Keeping up the Tolkien inspired posts, I have just finished Shadow of Mordor, a game by Monolith Productions, which takes place between the time of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It tells the story of Talion, a Ranger of Gondor, who is killed, along with his wife and son by the, Black Hand of Sauron. However, he is brought back to life when he is merged with the wraith like spirit of Celebrimbor, an Elven lord.
The game’s central game play mechanics will be familiar to most, it’s a combination of the Assassin’s Creed games and the Arkham games. You can attack stealthily, sneaking up to remove orcs with one quick blow or throw yourself into the combat, slashing and hacking left and right. It all leads to one simple fact, you will kill a lot of orcs in this game.
So far, so familiar. Been there, done that and apart from the Middle Earth setting, which for many will be enough, it is a game that won’t blow your mind. However, that is where the Nemesis system comes in. The game is populated by orc captains, each of whom is unique. They have ridiculous names and strengths and weaknesses that you must avoid or can exploit. They compete with each other in a ranked system and grow in power with each victory. Also, if a normal orc kills you, he will be promoted to captain. What this creates, is a system where you care about whether you die or not. You build grudges with these orcs. There can be a lowly Uruk Hai, who happens to get the better of you in one battle and ends up being a level 20 captain who you hold a vendetta against. It turns slashing through orcs, into something personal, particularly as they remember your previous encounters with them.
This system becomes even more interesting as the games goes on, particularly when you gain the ability to brand orcs, taking control of their mind, so they do your bidding. Suddenly you have a way to control who is in charge. You can take an orc and raise him all the way up to being a Warchief, or brand all the bodyguards of a particular Warchief so that when you face him in battle, you can turn them against him at the crucial moment. It is yet another wrinkle to an incredibly interesting mechanic.
Aside from the Nemesis System, there is a lot of other things to enjoy about this game. It looks great. It runs smoothly (or at least did for me on my PS4) and the gameplay is fun. Much like the Arkham games, there is a lot of pleasure to be had from pulling off a huge combo, slicing orcs heads off at will and feeling all-powerful. Which, maybe points towards one of the games flaws. As much as certain battles with particularly strong orcs might challenge you, it’s never really difficult. You are incredibly powerful and that just increases as the games goes on, now that is not a problem for some, personally it doesn’t bother me at all, but if you are one of those people who wants their video games to challenge them, this might not be the one for you.
There are a few other issues with the game. The story is simple at best and at worst generic. It takes in quite a bit of Tolkien lore, but it doesn’t do much with it. Gollum is thrown in there for no real reason other than being a recognisable character and Talion lacks in pretty much any personality. The final boss battles are also pretty awful. For all the build up, they are incredibly simple and don’t at all compete with the numerous boss battles you will create for yourself throughout the game.
Despite these flaws, Shadow of Mordor is a very good game. It takes a tried and trusted formula and does something new with it, this makes sure that while it borrows off other games, it doesn’t feel stale, but rather like a new experience. I think it is also a pretty good guess to say that the same games may someday be borrowing the Nemesis system right back, at this point in time however it is unique and it has helped craft possibly the best game set in Middle Earth so far.