MIDDLE-EARTH: SHADOW OF MORDOR
Developed by Monolith
Published by Warner Bros.
Available on PC, Steam, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4
Tolkien fans rejoice as Warner Bros. Interactive return to Mordor for action RPG, MIDDLE-EARTH: SHADOW OF MORDOR.
You play as Talion, a ranger of Gondor, who’s brutally slain along with his wife and son. Not at peace over his execution, Talion lies between life and death and meets a mysterious Wraith spirit who is also trapped in this purgatory between worlds. With the Wraith’s enhanced abilities, Talion is resurrected to seek vengeance against those responsible for their murders – the Black Hand of Sauron – and to find answers.
The game opens with the aforementioned story cutscene interspersed with a combat tutorial. Using the Xbox 360 Controller for Windows, the controls are rather easy to remember and button prompts regularly appear on screen to help should you get stuck. The game isn’t shy about thrusting the player into the large, open world, leaving some aspects of the game unmentioned which you have to work out for yourself, for instance upgrades to stats, though the upgrades to abilities are shown. Players can choose to spend points on abilities, some of which are locked until certain missions are accomplished, and currency can be collected to obtain rune slots for weapons and increases in stats like health bar and elf shot (allowance of arrows). Runes themselves are collected by killing Uruk captains within the game and can be used to give special abilities to the dagger, sword and bow of Talion, or can be sold to purchase stat increases.
The game’s combat is very much like the combat system used in the Batman: Arkham City game, allowing your character Talion to fight large groups of enemies at once with ease. With a button assigned for blade attacks and a button assigned for defence blocks, the combat system flows extremely well, with little prompts to help you press the block button at the right time to defend against an enemy’s strikes, which is really handy when your fighting off 15 Uruks!
Stealth also plays a large part of the combat system, with Talion able to sneak around and silently kill the Uruks. Talion is also adept at climbing walls, running along ropes and jumping from walls for stealth kills. Using stealth kills has its advantages, as not only can you pick off opponents without drawing attention to yourself, they can also finish off extremely difficult members of Sauron’s Army – the Uruk captains. Using the Wraith abilities, you can grab and interrogate any Uruk to find out the identity of Sauron’s captains. By interrogating an informant (green circle above their heads) or a Captain himself, you can find out the weaknesses and strengths of other Captains, allowing you to formulate a plan to execute the chosen Captains.
Some of the Captains and missions lie in Stronghold territory, which means the Uruks are on high alert for enemy intruders which includes Talion. This is where the stealth ability comes in handy. Scaling walls and hopping between them whilst silently picking off Uruks is the best way to move around. There’s often four legged beasts called Caragors caged up and with the ability to ride them, you can often use these to your advantage to maim and kill Uruks. Morgai Fly hives are also seen hanging from the rafters and these too can be used as a distraction. Fire an arrow at the hive or cut it down and watch the Uruks flee as the flies chase after them, much like our reaction to wasps.
Using the Wraith ability of the spirit Talion is partnered with, you can uncover secrets as well as see enemies more easily via their infra-red style vision. This is great to find enemies, particularly Uruk captains and chiefs on your hitlist. Extra ammo for Talion’s bow is often dotted around the world, and though it is indicated on the map, using wraith vision allows you to see it more easily. Once you have ample supply of arrows, you can slow down time when shooting them at enemies so you can hit your chosen taget much easier, especially if they’re a moving target. The Wraith ability also allows you to fast track to different checkpoints throughout Mordor, so if you have a specific mission or target in mind, this can cut down your travel time immensely.
The game has a variety of missions, both main missions and side missions to keep the story flowing. These involve killing off Uruk captains, freeing human slaves, helping an Orc named Ratbag to rise the ranks in Sauron’s Army and discovering the history of the Wraith who Talion is partnered with. Some of the missions are easier than others, and a few in particular feature a familiar face from Lord of the Rings. The graphics and voice-over work is outstanding and the plots of each of the missions really allow you to get involved as a game player and a story/film fan. There’s also an open-ended challenge mode which challenges you to complete certain tasks, like killing 5 captains and a warchief in under 15 minutes, to acquire points to be ranked on a leaderboard. This is great for those who complete the game and are looking for something extra to prove their skills.
Whilst the missions and side missions are much meatier, I found myself totally captivated by bumping off members of Sauron’s Army. If successful, Talion’s power points increase and new runes are unlocked for your blade, dagger and bow. However, if you die at the hands of an enemy, their rank within Sauron’s army will increase, making them an even bigger pain in the bum to kill. This ‘Nemesis’ system, which is ever changing and unique to each player, keeps players on their toes. Instead of continuing to hunt the same faces at the same level, new enemies will appear in the army whilst others that beat you will become stronger. Careful planning, especially with high ranked opponents, is the only way to successfully beat the opposition, which is where the intel on the Captains becomes vital.
With stunning graphics creating breathtaking landscapes of Mordor and engaging gameplay with the Nemesis system promising constant variety and a fear of being killed, MIDDLE-EARTH: SHADOW OF MORDOR is highly addictive and definitely one of the games of the year, with exciting DLC yet to be unleashed.