We mentioned in the past that this game was the first that we would have two reviewers on the same game. The policy was simple, the two main reviewers would play the game at their own pace and not discuss the game until both had finished. Well this week’s game, Shadow of Mordor, was done by myself and Draken.
Shadow of Mordor is an Action game with attack/counter/finish combo system and a few RPG mechanics. The combat was pretty straight forward however there were a few abilities added here and there that change the way you fought vastly. The base of the combat however is that of a simple attack, counter and finish moves. As you do various moves of attacking and countering you increase a hit counter that at 8x (5x with an ability) you can use an execution move that will either kill normal orcs or do substantial damage to a captain/warchief. These are necessary as without them it takes a long time to take out 10-20 orcs that can surround you. They are very useful against captains as the move, in most cases, knock their health down a 1/4 allowing you to either finish them off much faster or brand/control them. The combat itself was pretty easy which isn’t in itself a problem especially if the combat can vary as much as Shadow of Mordor did with environment, using your bow etc. Despite the repetitiveness of the game, it didn’t feel like the same thing over and over again. The Combat was fluid and a lot of fun.
The RPG elements in the game added various abilities to Talion but can only be unlocked with either XP or Mirian(money). The tree that can be unlocked with XP are the main new skills that Talion can learn including quick mount and control Caragors/Graugs, Shadow strike, one ability that lowers your hit counter so you can get executes faster, an ability that allows Talion to do two executes when having the proper 8x/5x counter and many others. One annoying thing however is the only way to get rows to unlock in this tree is to cause power struggles among the Uruk captains and warchiefs. So in the first part of the game I had 5 or 6 unlocks but I couldn’t unlock those abilities till about 4 hours into the game. Also there are a few abilities like the branding and the mounting of Caragors that can’t even be unlocked until you complete the proper mission to get them. You can’t even brand the Uruks until about 3/4 the way through the story. The other tree is unlocked using Mirian and this tree has six basic columns that include health, increasing elf shot, increasing your focus and increasing the runes for the sword, dagger and bow. Those runes drop after you kill a captain or a warchief and do various things that increase based on the level of the rune. Those modifications include items like increased damage, focus recovery on headshots, etc. These are especially useful as it allows the player to figure out how he wants to play and can assign the runes accordingly.
Now the most advertised feature of this game was its Nemesis System. The idea behind this system is that you would fight Uruk captains or warchiefs that would essentially become your nemesis in that they would grow stronger if they killed you or would try to get revenge if you severely hurt them. Some Uruks wouldn’t die and depending on how you killed them or they killed you they would come back and remember how that happened. Draken himself died a separate 10 times to one captain to see if he would say anything the same but each time was different and he specifically referred to the previous death every time. In my case I had a captain that was afraid of Caragors and in the process of running I ended up killing him with fire. After he came back his face was all bandaged up and he stayed like that for the rest of the game. Before that however I killed him a few times and he did the same to me, each time making him stronger. The beauty of this system is that in the end I would have to face my specific nemesis in a battle with his fellow warchiefs in order to get to the Tower of Sauron. The system itself has a lot of potential in a vast number of games like Assassin’s Creed, Pokemon and just about any RPG or MMO allowing for a very personal feel to the game. The system was very raw and requires a lot more work but oh is the potential there.
The events of Shadow of Mordor occur between the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings but before Sauron and his orcs take over Mordor itself. So Mordor has yet to become a vast desolate ruin but at the very end you can tell that it has begun. The main character Talion is a Ranger that was assigned to the black gate because he killed a high ranking Gondor official. Because of this his wife and son both live there with him along with many other rangers. Soon after his son is around 14-18, the Uruks attack the Black Gate and end up killing Talion’s wife, son and even himself. However Talion is cursed in that he can’t die and is bonded himself with the great ring smith of the 2nd age, Celebrimbor which means “Hand of Silver” in Sindarin (this is important later). Talion discovered that the Black Numeroreans or the subhumans that side with Sauron are responsible for his family’s death. More specifically the Black Numerorean Captains that were responsible were the Black Hand, Hammer and Tower of Sauron. While Talion is looking for revenge, they are also discovering who Celebrimbor was and how he was involved in the rings of power as he forgot himself. Later in the game Talion gets the ability to brand orcs which put them under his control. They are branded with what looks to be a bright silver hand on the side of their face. This was so that Talion has an army at his side in order to fight the Black Captains and prevent Sauron from taking over Mordor.
There are a few familiar characters that are in the other source material like Gollum and Celebrimbor but for the most part they didn’t touch a whole lot of other main characters or even minor ones. However when most new stories are made there are a few plot holes that don’t fit in line with the original source material. In Shadow of Mordor it shows Celebrimbor aiding Sauron in completing his ring however this never happens in the books or at least it never mentions it. What really happens is Celebrimbor is approached while living in Eregion (an elvish realm) by an unexpected Vanya visitor “Annatar” or the “Lord of Gifts”. This Annatar was there in order to guide and instruct Celebrimbor on how to make rings to benefit all of Middle-Earth but it was actually Sauron in disguise. In the end Celebrimbor still made the 9 rings for men and the 7 for the dwarfs but just like Sauron, he forged his on secret 3 rings for the elfs. After Celebrimbor discovered Sauron’s true intentions for the rings he hid the 16 originals but was tortured until he revealed them and then was killed shortly after. Nowhere does it mention that he gave assistance to helping forge the ring of power.
The other hole would be did Celebrimbor ever come back and assist a dead man (which Tolkien himself said that only Beren came back to life, no other men did) in getting his revenge and trying to stop Sauron. The books never said he didn’t but they never said he did either. Monolith did consult with Middle-Earth Enterprises and Peter Jackson to make sure their story followed canon as much as possible however there is always the chance that a few source material toes might have gotten stepped on in the process. It seems, based on the ending, that there might be an attempt at a sequel. As it gets closer and closer to the events of The Fellowship of the Ring it is going to get more and more difficult to craft a story that doesn’t violate the source material in some fashion.
Now the graphics in this game are absolutely fantastic. Mordor is rich and pretty accurate to what both the movies and books depicted. The texture quality is solid and if you are playing on PC there are a bevy of options to choose from. However the Ultra textures on PC do require at least 6 gigs of vram, so unless you have a special 780, Titan or any AMD equivalent you are only going to be able to run this on high texture quality. I tried myself with a 780 TI (3 gigs of vram) and at the time a 2600k i7 and my frame rate went from 60+ on high textures to around 20-30 on ultra. So it definitely made some difference and looked better. I would imagine Monolith should improve that over time. The characters and Uruks all look incredibly unique and detailed making if feel all that more impressive. This all the more impressive when you learn that the engine used in game is from 2005, the LithTech Jupiter EX with Nemesis System.
The sound, music and voice acting is all superb as well. Talion is voiced by Troy Baker who has slowly made a name for himself in this industry including great roles like Booker Dewitt in Bioshock Infinite and Joel in Last of Us. Along with Troy Liam O’Brien captures Gollum perfectly and Alastair Duncan creates a fine depiction of Celebrimbor. The music also has the same feel that Howard Shore created during the series.
Overall this game is fantastic and a nice surprise in a packed October of games. It could easily be one of the best games of the year and a surprise at that as many held their breath on whether or not it could be good. Really the only complaint is despite the main story being kind of short and 100% taking about 25-30 hours their isn’t much replay value. There is another mode called competitive mode where you try to kill Uruk captains as fast as possible but that is about it. It feels like this was another game that had content stripped from it to make DLC and that is unfortunate. We seriously hope that that DLC adds some significant replay to the game overall. But despite all that the game is a lot of fun and well worth it for Lord of the Rings fans or anyone for that matter.