By Sam Coles:
Games set in Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth have never really transitioned well into the interactive art form, but Middle Earth Shadow of Mordor maybe the first game that works with its dark and mature story and gritty violence that you would expect from the residences of Mordor. Before I hear you say that “This is an Assassin’s Creed knock off”. No it’s not, yes it borrows a few things from that series but on its own it’s something new and refreshing and unlike Assassin’s Creed it doesn’t expect you start a furniture business.
The story is that you play as Talion a Ranger who is having a happy life with his wife and son until Sauron’s Generals invade and start slaughtering every including Talion and his family. Death isn’t quite ready for him as a wraith revives him. The wraith is a key character in the world Tolkien as he is Celebrimbor the forger of the rings of power and you must stop Sauron’s resurrection. The Story is a dark and gritty take in the world of Middle Earth with darker themes, but is a fairly generic revenge story.
The first thing that struck me were the visuals and it’s an absolutely beautiful game with its green meadows glimmering in the sunshine, you would think that it would grey and dark all the time as it’s set in Mordor, but this is a time when Sauron wasn’t around so it’s civilized but not completely. Every detail has been taken into consideration from the textures in the buildings to you main character looking wet when it rains to the individually details and characteristics of the Orcs. You’ll traverse different areas of Mordor from the dark atmosphere of the black gates to beautiful and serene meadows before Sauron’s corruption.
The gameplay takes a stealthy approach for the most part and you’ll be sneaking around and slitting Orcs throats as you try to take down their War Chief. Throughout your travels in Mordor you’ll be taking down the Orc armies from your standard grunts, Captains and leaders. This is where the nemesis system comes where it will display all the major generals and war chiefs in the different areas of Mordor, but you can’t just go and kill them. No. You have to go around and interrogate Orcs and gain intel of their weaknesses and location this where the Wraith half of you comes into play, which will let you delve into their minds and let you pick intel of certain captains and chiefs if they are part of a certain tribe. If you fail to kill an Orc who is in the hierarchy then he’ll gain power and be promoted or duel with another captain or take on the war chief and this adds an organic nature to the game, it makes the world feel alive, so it really encourages you to take your time when taking on certain enemies and to plan ahead and not run in waving your sword about.
Along with your standard sword fighting skills you have a set of Wraith powers which can range from a mystic bow and arrow known as elf shot to extending that ability to teleport to your foes and knocking them unconscious. These powers are varied and nicely balanced which will make you think in a battle and take on different tactics if everything hits the fan and you’ll take them out quickly and swiftly or the best option is to run when you’re surrounded.
All these abilities and weapons can be upgrade with the standard skill tree where you get ability points to sink into new abilities or build upon existing ones, you can buy upgrades with the in game currency which will extend your maximum health or let you carry more elf shot arrows etc. Finally you can equip runes to your weapons which can increase the chances of getting a critical hit with your sword or gain a small percentage of your health back when you perform a stealth kill with your dagger. You get these runes by killing high ranking Orcs with in Sauron’s army and they’ll different levels of power and rarity.
The sound design and music is fantastic in this game the sounds when you’re in a fight is excellent, you hear every strike when slash your blade into the Orc’s skin and the bones crunch when you decapitate them and see the blood flying everywhere. The soundtrack has a sort of tribal feeling to it which is fitting when you are mostly battling Orc tribal chiefs, the music when you’re fighting the war chiefs is tense with the heavy war drums thumping and the other orcs chanting the name of the war chief as he edges closer to you with a menacing grimace.
The few nitpicks that I have with this game is one: when you meet the captains or war chiefs it will play this short animation where your weapons clash and you’ll exchange insults and yeah this cool the first few times, but it happens every time even when you’ve met before, it would been nice to be able to skip it. The other problem is that I have with this game is that there some major difficulty spikes in the game when you fight some war chiefs because with some of them you’ll be fighting them and three or four captains at the same time and you’ll get your arse handed to you.
Overall I found that I really enjoyed Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor it’s the first really good game set in Tolkien’s universe and I would highly recommend playing it if you have a PS4, Xbox One or PC if don’t have any of the current gen consoles yet, then wait for the last gen versions to hit in November.