Shadow of Mordor: Review
Let me tell you the tale of Nuglak the Blade Master. Nuglak started life as a simple Uruk, working with a band of slavers, getting drunk on bad grog and occasionally eating a slave or two. Life was good for Nuglak. One day while on his normal patrol he happens to find a man, a ranger of Gondor who was rather worse for ware after a nasty encounter of a wild Carigore. Nuglak saw his chance, he unsheathed is crude sword and manged to strike a blow on the unsuspecting ranger, a blow which knocked the ranger to his knees, the ranger beaten from all fighting had no strength to go on and so was felled by Nuglak. Thus the Legend of Nuglak was born, as he rose through the ranks of Uruk society, mostly by happy coincidence and a wee bit luck, and so he became a War-chief, and a massive bastard at that.
You grow to hate your foes in Shadow of Mordor in a way I’ve yet to see in any other game. Most games have that one or two enemies that you dislike fighting, they may have cheap mechanics or fighting them is simply a chore, but in Shadow of Mordor you grow to hate them on a far more personally level. They grow powerful as you fall, mocking you as the last moments of your mortal life slip from your fingers and all fades to black. You then get back up and go hunting for them only to be killed by them again because you didn’t plan. It’s these personal stories that you develop between you and your opponents that lift Shadow of Mordor from being an action adventure in the Arkham style to something rather brilliant and unique.
You are Talion, but you are also Celebrimbor. Talion is a rather dashing Aragorn type, who as a captain on the black gate is quickly and brutally murdered by the returning forces of Sauron and his posse. Celebrimbor is the wraith spirit of a three thousand year old elf with a mysterious link to Sauron and the one ring of power. By some dark ritual Celly (as I like to call him) is placed into the body of Talion and together the two must get revenge for Talion’s murdered family and work out why they’ve been placed in the same body. The story is rather good, using some of Middle Earths huge back story to flesh out it’s world, instead of simply on the One Ring of Power as the all purpose Mcguffin (although the ring is certainly a factor), and with only a few noticeable appearances from well known characters such as Gollum and Sauron, Shadow of Mordor really strikes out as it’s own story, instead of acting as filler between the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
The land of Mordor is not quite what you remember it being, instead of a blasted hellscape with fire reigning down from on high from Mount Doom, Mordor is a place where Sauron’s influence is starting to seep back in, most noticeably with the hordes of Uruks who now infest the land. Across the game’s two reasonably sized maps, you’ll come across a tide of Uruks going about their daily lives, be it torturing human slaves, chatting around the fire side or simply having a good old chuckle about nothing ( I swear they find the smallest thing funny, which in a way we should envy). You’ll be spending a lot of time with the game’s Uruks, so it’s lucky the game gives you a myriad of options to interact with them through the Nemesis system. The Nemesis system (I’ll call it NS from now on) gives personalities and ranks to various Uruk Captains and War-chiefs scattered across the land, each with their own particular strengths and weaknesses. They level up from succeeding at certain trials or duels of which you can interrupt or let play out. They also level from killing you. If you find yourself over run and unable to fight any more you’ll be given a last chance, which is a short quick time event, if you succeed you’ll live to fight on, if you fail, you meet the reaper and which ever Uruk killed you gets leveled up, mocking you in the process. If the Uruk who landed the killer blow just happens to be an unnamed grunt, then they are promoted to captain and begin their path to power. This is how you develop a personal connection to each named foe, if they best you, they’ll remember and next time you fight they’ll taunt you and you’ll have to be ready for a hard fight. Each captain has their own weaknesses to be exploited, if they’re scared of explosions be sure to use that to your advantage, but be careful of their strengths, if they’re invulnerable to stealth, then a knife from the shadows is only going to piss them off.
Shadow of Mordor has been compared to two major games series, Assassin’s Creed and the Batman Arkham Games, both of these comparisons have merit though the game is definitely more like Arkham in terms of combat. Like the caped crusaders outings, the games combat is all about racking up high combos by using the games flowing combat to control a large crowd of foes at one time, taking out members of the herd when the time is right for a take down or flurry attack, as with the Arkham series this system is immensely satisfying and once you get competent at it, you’ll be throwing yourself around with reckless abandon as you dance through foes, decapitating and blowing up heads as you go (yes, you can blow up their heads, it’s glorious) As you progress through the game’s story and skill trees, you’ll earn more abilities that make the act of killing almost trival. Combat both ranged and melee, as well as stealth can be upgraded with various runes you’ll find from defeating named Uruks, the more powerful the Uruk the better the rune. The rune system allows you to compliment your preferred play style with stat bonuses such as health regeneration on a stealth kill, or setting your sword on fire as your combo grows.
The game’s stealth mixes both the Batman and Assassin’s Creed formulas rather well, like Ezio or Edward you traverse the terrain using free running (though the system in SoM is nowhere near as fleshed out) allowing you to climb buildings and towers, taking out the archers who guard them from above or below using take downs. From your vantage point you can do the old Assassin’s Creed air assassination on to those below, or you can use various environmental points such as hung meat or Mordor Wasp nest that will attract ravenous wildlife or scare off cowardly Uruks. It can be particularly satisfying to see your target recoil in fear at a ferocious Caragor (Big wolf/lion beast) and as they flee, emerge from the shadows with a knife in their back.
As you progress to the games second half, Talion earns the abilty to brand Uruks. To brand an Uruk is to make it yours, completely altering how you interact with various members of Sauron’s Army. Yes, you could kill that one captain whose been causing you some hassle, or you could dominate his mind and make his strengths work for you. Once you learn to brand you become far more Machiavellian, placing your men behind enemy lines, planting them in positions of power. I once put three of my best captains as body guards for the strongest war chief on the map, then when I drew the war chief out of hiding, my Uruks stuck, leaving him well open for a nasty bit of decapitation.
For a game with so many elements borrowed from other great games, the combat of Batman, the Assassinations of Assassin’s Creed (In many ways SoM is the best AC game) even the stealth silhouette from Splinter Cell, Shadow of Mordor becomes something brilliantly new. The Nemesis system and an emphasis on the personal stories you develop with you foes, draws you in a way that other games just can’t, I dare say I’ll remember my encounters with Nuglak far more than any of the Templars I’ve fought in Assassin’s creed (Other than Haytham, go team Haytham)