Platform: Windows, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Playstation 4
Release Date: 3 October, 2014
Developer: Monolith Productions
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor was developed by Monolith Productions, the team responsible for FEAR, and it was always going to be an ambitious project. There has been a dearth of good video games set in Tolkien’s universe as of late, a dearth that I am happy to announce has been rectified. SOM is a triumph. It is a classic case of engineering cohesion that creates an overall experience greater than the sum of its parts.
In SOM you play a ranger, Talion, whose wife and son are brutally murdered by a cheesy pantomime villain. You then get possessed by an amnesiac elfish ghost who despises Sauron (who isn’t really given the option to defend his actions) and proceeds to use you to discover facts about his past and run fun little errands. Errands such as freeing slaves, finding artefacts and killing many, many orcs. Which is just incredible fun.
The combat system is so immersive and enjoyable that after sinking around 8 hours into this game, it is still incredibly fun to go beating orcs up. The combat system allows the player to utilise a small but effective arsenal of special moves and combos to use with the three weapons you are given. Using these moves in combination with timing and precision will lead to immensely satisfying executions and gloriously gory finishes that look as good as they feel.
This would be a terrible review without mentioning the famous new “nemesis system”, which is SOM’s trump card. This system essentially means that when you are defeated by an orc, or interact with an orc in any way, that orc will grow and become more important and start to take actions and move within the political melting pot of Sauron’s orc tribes. They will make references to previous encounters with the player, grow stronger and develop truly unique personalities that come with a full host of weaknesses or strengths. This will then define the way the player will need to address their enemies in combat.
Everyone will have unique experiences of this system and while the main storyline is limp and average at best, the mini-narratives surrounding these enemy characters provide a far more organic and technically impressive storytelling experience. The game is almost worth it based on the merit of this system alone.
Shadow of Mordor is also stunning. There is no other way to put it, whereas some building textures aren’t exceptional (but are still very good), enemies look spectacular and through 8+ hours of play I don’t think I’ve actually seen any identical orcs. The sound effects, especially of Talion’s weapons, are a perfect, refined accompaniment to the macabre ballet of rent flesh you will be immersing yourself in when you play this game. This leaves my main complaint being that the endgame is weak. The main story is not strong or long enough, and pales in comparison to the Assassins Creed series.
When you finish this, and unlock everything, side missions become too repetitive to merit playing much longer. And whereas throughout the majority of play, enemies are at a near-perfect level of challenge, towards the end, combat becomes too trivial and ultimately boring.
SOM is a true marvel in that it is not only a good Lord of the Rings game, but a fantastic game in its own right. Its brilliance lies in the organic game experience that will leave players with totally unique experiences. The game works as a finely tuned engine with all the different mechanics, which are excellent in their own right, coming together to create a very well-polished and immersive experience.