Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Open World Action Adventure
PC(Reviewed), PS3, PS4, X360, XB1
October 3, 2014
₹999(PC), ₹2999(PS3, X360), ₹3499(PS4, XB1)
In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie is set an untold tale of defiance of Sauron’s will. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor allows one to make up that tale and flesh it out. For the Tolkien fans, this saga takes place after the return of Sauron to Mordor from being defeated at Dol Guldur by the White Council. It’s set between the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings and there are nods to events from both books (or movies for those of you who aren’t into books).
In Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, your protagonist is a Ranger of Gondor from the Black Gate whose reasons for being there are rather unjust as you might learn if you listen to the dialogues playing at the loading screens. The Game truly begins with your death and your body being resurrected by a wraith being bound to it. This Wraith is the vehicle to explain all your newfound powers and abilities that will soon have you wreaking havoc through the ranks of Sauron’s fledging army of Orcs.
Wreaking havoc in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is quite easy since you can kill every orc you can find with either your sword, your bow or your dagger. The bow is limited in its ammunition that can be scavenged from the environment or harvested by draining enemies. Weapons can also have their stats improved by assigning Runes to them which can give different perks whose effectiveness is determined by the level of the Rune. One must unlock additional combat abilities like counter attacks, stunning opponents, throwing daggers and so on through the use of ability points and progress through the main quest line.
Combat in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is quite fun and can be punishing early on when you have few abilities unlocked. However, you will soon find yourself experimenting with all the possibilities during a fight to make the encounter more interesting. It’s also a good survival strategy since enemies can wise up to you repeating the same few moves. The annoyance comes from its strange Quick Time Event (QTE) system that has you move the cursor in the middle of a circle and then press the highlighted key. And you need to repeat this QTE so many times in the game that you will soon come to hate it. The game will let you contest two of these QTEs when your health is low before it finally kills you.
Getting killed in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor might actually be the most rewarding action in the game thanks to the Nemesis system. The Orc that killed you (Yes, it has to be an orc, any other deaths are a waste) increases in power and is promoted in Sauron’s Army. This Orc can then vie for power with other Captains in the Army for increasing his own power and influence. He can kill you a few more times to gain that power as well. You can send him a death threat to increase his power too. And why should you willingly be making an enemy that much harder to beat you may ask. The answer is simply that the higher the level of the Orc captain you kill, the better will be the level of the Rune he drops on his death. Also you gain his power to unlock more abilities. Another nice touch of this system is that Captains that have been killed or have escaped will bear scars from your last battle if resurrected. It seems decapitation or Head explosion is the only way to ensure a Captain stays dead for good.
There are three tiers of Captains in each of the game’s two areas, above whom are the most powerful orcs, the Warchiefs. Encounters with Warchiefs must be triggered by meeting certain conditions and they are a mission unto themselves. The second area of the game will surprise you by being a stark contrast of the first. The contrast also extends to the gameplay mechanics which get turned on their head in that where you were trying to kill every Uruk in your line of sight, you now seek to dominate them and make them part of your personal army. This difference completely changes your play style and approach towards the game and partially resets the learning curve, so that you’re rediscovering the game. This switch is one of the best aspects of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and really needs to be lauded.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor gives you a lot of freedom to play it, but the excellence of the open world is marred by the relatively weak boss fights in the story missions. This issue extends to the final fight which is simply an anticlimactic QTE fest and really sours your good memories of the rest of the game. The game allows free running and parkour, and features some of the best mounts in an open world game. Caragors and Graugs are quite fearsome beasts to control and ride, and these can make the game feel almost too easy at times. While you can clear an area of enemies pretty quickly, especially if you kill stealthily, do not expect the area to stay clear as you will soon find more enemies come looking for the ones you just killed. Sauron has a near infinite supply of orcs and you can’t kill or dominate them all.
Stealth is an approach that is greatly encouraged by Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor since it lets you kill enemies instantly and move about undisturbed in hostile territory. There are plenty of bushes for you to hide in as well as plenty of climbing opportunities to sneak by overhead. The Wraith lets you spot enemies around you by using the wraith world and this is useful to tag the captains in your surroundings, who can spring a nasty surprise on you if left undetected. You can also find informants who will reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the Uruk captains and Warchiefs as well as their identity. One can also similarly dominate any orc to glean the identity of Sauron’s rank bearers and to send death threats to them.
The world of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is full of interesting flora and fauna which also double as collectibles of sort. All flora can be consumed to restore your health and form part of the Survival Challenges. The fauna make up the Hunting Challenges and these include the mountable Caragors and Graugs. Other collectibles include artefacts that trigger memories of their users and Elven Glyphs, both of which can only be spotted in the wraith world. There are side quests that let you improve your weapons and rescue enslaved humans. Curiously the game seems to ignore the canon of the books that Sauron also had human allies in his armies and portrays all humans as either slaves or rebels if you disregard the three main bosses.
The musical score in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor isn’t quite as epic as the soundtracks of the movies and it’s rather forgettable. Chants of the One Ring don’t possess the same grandeur as the themes that define the notable events in the movies. On the other hand the animations and voice acting are really well done, especially the recreation of that pesky little former hobbit, Gollum. If anything marks this out as a game set in the Tolkien fantasy, it is Gollum. His mannerisms and style of speech are done well enough to lend a stamp of authenticity to the character.
If you thought that Talion was the hero of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, you would be gravely mistaken. Just as Talion is a hollow shell for the Wraith, he is just as much a hollow character in the game. The Wraith, his powers and the discovery of his identity and motivations form the crux of the game. He is the true hero of the tale for it is because of him that Talion can do all these things in the first place. But in the end, both are doomed to haunt and hunt in the land of Mordor where the shadows lie.
+Nemesis System lets you create a worthy foe
+Fun Gameplay that lets you choose your own play style
-Weak Boss Fights in main quest line
-Lots of QTEs