Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Platforms: PC, Playstation 3 & 4, Xbox 360 and One
Release date: September 30th, 2014 (Current Gen) November 18th, 2014 (Last Gen)
There is a lot in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor that could make Christians uncomfortable. There is a surplus of blood, a couple of children are killed in the storyline, dark magic chanting, hideous baddies that are intended to make your skin crawl, and beheading enemies as you battle them (making their heads roll around the level). The phrases you overhear orcs using when talking about torturing slaves can be unnerving. Some people (such as myself) may feel the need to play this game with the light on.
The story takes place during the time between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, when Sauron’s forces are preparing for his return. You are Talion, a ranger that guards Middle Earth from the scourge of Mordor. To prepare Middle Earth for Sauron’s coming, the Black Hand comes and helps the orcs take over the dark land. He sacrifices Talion’s family to aid in Sauron’s return, and Talion becomes a wraith in the process. Endowed with his new abilities, the ranger wreaks havoc on the dark denizens of Mordor, though all he really seeks is to join his family in death and be rid of the curse of being a wraith.
If you aren’t familiar with Tolkien lore, a wraith is someone who is possessed by a spirit who is tormented in death by events that took place at their passing (or at least that is the case with Talion). The wraiths in The Lord of the Rings were the men who succumbed to the temptation of their rings of power and were led into undeath by Sauron with his mastery over their rings with the One Ring. In Talion’s case, he is possessed by Celebrimbor, an elf who plays a large part in the story of the rings.
[toggle title=”SPOILER”]In Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Celebrimbor is credited with creating the elven rings of power as well as helping Sauron craft the One Ring through manipulation. In the books, he is only credited with creating the elven rings, and Sauron is the only one who gets credited with the creation of the One Ring. Celebrimbor also steals the One Ring from Sauron and even leads a battle against him in the game. This isn’t told of in Tolkien’s books. [/toggle]
By touching items from his ghostly counterpart’s past, Talion gains new abilities from Celebrimbor’s memories. The ranger comes across a few people that he forms temporary partnerships with as he battles the Dark Lord’s forces and mitigates the power of his return.
[toggle title=”SPOILER”]Talion’s work is even credited with being the reason Sauron is only able to return in the form of an eye. [/toggle]
Talion is everything you could want in a main protagonist. He is honorable, unrelenting, and fearless. While a good portion of the game can be spent sneaking around and attacking enemy forces from the shadows, during the story sequences and important parts of the game, he doesn’t back down when the odds seem innumerable; he challenges seemingly undefeatable foes head on. One of the best sequences in the game is when one of the most intimidating characters you face is surrounded by orcs; he commands them to “Bring me the Gravewalker’s head!” Talion steps out in front of him and says, “Claim it yourself.” Straight adrenaline rush!
A 30,000 foot view of this game could be to describe it as Assassin’s Creed in The Lord of the Rings world, but that doesn’t do the game justice. While the gameplay mechanics are similar to Assassin’s Creed and the Batman Arkham series, the storyline, Talion’s personality and character development, and the in-game activities bring so much more to the table.
As you level, you are able to unlock abilities in your ranger talent tree (such as combat and trapping abilities) and your wraith talent tree (such as manipulating baddies and slowing time). You eventually attain powers that allow you to teleport behind enemies to gain a better vantage point, drain power from them (and life with runes), and even force them to fight for you! Imagine how helpful that would have been for Ezio when he was surrounded by mobs of Templars!
You can do side-quests to gather currency, purchase rune slots, and make your weapons better and your abilities more effective. You collect runes by killing orc captains and imbuing them to your weapons. This can do anything from increase damage, to replenish spent energies by completing certain actions.
The nemesis system really adds to the sustainability of this game. Orcs remember you from previous battles (if you let them live) and call you out on things from before. For example: if you battle Krùg and get overwhelmed, forcing you to flee from the battle, the next time you fight him, he may say something like, “Are you going to run away again this time, Manswine?” How. Awesome. Is. That?! The only way the game saves is through autosave, because when you “die” the orc that killed you moves up in the hierarchy. In fact, everything you do to affect the orc hierarchy causes a complete shift. When you kill one orc captain, it may cause a series of events that makes a few other orcs kill off some other captains. Orcs frequently do this to move themselves up the ladder of command.
The game is mainly free-roam and only really gets linear during missions. You can choose to seek out orc captains, rescue slaves, or complete story missions. By completing weapon missions, you forge the legends of the weapons; and, by unlocking Celebrimbor’s memories of the weapons; make them more effective as well as more visually appealing.
The one real flaw in the gameplay lies primarily with the last-gen systems. The game was created with all of these cool features and terrific graphics with the current-gen consoles in mind. In favor of keeping all of the cool features for past-gen consoles, the game is a little large for them. This can cause some serious delays in the gameplay and cause the system to freeze periodically. The loading time to come out of any pause screen can be up to a minute long. While these things made the game a little frustrating at times, I still couldn’t keep myself from playing it every night. I don’t get a lot of free time, and for me to willingly give it to this game so often means a lot.
The graphics for this game are great. Talion looks hardcore and the orcs can be terrifying. When you enter wraith mode, the mists that rush by you look fantastic as well. The sound effects are exactly as you would imagine for using wraith abilities and the grunting and snarling of orcs. I can’t comment much on the music, as I had to keep it off most of the time to help the game load on my PS3.
You can purchase Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor by clicking the image below:
The Bottom Line
While the game's use of dark themes may cause you to want to put the controller down, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor’s gameplay simply won’t let you. You’ll find yourself constantly wanting to return to Mordor to slay some vile orcs and make them do your bidding. This game is a must-have and beckons a sequel!