Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor game review
A simple story that started with a father who wanted to write a bedtime story for his son rose up to become one of the most important books of the century. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have ignited the imaginations of thousands of minds, and if you have not read the books by JRR Tolkien, then the Peter Jackson movies are always playing on cable every other day.
Despite such a rich world of magic and beauty, it's never been able to jump the great divide into a world of video games, especially when games like Skyrim are doing so well. Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor will change all of that.
The story and world
Set loosely in the time between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor tells the story of a ranger by the name of Talion who, along with his family, is murdered by the Black Hand of Sauron while guarding the Black Gate of Mordor. However, he is revived by the wraith of the legendary Elven master-smith Celebrimbor, giving Talion Wraith-like abilities. Together, Talion seeks revenge and Celebrimbor, who has amnesia, seeks to find his lost memories.
The black land of Mordor has always been shrouded in shadow. Middle-Earth has made all the right moves in letting us explore the land of the dark lord Sauron himself. Fans of the books and the movies will love the world, which is beautiful, yet stark and barren, eroded by clans of petty warring Uruk Hai, the armies of Sauron, waiting for the dark lord, who has not yet manifested in the big red eye as seen in the Lord of the Rings.
Story wise, Middle-Earth does not reach the level of story telling of the books and movies, and the tale of Talion and Celebrimbor takes you back and forth between camps in mundane quests of stealth and action, with Gollum popping in as very weak fan-service to connect to the main stories. Apart from a few interesting tidbits, the story is Shadow of Mordor's weakest point, but it's the world, the action and the nemesis system keep this game interesting.
The basic premise is simple, the land of Mordor is open for you to explore, and there's a lot to do here. Not mincing words, Shadow of Mordor is startlingly like Assassins Creed series, with a lot more RPG elements thrown in and a battle system that plays exactly like Batman: Arkham series. In fact this mishmash of gameplay makes Shadow of Mordor a lot better than the Assassins Creed gameplay thanks to the nemesis system.
The Uruks are ugly, petty and clannish, and as you encounter these clans you will go blade-to-blade with each clan's chieftain. You, as a lone wolf deep in enemy territory, have to keep tabs between the power struggles between the clans, gain intel by terrorizing smaller Uruks to talk, save slaves, and other means. You can, then, eliminate the clans one by one, meddling in their feasts, ambushing them and generally using the chaos they sow to your advantage. This is incredibly fun. Sure it does get repetitive after a while, but it is addictive.
Every baddie chieftain is dynamically generated with gravelly British and Australian voices that will make you positively loathe them. Everytime you beat one and he runs away, only to be back with more of his friends. However, if you are killed by either one of them, they gain power points and get more formidable; you can either choose to take revenge or your friend on the Playstation Network, Steam or Xbox Gold can take revenge on them for you. If you are killed by a lackey, he gets to be the chieftain, usually with pretty funny names like Lice-Head. This creates a system that makes you keep coming back for more, and is best played in short bursts. Now the Nemesis system is in full throttle on next-gen consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One as well as PCs, but lacks that level of detail on the PS3 and Xbox 360.
As a ranger, like Aragorn from Lord of the Rings, you have plenty of awesome sword moves; couple that with Celebrimbors's wraith abilities and you have a formidable battle system. As you fight, you gain a multitude of points, power points or ability points as well as weapon ability dropped by chieftains. This is a bit overwhelming at first, with a lot of icons and menus for you to wade through. Once you figure it out though, you can power Talions attacks with furious speed and critical hits.
The battle system is superb. Where instead of mashing, you have to tap your button presses to each strike, alternating between counters, throwing daggers and dodges. Mastering this system is very easy, and Talion just flows from enemy to enemy, slicing, dicing, cutting off heads to kicking. So much fun and requires all your skill and concentration.
Mordor has a lot of things for you to do — apart from story missions, there are sword and bow missions as well a lot of gameplay from just rambling about killing Uruk. You can also hunt the various fauna around, which consists of monster dogs to monster monsters, and you can also jump on their backs and ride them and cause havoc through a mini game. However, things can get repetitive fast, so it's best to intersperse this with a bit of story and a bit of Nemesis missions.
One of the biggest gripes about Shadow of Mordor is the controls, which becoming annoying at times. Then there's the fact that Talion gets stuck on the weirdest of things. When running away, Talion stubbornly gets stuck on tables or walls, where instead of climbing, he goes into some pose. Also, on the controller the run button is mapped to the button closest to the right thumbstick that controls the camera, so when you're navigating settlements or ruins, it's very tough to move the camera around and run at the same time.
Also, going against the Lord of the Rings tradition, which is generally moderate violence, Shadow of Mordor is very violent, with a generous mount of heads lopped off as Uruks are cut up nice and fast.
Graphics and gameplay
Mordor has a fading beauty to it, but does seem desolate and barren, with rocky outcrops and lots of ruins. While the environments do look great, what stands out is the superb detail on Talion and the Uruk. There's so much detail in those ugly beings, thus highlighting the texture impressively. The developers, Monolith, have worked closely with Peter Jackson's Weta studio, and the result is astounding, especially the ridiculous armour and outfits the chieftains parade about in. Shadow of Mordor looks stunning on any console, and if you have a 6GB VRAM graphic card on your PC, the Ultra Textures are a sight to behold.
Finally a Lord of the Rings game done right. Shadow of Mordor is a fantastic game, that will last you quite a while, and the Nemesis system will make you keep coming back for more. Highly recommended on beefy gaming PCs or next-gen consoles.
Rs 3,499 for PS3 and Xbox One
Rs 2,499 for PC