Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PlayStation 4) Review

By Drew Hurley 03.12.2014 1

Review for Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor on PlayStation 4

Assassin's Creed's stealth with the Arkham series style combat, set in the world of Tolkien, using Peter Jackson's vision? How can this not be a winning formula? The Lord of the Rings franchise has had some very hit and miss games based on it. This latest incarnation is a brand new IP, developed by Monolith Productions and published by Warner Bros., set between the stories of The Hobbit and Fellowship of the Ring. Shadow of Mordor cannot strictly be considered canon but it uses numerous pieces of Tolkien's works as inspiration to create an original story. Taking some of the best aspects of a number of franchises and some brand new innovations of its own, this game immediately looks to be a great new IP.

The story revolves around a Ranger of Gondor named Talion, and his life after death battle against Sauron and his Lieutenant, "The Black Hand." Talion and his wife, Ioreth, originally live in Minas Tirith, but after Talion kills a nobleman for attacking Ioreth, they are both rushed out of the city in secret by Ioreth's father. To escape execution, they flee to The Black Gate where her father leads the Rangers keeping the watch over Mordor. Talion joins as a ranger and it seems to be a happy, if hard, life settling down, raising their son.

After the events of The Hobbit, however, when Sauron returns to Mordor, The Black Gate is overrun and everyone is slaughtered, Talion and his family included, although their deaths are more elaborate and quite ritualistic by Sauron's lieutenant "The Black Hand." Upon awakening after his death, Talion finds he is bound to a Wraith who seems to be somehow sharing his body. Talion sets out with this Wraith to exact revenge, cutting a bloody swath across Mordor.

Screenshot for Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor on PlayStation 4

Premise set, so how's the game? Shadow of Mordor sets up a great story and immediately gets the player interested in the characters. It also has one of the best control scheme tutorials in recent memory. The story is developed well throughout and, importantly, the abilities are spread across enough gated content to keep progression interesting. Many open world games have trouble finding this balance, either giving the player access to all abilities out of the gate and making story parts seem like a chore or locking essential skills away that are needed to complete side-quests or to get open world collectables while not explaining why they what it being done cannot actually be achieved.

The main story feels quite cinematic, though it's lacking much of a side cast to really care about - although there are a few cameos and special appearances that fans of the series will appreciate. There are enough twists in the story along with interesting development of Talion to keep gamers interested.

On top of the great original tale, there is wealth of back-story information on both Talion and his Wraith, whether told through whispered memories on loading screens or through collectables found in the open world. On the PlayStation 4, these memories use the speaker in the DualShock controller - it's a quirky little feature that works well.

Screenshot for Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor on PlayStation 4

The combat uses the same system as the Batman Arkham series for strikes and counters, and even the rolls and throwing of weapons look very familiar. There is a slight issue here, in that anyone familiar with the Arkham franchise can find the combat a little easy, being able to rack up combos with hundreds of hits, slaughtering scores of enemies without being touched. As further abilities are unlocked, this becomes even easier, turning Talion into a near unstoppable juggernaut on the battlefield.

Regardless of the ease, the combat system feels fantastic; it's very fluid and rewards well timed executions. Speaking of executions, the finishers are ridiculously grizzly and evoke really fantastic reactions. Talion has little issue with tearing enemies to pieces, quite literally with dismembering and disembowelling quite commonplace. The best thing about these finishers, and all of the combat in general, is just how good they look and feel - the animations and the impact carry some real weight to them.

Screenshot for Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor on PlayStation 4

The real innovation of Shadow of Mordor has to be the Nemesis system. It was touted well before launch to be one of the big selling points of the game. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite live up to what was promised but it's still a great feature. The Nemesis system generates completely unique enemy characters that can start as peons yet as the world changes they do too grow in to Captains and Warchiefs. They can grow in two ways; through taking part in internal power struggles within Sauron's army or through their battles with Talion, both of which can result in progressing in rank and power.

The battles with these enemies can create unique and fantastic encounters. Each of them have different strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited and how the interactions play out with Talion will affect both how the unique characters change and how the entire enemy army adapts. For example, a fight with a Warchief where he gets kicked into a fire can result in him returning covered in burns and afraid of fire.

Later in the game this becomes even more elaborate and interesting, when Talion gains access to the ability to dominate Orcs and turn them to his side. Using this along with the Nemesis system, he's able to build up an army of his own and also affect the power struggles, setting Orc against Orc. The Nemesis system really is a great innovation, yet it feels a little underdeveloped at this point. The developer has talked about a sequel, and hopefully it continues to grow there.

Screenshot for Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Shadow of Mordor shows that the Tolkien licence still has a lot of life in it yet. It falls short a little in that some of the aspects feel like they don't quite live up to what they promised, but this is a great first step for a brand new IP. Hopefully this won't be the last we see of Talion.

Developer

Monolith Productions

Publisher

Warner Bros

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Sounds good, I should probably pick it up.

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