants are bathed in the blood, sweat, and tears of Shadow of Mordor’s gritty realism. There are two regions to be explored, with each having areas such as swamps, mines, forts and docks that seem impressively grand. It might’ve been nice to find and explore more regions of Mordor, or have the current ones expanded to cover more ground to hunt for your target. Mordor looks the part, but sadly lacks any real diversity to make it feel larger or more open that it should be.
Combat handles just like Batman’s Arkham-style skill trees and counters. It’s easy to pick up, engaging to play, but difficult to master some of the higher skills. Progressing your skills and tactics offers interesting rewards and new ways to kill your foes both in armed combat and in assassinations. This makes for more engrossing game play when encountering enemy forces. Yet Talion’s controls can be rather clunky at times. Climbing frequently tests your patience, and even running along certain ledges and narrow pathways can screw you up for no good reason. Unlike Assassin’s Creed, Talion does have some difficulty when moving.
At times, the game’s enemy swarms can seem like overkill and send in a whole army for you to fight by your lonesome, and with three to four different enemy types battling you, sometimes it can result in you quickly losing the fight, even if you are handy with a blade. Even these short comings are outweighed by a single game changer: The Nemesis system.
The Nemesis system is where the game exiles itself and puts the likes of Assassin’s Creed to shame. Talion’s objective is to kill a legion of orcs and high ranking warcheifs in order to confront the Dark Lords. The ranking of different orcs and warchiefs acts as your own personal hit list where you can select and track your chosen targets. You can see how these individuals interact with each other and the world of Mordor to become stronger and more deadlier enemies, climbing the ranks, and in some cases become high ranking warriors.
Sounds simple, but here’s the twist: The orcs you kill may be taken out of the game, but there are always those who will take their place and are hell bent on bringing Talion down. Every time Talion dies, time passes in Mordor, replacing those Orcs you killed with new ones, and others advance through the ranks. Anyone whose low ranking held them back might suddenly be promoted, becoming more dangerous and adopt a deadly new skillset.
The army never dispenses – rather, it adapts to whoever you killed off and the time that’s passed since. The Nemesis system adds a tremendously organic nature to the game and one that’s dynamic for players to engage with. Each general and Warchief has their own personality, strengths and weakness which you need to exploit to succeed. Getting killed by a general will add a personal touch when a confrontation happens again, seeing as they mock and taunt Tailon for his failed efforts previously.
I had a case where I was killed five times by the same Orc and our last confrontation had him spewing “Bah, I’m bored of killing you yet again.” The game offers AI that also seems to think on its own accord and registers interactions in such detail, making them feel more than just simple programming. And to be able to pull off your own, personal revenge is beyond satisfying.
There are a number of tactics to use to make sure your revenge goes as planned. Taking control of certain orcs allows you to either build up your own army or make a certain orc rise through the ranks to become the body guard of a war chief. This ensures they kill at your command and can even take out certain targets you may have trouble dealing with. Finding intel reveals certain weaknesses to either exploit and kill your enemy or simply allow yourself more easy access to control them and certain wildlife, which you can use for travel or kill even more Orcs.
Each orc has their own personality and agenda in the world. Some will want to rise through the ranks while some will brutalize human factions. Still others will be picked off by other generals. Talion can sit back and watch the Orc army change, with back stabbing, wild beast hunts, and trials and executions, which make or break particular generals. It’s these complex dynamics that gives the game a life of its own – much more so than Assassin’s Creed and Hitman – to make the world of Mordor a place to lose yourself in. There’s also a ton of extras to enjoy, with additional modes and challenges to take part in – some of which are only part of the season pass (sigh).
Shadow of Mordor may do a mediocre job at telling a story with any character or depth outside of its charming Orc armies, but the real feature that makes the game so rewarding is the Nemesis system. Its diverse, original gameplay shows off just what a truly organic game world can be like with trying enemies to conquer. It may seem like an Assassin’s Creed game, but its hit list dynamic and rich world has it surpass its inspiration entirely.