“Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor,” the new game from Monolith Productions, is one of the most refreshing experiences to have in current gaming.
“Shadow of Mordor” takes place sometime between “The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The exact time frame isn’t given, allowing the narrative the creative freedom it needs to play around with some familiar and obscure elements of Tolkien’s work without undermining the books or the movies.
In “Shadow of Mordor” you play as Talion, a ranger of Gondor, who is spiritually trapped in Mordor after he is bound to a mysterious elf wraith. Since he cannot die, Talion embarks on a quest for revenge, which includes chopping down as many orcs as possible and disrupting the power of Sauron.
The storytelling in “Shadow of Mordor” is OK, but nothing exceptional. Every character other than Talion is present for only a short time before they are whisked away from the plot to further the story. The narrative, though, isn't the main appeal. The best moments come when your own stories play out while fighting the orc captains and playing around in the world.
Gameplay-wise, “Shadow of Mordor” is essentially the lovechild of the recent “Batman” games and the “Assassin’s Creed” series. By blending third-person stealth-action with a heavy-combat system, the first few hours of the game felt very similar to both franchises. After a few hours, when the unique abilities and upgrades are added, the experience becomes absolutely fun. The amount of freedom and variety allowed to the player is what makes this game so great.
Since Talion is essentially a walking corpse, he reenters the game with time progressing, which solves the most common problem with games. In every other game death restarts the process with the player having more knowledge and experience, but now the enemy gets better once you die.
The best concept that “Shadow of Mordor” has developed is the nemesis system. Scattered around the map of Mordor are captains and Warchiefs of Sauron’s army. Every captain is a more powerful version of a common enemy, with their own personality, strengths, weaknesses and agendas. At various points in the game, you will be required to remove these captains to weaken the chain of command. The catch, is that any enemy that kills you in battle will level up within the ranks and remember you when you meet again.
Even if you were not a fan of the movies or cared to read the books, “Shadow of Mordor” is still worth your time. It tows the line between not overindulging in the lore of Tolkien’s work and serving a broader audience that doesn't care for all of the fantasy jargon. The similarities “Shadow of Mordor” has lifted from other games is obvious, but what it does in forwarding those ideas is what makes it special.