Finally! After weeks of me screwing off:
Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor
In Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor we are introduced to Tallion, a Gondorian ranger charged with guarding the Black gate in the years between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Rings. Tallion, living on the wall with his wife and child (Don’t know what commander thought THAT was a good idea) is ambushed one night by a high ranking lieutenant of Sauron and watches his whole family killed before being killed himself.
What? The protagonist starts the game being killed? That can’t be the end of the story, right? I mean that would be a short game for the amount of cash I put down on … oh what’s this?
Tallion is bonded with the spirit of a wraith during his ritualistic killing and as long as he is bonded to that wraith he is effectively immortal. Kill him and he returns. Along with his near immortality Tallion gains the powers of the wraith making him an even deadlier hunter than he was before; making him a terrifying boogeymen to the orcs of Mordor.
Tallion’s goal is to confront the lieutenant of Sauron who killed his family and devastate as much of Mordor’s forces on the way there as possible.
The story of Shadows of Mordor is very engaging. Tallion is easy to like and even his passenger wraith (who I will not name because it could be a major spoiler) is interesting if a little less likeable. I guess being dead for a long time turns you into a prick. Or maybe it is because he was a high elf. Digression aside Tallion’s journey is interesting though at times if you’re really familiar with Tolkien you may wonder “what the hell?” on a few of the finer points. As a Middle Earth junky I did utter what the hell a few times but stick with it, it ties in beautifully with the story of the ring and the reoccupation of Mordor by Sauron after he was kicked out of Dol Guldur
Graphically Shadows of Mordor may have been a little ahead of their time; or at least they sure felt that way. This MAY be a factor of being the first Xbox One game I owned; it may be a factor of them just being really good. I want to stress that the game takes place around the time Sauron was coming back to Mordor and the reason I want to stress that is that because as you’re wandering around the plain near the Black Gate you realize that things are a little less fiery than you may expect. In fact, the grass is green, there’s flowers, and wildlife. Mordor is by no stretch of the imagination beautiful but it was a lot more alive once and that adds a sadness to what we already know. The movement of the animation is striking and natural, the orcs are appropriately ugly, and the ruins of Mordor are forlorn and hold a faded color that speaks of their ancientness. If I had any complaint about the graphics it would be Tallion looks a little too much like the movie Aragorn. Come on: Gondor is a big, big place filled with large amounts of people of various shapes and sizes. Why does the hero have to just happen to look like the future king?
The sounds come with the usual issue I have in most games: The music is too damn loud until you turn it waaaay down but the voice acting from both the protagonist and his allies and the orcs and theirs is top-notch. Musically Shadows does not clip right from Howard Shore’s score it does invoke it.
The controls and the game systems is where Shadows shines the most. The controls are easy to learn and if you’re familiar with any parkour style game you’ll get the hang of this fast. Combine easy combat mechanics with some Assassin’s Creed style stealth and some quick time queues and you should get the idea very quickly how easy this game is to learn. There is no inventory per se to manage but you are rewarded with runes for defeating orc captains that can further modify your weapons. Each weapon, your sword, dagger, and wraith bow each have special missions that allow for them to become legendary.
The shining achievement of Shadows of Mordor is the Nemesis System. The Nemesis System keeps track of, creates, and runs orc captains, bosses, and war chiefs. It manages not only a roster of the advanced orcs but that roster changes as you kill orcs and as you are killed. An orc who kills you is immediately promoted to captain. Drive a captain off? He’ll remember you and he’ll either be afraid or enraged when he sees you again. Run or die to a captain? Expect to be taunted everytime he sees you until you end his miserable life. The AI dips into the uncanny valley and you will have the feeling that the orcs are just other players.
What was a little disappointing is the boss fights. The first boss was shockingly difficult. I was stuck on him for a pretty good amount of time. A lot of that was this is the first console game of this type I played so I had a lot of learning to do. Walking away for a bit and playing the AC games taught me how to fight in a third person melee environment and when I came back to Shadows of War the boss died horribly. The second boss was a little less challenging. He was a combination of stealth and quick time events until he just kinda fell. The third boss was the most disappointing of all. The third and final boss. The big-bad. The dude who killed you and your family was defeated by a handful of quick time events.
Story: 5/5 A whole lot of fun. If you’re a Tolkien fan it is satisfying (if a little “off” of some canon). The story does set up Shadows of War but if you made it this far you probably want to play that, anyway.
Graphics: 5/5 Shadows of Mordor was my first Xbox One game. Even a few years later the graphics are stunning. Unfortunately you never really get to see the fire-blasted Mordor that you’re used to (even though there is a cut scene with Mt. Doom erupting and blasting the semi-fertile scrub land that the plain of Udun is during the game)
Sound/Music: 5/5: Loud but well scored. The orcs could have been a little less repetitive but there were some fantastic overhead comments regarding how much the orcs feared Talion. Very satisfying.
Controls: I’m going to break this up:
• Movement/Inventory: 4/5: Pretty standard and if you can play AC II you can play this. Very little inventory to speak of which worked out well.
• The Nemesis System: 5/5: BRILLIANT. Orcs remembering you and remembering what you’ve done is amazing in a video game. The only thing that could have topped it is if the captains LEARNED from what you did to them. And that feature was added to Shadows of War.
• Boss Fights: 2/5: I was pretty disappointed by the bosses. The first boss was nigh impossible and then they got easier. Easier? You’re facing one of the great lieutenants of Sauron and he goes down after a few quick time events? Not cool. Not satisfying. Not fun.
Playability: 4/5: The main game is amazing. The add-ons didn’t hold my interest but I really encourage you that if you’ve THOUGHT about playing this game go do it.
LOOK WHO CAME: