Developers: Monolith Productions and Behaviour Interactive
Platform: Review Based on PlayStation 4. Also on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
Warning – contains mild Spoilers
As a massive LOTR and Tolkien fan, Shadow of Mordor was on my radar as soon as I caught a whiff of it. As soon as pre orders were available I went and put my deposit down. When it was released, I finally got to immerse myself in Middle-Earth – oh man I was not disappointed.
The opening scene is as brutal as it is shocking; this sets up the story for the rest of the game. You play as Talion, a ranger of Gondor stationed at the Black gate during the time between The Hobbit and LOTR. Talions story begins where most heroes’ stories would end, with his grisly death. Talion is cursed and in death, he is possessed by a wraith. As a part of this he is banished from death. Therefore as long as they are bound together the curse can only be lifted by killing the one who put it on them.
At the start of the game, the story is interesting and starts really well, but it does lose a lot of steam towards the end. In saying that; I don’t think the story is the main attraction of this game. The Black Hand of Sauron is Talions’ main target throughout the course of the game, however to get to him, he first needs to bring down the armies of Sauron – these armies are comprised of Orcs and Uruks and there are PLENTY of them.
As with any army there is a hierarchy, and this is where the games crowning glory, known as the Nemesis system comes into play. Talion has to take out the various captains and war chiefs in Mordor. Each one (besides a handful for the story) is randomly generated and they have individual strengths, weaknesses and personalities. Talions encounters with these captains will be remembered by them (if they survive), and their stats can change as a result.
For example, a captain manages to escape from you during a fight but beforehand you set him on fire. This could result in him developing fear of fire, a major weakness, or a hatred of it, which is a strength. Trying to use fire against him again could be a massive mistake, as the Captains’ hate will send him into frenzy and boost his attack and health while you fight him. Their physical appearance may change as well – like having their head wrapped in bandages to cover the burns. This mechanic works really well, ensuring a slightly different game for every play through and adds a strategic element to the game, as well as creating a unique sub story for each player.
Gameplay is best described as a mash up of the Batman ‘Arkham’ series and ‘Assassins Creed’. It not quite a hack and slash; you won’t be able to just kill a dozen orcs with a flick your sword. Even the weakest orcs can require around 5 standard hits to kill in melee combat, which is about as many as Talion can take before he goes down. Countering is all important in combat and is done in the same way as the ‘Arkham’ series, with a quick button press when you see an icon appear above an enemy’s head as they are about to attack. Stealth is almost always a better option than combat as normal orcs and some captains can be killed instantly with takedowns from above or behind and there is also a long-range option provided by the Wraith.
The Wrath brings a different element to the game, especially in combat. Most wraith abilities are unlocked by a skill tree. Skill points are gained by earning XP from in game actions (kills mostly) and the different tiers of upgrades are unlocked by gaining Power, which is done by getting rid of captains and war chiefs. There are 2 types of skills, which include 18 ranger and 21 wraith skills.
Ranger upgrades include abilities like execute, which allow some enemies to be killed instantly with your sword once your hit counter gets high enough. The wraiths abilities from the get go include Wraith Vision which highlight enemies and shows what type of enemy they are, as well as revealing hidden artefacts and some other info about the word. The Wraith also gives Talion access to Ranged attacks. Pressing L2 will enter you into ranged mode and the Wraith produces a bow and Wraith vision will activate as well as slowing time down. Shots are limited though and can be found around the map as Elf-shot or you can drain enemies to replenish it.
The wraiths ability’s also extend to combat, Like Wraith Stun where hitting an enemy with ‘O’ will stun it for a second or two or double counters for when two attacks come at Talion at once. A very handy upgrade skill is Shadow Strike, where the Wraith teleports Talion over a great distance to melee strike an enemy. This ability can later be upgraded to instantly kill enemies and also be chained, jumping from enemy to enemy.
The Wraiths’ most important ability (besides constantly bringing Talion back to life) though is to dominate enemies, which is unlocked later in the game. When Talion grabs an enemy he can choose to interrogate them early on in game to gain info about captains, but dominate takes it to a new level where the orc will come under the Wraiths control. This becomes core to the story and is one of the coolest mechanics which can also be upgraded for use on some of the local wildlife like caragors (think warg but more badass).
Graphically the game is very attractive. The two main areas of the game are very distinct. The first is Udûn, the lands just beyond the Black Gate (Morannon). This is where Saurons war machine is being assembled. The lands have been stripped bare and everything is barren, grey and desolate. Núrn (Also referred to as the Sea of Núrnen) in contrast is green and lush and full of life. Character models look great – minus a few tiny issues, and there is a wide variety of visual styles for the orcs, the wraith world looks awesome and the combat looks stunning (as well as brutal as heck). The soundtrack works really well. It’s dark and foreboding most of the time and adds a sense of tension to the overall game. The musical intro for a war chief includes their individual name being chanted along with the sound of booming drums, which for me made it feel like I may have bitten off more than I can chew, especially if I had not killed their bodyguards first.
Tolkien fans shouldn’t be disappointed either. As the game stays fairly close to the lore even though Talion is a new character, the Wraith is not; and those who have read ‘The Silmarillion’ may guess his identity before it is revelled. There are also items to be found in game which reveals more about the region and expands the story of Saurons rise to power as well as other tales of Middle-Earth.
Overall this game is great, doesn’t matter if you’re a LOTR nut like me or not. It plays smoothly, the gameplay is addictive, it looks and sounds great and the Nemesis system works really well. The game has already been nominated and even received multiple awards, including best action game and even game of the year for 2014. I’m really excited to see what the future holds for this IP but also the Nemesis system, which has a HEAP of potential for games as a whole.