Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor PS4 Review
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Developer: Monolith Productions
Genre: Action Adventure Players: 1 Age Rating: 18+
Other console/handheld formats: Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360
With stealth, platforming and similar assets and animations, Monolith’s Lord of the Rings title Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor has more than a little Assassin’s Creed flavour to it. Its counter and combo focused fighting also echoes the free flowing combat of the Batman: Arkham games. With all of the latter said, you’d be forgiven at this point for thinking that this is nothing more than a combination of popular games, but you’d be wrong.
Many developers these days strive to make their worlds as living and breathing as possible to draw players into them, but Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is perhaps the first open world game where enemies play such an important role; this is all thanks to the Nemesis system, which allows unique stories to be crafted through your encounters with them.
Events take place somewhere between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. You play Talion, a Ranger who is murdered alongside his family at the Black Gate in Mordor, but is brought back to life, with a mysterious Wraith now inhabiting his body,and of course he desperately wants some boring old revenge. It’s not an outstanding narrative by any means, but is reasonable enough as well as being host to some likeable and interesting characters, the new ones of which comfortably slot into the universe. It’s also likely to be of interest to fans of J.R.R Tolkien’s celebrated work, who will appreciate the fact that it expands on things like the story of the forger of the Rings of Power.
The combat is one of the better and more satisfying takes on the Batman: Arkham system. It functions similarly to Rocksteady’s games, with devastating and very brutal finishing moves (that involves chopping heads off and sticking your sword through hearts and such) becoming unlocked as you build combos and there’s an emphasis on countering attacks to not only prevent injury but also maintain any combo that you have going so that the nastier stuff can continue.
Stealth and traversal meanwhile are also strong. For you to carry out the more silent business Talion possesses a dagger, which you can use for the up close and personal kills, and a crossbow to take out enemies from afar. The platforming is effortless and simply just holding down a button has Talion scaling and leaping across his environment, though it isn’t always as precise as one might like it to be, which on occasion results in some frustrating situations. Talion also has an excellent traversal based ability that allows you to teleport to enemy locations, injuring or killing them in the process.
Killing by any means will reward you with XP and levelling up will reward you with a skill point, which you can spend on a new skill, whilst Talion’s attributes and weapons can be upgraded with money. Skills range from fighting based things like new finishing moves, additional health and exploding heads to more stealth focused abilities, which allows you to carry more arrows at once or poison grog. Runes (dropped by higher ranking enemies) on the other hand will allow you to further enhance Talion, rewarding you with bonuses, allowing to have a chance of replenishing health with kills or to make your attacks stronger as your combo count reaches a certain level for instance.
The environment of Mordor has towers you can scale to reforge them, which function in much the same way as the Assassin’s Creed viewpoints, revealing side missions and collectibles on the map. Many side missions are based around an individual weapon of Talion’s, so one might have you taking down a certain number of enemies with stealth kills, whilst another will task you with taking out enemies with your crossbow, whilst making sure not to leave a certain area.
As enjoyable as it all is, not much of the above is anything we haven’t seen numerous times before but the Nemesis system on the other hand is a genuinely new thing, which really sets the game apart from anything else. With this ambitious and very clever system, Sauron’s army feels like it’s truly alive with each higher ranking soldier having their own randomly generated appearance, name, personality and strengths and weaknesses. If they kill you they will level up, meaning your next battle with them is likely to be a tougher one.
If any of this bunch manage to survive your initial encounters with them either through one side retreating or by killing you, they’ll remember what occurred previously, mocking you if you fled from them and such, and will even sport wounds. Immense satisfaction comes from finally taking down an enemy who has constantly bested you.
Whenever you die time will advance and promotions will occur, Orc Captains will duel each other and such, with the victor growing more powerful, which means even without your influence, the army feels as if it’s an organic part of the world.
Strengths and weaknesses of higher ranking soldiers can be determined by interrogating grunts or other captains, and can also be found lying around the environment. These make fights with individuals orcs feel unique, for instance one might have a fear of fire, whilst another might refuse to deliver the killing blow if they don’t deem you worthy enough. The War chiefs, the highest ranking soldiers that you can take on, have bodyguards that you can either dispatch before fighting them to make the battle a much easier one, or for a sterner challenge you can opt to fight them alongside their bosses.
What’s more, you can brand Orcs, a feature of which isn’t introduced until later on in the game unfortunately, though given how powerful of an ability it is, it’s understandable. Branding allows you to dominate the minds of Orcs to make them fight for you, opening up further possibilities to you, allowing you to fill Sauron’s army with soldiers of your own, or commanding War chief bodyguards to betray their masters for instance.
Many of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor’s facets might not be revolutionary, though they’re all beautifully executed to the extent that even without its unique and complex Nemesis system, the game would have comfortably been a great one but ,with it, it’s easily still a more noteworthy, interesting and inventive game than it otherwise would have been.