Game Review: Shadow of Mordor

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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is an action RPG from developer Monolith Productions. I spent some time playing the Playstation 4 version of the game.

From a plot standpoint, Shadow of Mordor is paper thin. The barebones story serves as little more than a framing device for the derivative, but fun mayhem contained therein. After witnessing the execution of his family at the hands of the dark lord Sauron’s lieutenants, and then being executed himself, the ranger Talion becomes bound to the elven wraith Celebrimbor. Through this process he is “banished from death,” and sets out on a quest to draw out and kill the dark lord’s lieutenants in an effort to break his curse of immortality. This is essentially the entire plot. The story line, however, is never the highlight of action role-playing games (there are more orthodox RPGs for that), the action is. In this regard, Shadow of Mordor does not disappoint. The game plays like a re-skinned and refined version of Assassin’s Creed. From Talion’s monkey-like ability to scale walls and cliffs and free run to the sword fighting mechanics, the game will feel eerily familiar to Assassin’s Creed players. What sets it apart, though, is how fluid the combat is. Once I got acclimated to the controls, I found it quite easy and enjoyable to cut through large hordes of orcs. While the developers were clearly wearing their influences on their sleeves when designing the combat and mobility systems, there are some areas that set Shadow of Mordor apart from its historical fiction cousin. Like a good role playing game should, the game has an active stealth system. While it’s not as complex as the one found in, say, the Elder Scrolls series, it is fun and effective. The one quibble I have about it is that it seems to rely entirely on line of sight. movement speed while sneaking doesn’t have any bearing, and I didn’t find that sticking to the shadows presented any appreciable advantage. A favourite feature of this reviewer was the ability to play on your enemies’ fears. For instance, if stalking a particularly powerful foe who is afraid of beasts, shooting open a cage and freeing one will cause him to go into a state of panic and run for his life, rendering him a much easier kill. Perhaps the most interesting feature of Shadow of Mordor is the dynamic hierarchy of the game’s enemies. If the player is killed by an orc, that orc advances in rank. On top of this, given sufficient time, captains will attack other captains and strong arm peons into joining their side. All of this leads to even further shuffling of the orc hierarchy. It also gives the game the distinction of actually getting more difficult the more you fail. The skill tree was, on the whole, underwhelming. While boasting a few useful abilities, most of it is mostly forgettable and useless. At no point, when choosing abilities, did I ever feel any sense of conflict over what to choose. The side quests, while initially enjoyable, wear thin after a while, as they get incredibly repetitive. There are only so many times one can be tasked with the objective of stealthily killing X number of orcs in Y amount of time. Graphically, the game doesn’t disappoint. The textures are detailed and the character models and animations are well done. The physics of the main protagonist’s clothing were particularly noteworthy to this reviewer. Unfortunately, it’s not so good that it won’t be completely overshadowed by some of the other AAA titles coming down the pipe this fall. As such, I would highly recommend picking it up before it becomes lost in the shuffle next month.

Derivative, but entertaining.

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