Shadow of Mordor – As We Play

Format – PS4

Version – 1.01

The world is changed; I can feel it in the water, I can feel it in the earth, I can smell it in the air.

When it comes to Lord of the Rings games, that quote from Galadriel has never been more accurate. Shadow of Mordor: Middle-Earth is one of the biggest surprises this year and its Nemesis system will keep us talking for months, maybe even years to come.

Monolith aren’t newcomers to the scene. Behind the likes of Gotham City Imposters, Condemned Criminal Origins and Blood, they’ve been around the block a bit, but while the psychological tones of F.E.A.R helped to change the face of FPS games and No One Lives Forever is one of the most fondly remembered titles of its generation, their work this time around is going to allow their CV to gleam like never before.

Set between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, players assume the role of Talion, a Ranger of Gondor. Forced to watch his family slaughtered in front of him before his own life is taken, Talion and his family are victims of a sacrifice, intended to return master smith Celebrimbor to Middle Earth for Sauron’s schemes. But in an unlikely event, the summoning causes Celebrimbor to join with Talion’s body just on the cusp of death, and the Ranger inherits special powers, ultimately making him impervious to death.

Now Wraith-like in his abilities, Talion traipses Middle-Earth in order to avenge his family and stop Sauron’s forces from rising, acquiring experience as he goes and developing his skill tree to better his competency in combat.

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At the forefront of that is the game’s in-built Nemesis system, which basically allows the player to directly influence and observe the hierachy of Sauron’s army. Uruks have swarmed the landscape of Middle Earth and are now jostling for position in this New World Order under the Dark Lord. Each wants to prove his worth to Sauron and will do whatever it takes to stand above his bretheren, even if that means executing his fellow orc. There is no loyalty among Sauron’s kin, no real friendships and honestly, it’s marvellous watching it all unfold.

Which is fortunate, as the game’s story does feel severely lacking, save for an exciting cameo that will bring the biggest smile to Middle Earth fans.

Your existence in Shadow of Mordor is crucial to the evolution of Sauron’s Army. You can pick and choose your targets, and take them out in head-on collisions or when they least expect it, but lose in battle and their strength and influence will grow. The highest level an Uruk can achieve is that of Warchief. To get in-line for a promotion of that kind, they either have to be chosen as a bodyguard of the Warchief, or build up enough of a rapport as a veteran captain in order to be seen as a potential successor.

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A series of Power Struggles will eventually break out through Middle Earth, whether a Uruk has decided to prove his strength in battle by fighting against a beast of extreme strength, or he wants to assume dominance over another Captain of equal rank to prove he belongs in the upper echelons of Sauron’s army. Left to occur, the computer will randomly determine how these events play out, and you’ll see the hierachy change as a result, but more excitingly, you can directly impact these events. Have a soft spot for a particular Uruk, or hate one that continues to get the best of you, then you can absolutely structure the Power Struggle in a way that benefits an underdog, embarrasses an overconfident captain or even leads to the death of your rival.

But you can take things one step further, in a more macarbe, sadistic sense, by branding Uruks and commanding them to attack other orcs. Equally, if you brand a series of captains assigned to protect a Warchief, in the heat of battle, you can play your trump card and turn a Warchief’s bodyguards against him when he comes out to fight, producing the ultimate sneak attack. It’s genuinely as entertaining as it sounds and is exciting to the point that you hope the system will be outsourced or expanded upon in other games and licenses in the future.

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It’s clearly the highlight of the game, aside from the gorgeous visuals. However, the story is, sadly, a bit hit and miss. Talion isn’t a particular memorable protagonist but the sequence of events surrounding his quest tie in quite nicely with Tolkein lore and put an interesting twist on the events to come in Lord of the Rings.

Nice, subtle additions, such as the extensive use of the controller speaker on the Dualshock 4 when Talion enters the spirit realm, as well the story being recollected to the player during loading screens, in addition to the fluid Remote Play functionality, and exclusive DLC make a strong case to invest in Playstation 4 as the lead platform for the game. However, the quality is prevalent wherever you choose to play the game.

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The game starts to feel a tad long in the tooth after about 30 hours. You’ll feel like you’ve seen everything by that point and are ready to move on. You’ll likely be done with side-missions and the main story, and will probably just be trophy hunting by that point anyway. But it’s an engaging 30+ hours that will hook you from the get-go.

The Good Stuff

  • Beautiful locations
  • Nemesis system extraordinary
  • Great combat and levelling system

The Bad Stuff

  • Story a tad underwhelming
  • Game can run out of steam before you’re quite done with it.

Final Analysis

Shadow of Mordor was an unexpected pleasure. Arkham style combat, Assassin’s Creed style exploration, all set in one of my favourite fantasy universes. From start to finish, Monolith deliver the finest Middle Earth experience I’ve ever seen. While the game does start to show signs of fatigue sooner than you might expect, the template is magnificent and there’s plenty to keep you occupied until the late October, early November rush of deep, involving titles. You want to set off a fun, entertaining, value for money journey? Monolith has got a sword, bow and axe here to accompany you. So glad they did not decide to do one last movie cash-in with this one.

Technical Competency – 9/10

Graphic Quality – 9/10

Entertainment Value – 8/10

Sound Quality – 9/10

Network Stability – N/A

Overall Quality Grade – 9/10

About the author

Ray Willmott

Ray is the founder and editor of Expansive. He is also a former Community Manager for Steel Media, and has written for a variety of gaming websites over the years. His work can be seen on Pocket Gamer, PG.biz, Gfinity, and the Red Bull Gaming Column. He has also written for VG247, Videogamer, GamesTM, PLAY, and MyM Magazine,