There they were; An entire horde of them. But they meant nothing. The object of my attention was their leader – a hulking orc warchief. He was surrounded by two captains I had defeated in prior battles. To get to him, I needed to end them. So it shall be.
I proceeded to climb to the very top of the old tower near their encampment. One by one, they fell. Silently. By sword or by bow, they all felt death’s sweet embrace. The two captains were a little tougher. They bore scars from our previous encounters. They remembered what happened and were immune to stealth kills. So I ended up brainwashing one to kill the other. It was a festival of gibs. And it was glorious.
Now, their leader was left. He feared for his life and ran, only to be stopped right in his tracks and decapitated in a fashion most gory. My blade bathed in an orgy of orc blood, or as locals would call it, just another day in Mordor.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor throws seemingly insurmountable enemies at you in an almost nonchalant fashion. Traipsing around old ruins? Don’t be surprised if you run into an orc captain or three and their entourage baying for your blood. You’ll be forced to think fast and be quick for reasons beyond the obvious ‘game over’ screen. Every death of yours makes the minions of evil stronger. Their demise puts you one step closer to victory.
This genocide isn’t without warrant. You’re Talion. Your wife and son have been executed. And so have you, but for some reason, you’re saddled with an insomniac elf ghost instead of staying dead. Over the course of the game’s 12-15 hour campaign, all of this is explained.
Along the way, you’ll roam the badlands of Mordor, free slaves, slay orcs and come closer to knowing the truth about you and the creepy spectre than inhabits you. You’ll unlock new powers while you’re at it too. From possessing the minds of your foes to near teleportation, there’s a slew of cool new tricks to get the hang of.
In addition to this, you can perch yourself on ledges, perform kills from above, hide in bushes, waiting for uruks to show up for you to dispatch them swiftly. Surrounded by a horde of orcs? No worries. The swordplay is fast and brutal, allowing you to strike blows with speed and ease. The combat, stealth and traversal feel like it was Assassin’s Creed or Batman. Not a bad thing at all. However, to call Shadow of Mordor the Lord of the Rings’ equivalent of Batman: Arkham City isn’t entirely true. There’s one key element that separates Monolith’s maiden open-world effort from Rocksteady’s video games based on the caped crusader – the Nemesis system.
As you skulk around the darkest parts of Middle-earth, you’ll find out that you’re not exactly Mr Congeniality. Thanks to some handy wraith skills at your disposal, you can learn of the hierarchy of enemies you’ll face. It’s a valuable source of information that lets you plan your attacks better. You gain insight into how orcs work, who is connected to whom, what weaknesses each one has, and all of the necessities to make for a strategic playthrough. As you smartly slaughter all those in your path, your foes will remember you. If you end up winning a battle that doesn’t result in the orc chief dying, they’ll level up and come back for you.
How you decide to approach your enemies gives different results compared to how your friend’s would. And while the game has its fair share of villains, it’s always more interesting when you have your own villain that has its own characteristics, weaknesses, strengths and name instead of the generic sword fodder that most games throw at you. All of this results in a playthrough that’s a lot more personal and meaningful.
This also affects the game’s progression. For most part, it’s up to you, depending on how you use the orc hierarchy to your advantage. There are a few missions and segments set in stone, but there’s enough freedom to make for an entertaining romp through Middle-earth. Having said that, Shadow of Mordor isn’t perfect. Some story missions are snooze-worthy, taking place in abject darkness and at times feature some of the game’s more annoying enemies, such as ghouls and giant spiders. Thankfully, they’re few and far in between. Most importantly, the enjoyment derived from the game’s varied and deep orc societal structure made it all worth it.
Over the years, games based on The Lord of the Rings’ series have gotten a bad reputation. Shadow of Mordor erases all of that. In a year that’s seen Infamous: Second Son, Sunset Overdrive, Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Far Cry 4, Shadow of Mordor is one of the better open-world games I’ve had the pleasure of playing. The sense of unpredictability and randomness of the Nemesis system, combined with visceral combat and a host of fun-to-use powers make it worth the price of admission.