Nemesis system is fantastic
Graphics are phenomenal on next gen systems
World is beautiful and expansive, yet small and convenient to get around.
Variety of ways to play makes the game continuously fun.
Graphics aren't quite as good on last gen platforms but are still acceptable.
Game is rather short, but that's the standard with sandbox games.
Story is rather inconsequential. It's not really bad, it's just sorta...there.
Let me preface by saying that I don’t necessarily dislike The Lord of the Rings, it just hasn’t ever really appealed to me. Shadow of Mordor is technically a Lord of the Rings game, but you don’t need any real knowledge of the series to enjoy it and you could easily get by with a very basic understanding of the events that take place. Even with absolutely no knowledge of the series, but a love of fantasy, you would enjoy this game. I actually don’t know how a fan of the series would react to this. I’m sure they’d find more inconsistencies than I would have, or possibly enjoy the story more with a more thorough knowledge of the implications of what’s going on. Maybe someone who isn’t a fan of Lord of the Rings might be able to enjoy it more, because they wouldn’t have to force it into the timeline?
OK. Enough preface. Now onto the review.
Graphics and Audio
I personally played this on the Playstation 4, and as far as graphics go, it’s phenomenal. At the same time, I’ve heard from friends and other people that if you were to play it on a last gen console, it wouldn’t look nearly as good. That isn’t to say this game is gonna look bad if you were to play it on a PS3 or 360, but I think it actually says more about the power that next gen consoles bring to the table, and how this game makes perfect use of them.
One thing that really stood out to me though, was the environment in this game. When it’s raining, you see your cloak glisten, you see the water running down the walls as you climb them, you hear your footsteps splash in puddles. It’s this level of detail that really impresses me about the environment.
As for the music and sounds of the game, this part didn’t impress me nearly as much. I’m almost done with the main story, and none of the audio has really stood out to me. It isn’t bad…just sorta…bland, generic, or not noteworthy in my opinion.
Probably as inconsequential as the sounds for this game, the story does very little to move the game forward. Without spoiling anything serious, the main character Talion (or Lithariel if you choose to play as a woman) has their family slaughtered, and now you’re cursed and you gotta kill the people who did this to you. The whole “My family is killed and now I need vengeance” is so overplayed, I mean they do it in God of War, Fable, hell even BATMAN. Arguably, Talion’s objective isn’t purely vengeance, he also wants to be freed of this curse that won’t let him die, but it’s clear when he encounters the men who did this to him, that he’s pissed off and wants revenge.
As far as fitting into the Lord of the Rings story, I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to take place between the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, due to certain characters appearing, or certain events having not taken place yet. I don’t really blame them for having a relatively bland story, as it’s hard to fit a new story into the canon of two already established stories. They can’t edit the future, or change the past to work for them, so they have to tread lightly when writing.
Oh man, the gameplay is so much fun, I don’t even know where to start. To give you an idea, it plays very similarly to the Arkham games, or Assassin’s Creed, where you stealth around, jump on people, do side missions, and if you’re surrounded by a bunch of guys who want to kill you, you press the attack button to build up your combo, and you press counter before you’re hit. If you get a high enough combo of hits without being hit yourself (around 8 hits) then you can do an execution, which automatically kills someone. You also have a plethora of powers and abilities which make killing large groups of people easier, but only a few of these are available to you at the beginning. In fact one of my bigger complaints about the game is how when you’re just getting started, if you find yourself in a huge crowd of enemies, you’re just dead. There’s almost no way to take them out effectively. Unlike Assassin’s Creed, if you perform a counter, it just does a little bit of damage and dazes the opponent, it’s not the instant kill we’re so accustomed to. But considering how many ways you have to kill later in the game, it’s not that big of a deal.
I should mention that the violence in this game is pretty gratuitous, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The fights feel as if they’re straight out of the movies, and they are incredibly fun to watch (assuming you’re winning).
Now when you inevitably do die, the Orc that killed you becomes stronger. This is the Nemesis System. If an enemy kills you, runs away, or basically doesn’t die, they’ll remember you the next time they see you, and they’ll probably be stronger, or maybe they’ll have a scar from all the damage you dealt to them. You can interrogate the minds of Orcs to find out weaknesses of these captains and war-chiefs which helps tremendously. From the very beginning I kept getting killed by the one guy over and over again, and then I learned he was afraid of these creatures called Caragors (think armor plated tigers) so all I had to do was ride one into battle, and he went from my arch nemesis to peeing his pants. This system is incredibly fun to play around with between missions, whether that’s eliminating the top 5 war-chiefs or branding (mind controlling) captains to rise up the ranks and become war-chiefs themselves, giving you command of the army they control.
At it’s heart, Shadow of Mordor is a sandbox game. You’ve got a couple different regions to explore, a plethora of side missions to keep you entertained, and a relatively short story mode (20 missions in total) but between those two things, you’re bound to keep yourself occupied. One thing I love about this though, is how the world itself manages to be both small and large at the same time. What I mean to say is, the sandbox you’re playing in looks to be very large, and it gives you kind of a Skyrim feeling, but in reality, everything is quite close together, you could run from one side of the map to the other in less than 10 minutes. And while having a small sandbox to play in might sound like a bad thing, it’s actually great. I find myself returning to castles and areas that I’m familiar with, it gives me a chance to grab something I missed the first time, and between the two different regions you’re given to play in, a little repetition goes a long way.
I’ve only played two games on next-gen consoles that really feel like the games themselves are next gen, and that’s Infamous Second Son, and Shadow of Mordor. It’s not just the graphics or the processing power that makes these games next-gen, it’s the presentation, it’s that these games would not be nearly as amazing on the older consoles, or wouldn’t even be able to run at all in some cases.