So, let me preface this by saying I love Lord of the Rings, and my mom sitting my sister and I in her lap and reading us The Hobbit coupled with my parents weaving us Spider Stories and telling us folklore from all over the world are why I became a writer.
Now, I don’t want to be a “mean girl” reviewer, but, I’m not cutting this game any slack just for being big budget, moderately pretty, and from a much beloved universe. I intend to tell it like it is from my experiences thus far, and update more posts as I go.
And yes, we do still have interviews on the way, but, we’re dividing our time between that, these new game updates, import game reviews, and a secret project we’ll reveal more on later, so…yeah. Being the only writer, my hands are gonna be kinda full for a while!
So, Shadow of Mordor, or as I like to call it Ranger’s Creed-sylum Stravanganza stars “Discount Aragorn” (we’ll also accept Cut Rate Aragorn) out for revenge after his family gets executed pretty much because he doesn’t listen to anyone. The opening reveals this to you by having you participate in a flashback within a flashback within a flashback that swaps between the three flashbacks randomly and then you’re in the not present but not flashback and then you’re in the present.
You get sacrificed by an antagonist that looks suspiciously like the British golden mask killer from Ninja Gaiden 3, and your soul is bound to an ancient elven king. I’m…not really sure why because from what I can tell so far this pretty much just served to teach me ghost powers and spirit magic, so…he…went out of his way to make me deadlier…
Now, as much fun as I’m poking at it, the story is actually quite interesting. The voice acting is great, the music is insanely phenom, and the story itself caught my attention enough that I’m going to keep playing even though I’m not really having fun.
So after you’re introduced to all this you decide that you have to find the dude what cursed you so you can get good and uncursed so you can die and be with your family or whatever. You do this by playing Assassin’s Arkham in a big ol’ open world.
Now, I don’t believe that every game has to do something completely different, new or original to be good, or fun. But, if you’re going to imitate another game, especially another game that freaking defined what it does and redefined an entire genre, you need to do it well.
If you’ve played Assassin’s Creed, any of the Arkham games or any fantasy hack and slash game, you’ve played Shadow of Mordor. Combat is Batman by numbers right down to the parry marker above enemy’s heads and the crowd takedown maneuvers, but the problem is that the combat is exceedingly stilted and staccato. Don’t expect the quick, fluid, beautifully crafted movements you’ve come to love in Batman; they are not here.
Instead, Not Aragorn pretty much jerks his arm to and fro in wide arcs that look more like he’s either dancing or trying to put out a fire. This is in stark contrast to the incredibly stylish execution moves and stealth kills, and for a game in which you do literally nothing beyond walk, skulk and stab things, you’d think they would’ve put a lot more effort into the animations for I Want To Be Aragorn’s movements.
Also, not gonna lie, I have no idea what the main character’s name is…
So, you have your standard attack, counter, dodge and stun moves, but nowhere near as well crafted as Batman’s. You’ve got skill trees, somewhat confusingly separated by experience and what I’m just going to call mana points because I also don’t remember what they are called, and from there you unlock more interesting moves and abilities, so, that’s a plus.
When you aren’t walking around stabbing things, you can skulk in the shadows and stab them. You can also interrogate foes like Batman as long as you make sure you don’t accidentally kill the interrogation guy before you take everyone else out. You interrogate people by holding them and pressing X by the way; the game doesn’t teach you that to my knowledge.
There’s lots of sidequests in the game. You unlock more areas and quests by using forge points, which is basically the same thing as climbing a high tower in Assassin’s Creed, except with hitting a magical ghost anvil with a magical ghost hammer because I don’t know (though it does look really cool).
Aside from that, that’s pretty much Shadow of Mordor in a nutshell. Go do sidequests that teach you lore and unlock new moves (they revolve around killing people or finding things), kill orcs, manipulate orcs into killing each other, try not to get eaten by lion thingies, and take over strongholds.
The game employs the Nemesis System, wherein you collect intel on orc captains and find the best ways to kill them. Sometimes it’s best to run away even though they call you mean things and make you feel bad about yourself; if you die all of the orcs in their faction level up a lot and then it’s even harder to kill them. You can get around this by manipulating the world in your favor, and apparently at some point If Only I Was Aragon gets to lead an orc army, so that’s a nifty thing I’ll be looking forward to.
So, to wrap up these impressions let’s break it down thusly:
+ Beautiful music
+ Interesting story
+ Nemesis system sorta helps break up the monotony
+ Harder difficulty than I’ve come to expect from most “Triple A” big budget titles
– Ugly graphics (played on a PS4)
– Stilted, staccato combat
– Big world; nothing in it but things to stab and artifacts to collect
– Weak sound effects that serve to make the already weak combat stand out more so
– A protagonist that so far is stuck in the “We all want to just make rangers” pit that most LoTR heroes find themselves in
– Character deaths that we’re supposed to care about without any time to feel like we should care about them
So is Shadow of Mordor a bad game? No. No it’s not. What it is, however, is mediocre, and a mish-mash of gameplay engines that we’ve already experienced in titles that have used it far better. There’s a lot of Creed, Arkham and Far Cry in this game, but none of it was given anywhere near enough love to stand out or even feel all that fun to interact with thus far.
The Nemesis System is a breath of fresh air, and it helps draw some attention away from the fact that you’re in a big brown world doing what you’ve already done in countless other action rpg’s that were more lovingly crafted than this. I feel like, at the end of the day, Mordor is a game that will sell far more on the name of it’s mythos than it will on its own merits.
Should you buy it? It’s not a bad game; if you’re looking for something to play, love Lord of the Rings, and are generally a fan of big budget action games then there’s something to be experienced for sure. But, I just don’t feel like that experience has proven to be worth my $60 yet. If Mordor were a movie, I’d be hyped to go see it. As it stands, however, I wouldn’t have minded waiting for a price drop before picking it up.