By now you’ve heard all the comparisons this game has to offer: “It’s like Assassin’s Creed and Batman, but like, with orcs…” You’ll even see these comparisons made by myself further on, but while people may call Shadow of Mordor a “clone”, I can’t help but feel it takes those elements, builds upon them and defines itself as a spectacular title in it’s own right.
Shadow of Mordor comes with a story you haven’t heard before in the universe of LotR, well why would you? It takes place between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and is a seperate story which respects all that we know and love. It’s focus is a lone ranger named Talion who kept watch over the Black Gate of Mordor. Of course just having a game with a dude watching a gate would be no fun at all, so unfortunately for Talion, his family serves as story fodder through their brutal murders during an attack on the gate by the wicked soldiers of Sauron, who at this point is busy building up his power once again. Not content to stop with his family, these ne’er do wells also happen to slice Talion’s throat, but, shock horror, he gets bound to this wraith dude who gives him some awesome powers so that he can go on and get revenge.
So basically, a revenge tale. Easy enough to get on board with. No spoilers here, but our wraith’s story is pretty damn cool.
Now going back to those comparisons I mentioned…Let’s be perfectly honest and up-front here: If you’ve played Assassin’s Creed or Batman (the Arkham games that is, not Lego Batsy), you’ll feel pretty at home with the overall gameplay mechanics. If you’re going to have a game with a similar style to existing franchises though, those two aren’t a bad place to draw inspiration from and the open world mechanics that it takes from both (as well as whatever other latest open world Ubisoft franchise) make Shadow of Mordor a joy to play based on that alone.
But what makes this game unique? The AI system the developers have dubbed the Nemesis system. The Nemesis system is what ensures every playthrough of the game will be unique by randomly generating unique Uruk enemies which each have their own personality, rank and standing in the Uruk social structure. That’s just the beginning though as these enemies do not remain static, they dynamically level, die or engage in their own missions based on what actions you take through Talion – even his death.
At first these Nemeses will be unknown to you, but an interesting aspect of the game is allowing for the interrogation of orcs, if you can isolate them that is or else you’ll find yourself in a rather sticky situation, which will give you tidbits of information about members of the shadowy lineup. You’ll learn their name, their ranking and standing within the social heirarchy or, occasionally, a rivalry which may exist with other Nemeses. And you know what? If you take too long to kill these Nemeses, you might be experiencing quite a few deaths as they are are leveling up and improving their strengths just like you are.
This system, more than any other in the game, is what really gives it life and makes you want to continue playing long past the initial excitement over the main story has fallen away (which unfortunately isn’t as long as you’d like). It makes the world feel alive in a way many other open world games haven’t been able to achieve and in the future other developers should really take a page out of Monolith’s book and pay them the biggest compliment of using the idea in their creations.
If I have to criticise the Nemesis system in any way, it would have to be the short cutscenes which play for each generated enemy when you’re within their area of influence. As someone who is not the biggest fan of unskippable cutscenes on the best of days, these repetitive 10 second scenes can get old pretty quickly.
Besides this Nemesis system though, there are still the scripted story missions. These scripted missions have a certain amount of cohesion with the system, but doesn’t rely on it entirely – especially later on in the game when all players will have similar experiences the closer you get to the final boss battles. As I mentioned above, the scripted story part of the game isn’t the longest out there, and it’s actually the side-missions that provide the bulk of the gameplay and an invaluable source of XP. I’m actually left wondering about their legitimacy as ‘side-missions’ considering how much of the game these missions make up and how necessary you might find them on your journey to becoming the ultimate version of our poor dead ranger.
It’s not all about the gameplay for people these days though. Developers can no longer get away with a game that plays fantastically while looking and sounding like a potato.
Now, during the first story scenes, I’ll admit to being a bit underwhelmed by what I was looking at. There was a bit of an ‘eh, I guess it’s pretty’ factor. But then as we got closer to the characters, there was an immediate thought of, ‘Man, that dude has some awesomely textured hair.’ It was at this point that I started paying attention. The world and characters are incredibly detailed, from the smallest plant to the silkiest strands of Talions immaculately styled hair. Combined with the creamy smooth animation, you’re left with the feeling that you can’t really begin to fault the production quality at all. In fact, it can at times play a contributing factor to a “just five more minutes of exploring” mindset.
Shadow of Mordor’s crowning achievement though has to be in it’s sound design. The score feels right at home within the Lord of the Rings universe i.e. it’s epic as all hell, and the voice work is the absolute cherry on the top. Troy Baker’s work on Talion makes you wonder what else he can do with his mouth, but it’s really Liam O’Brien and his portrayal of Gollum that makes you sit back and really appreciate it all. You’ll be forgiven for thinking they had actually gotten Andy Serkis in to the studio to do this small bit of work, it’s just that damn good.
All in all, it’s been a grand old time with the game. While the stealth mechanics of the game do mean that it won’t be the ideal time waster for everyone, those who do enjoy the game style will find it a glorious way to kill some free time. And fans of Lord of the Rings? The nature of the story won’t leave you feeling betrayed and ready to take to the internet with your pitchforks. With all that said, we’re giving it a solid…
You can look forward to more Shadow of Mordor action this week as we’ll be uploading Tara’s initial experience with the game to YouTube in the next couple of days and, making sure we keep the most exciting news for last, there will also be the Two Fat Gamers Shadow of Mordor stream on Saturday where Richard will fail live and in colour. Make sure you tune in to nAvTV on twitch between 1pm and 3pm on Saturday to stand a chance to win a couple of dandy prizes, and check out the stream announcement post for more info.
Reviewed on: PC
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