Curiously lacking Lord of the Rings in its title, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a release which takes tried and tested ideas then puts its own spin on them.
With a story, which is already making fans of the lore froth at the mouth, the player steps into the shoes of Talion. A ranger tasked with assisting the garrison of the Black Gate at the time of its fall, he is saved from death when a botched ritual fuses him with the wraith of an elf lord of the Second Age. Out for revenge in the name of his dead family, Talion walks a very dark and dangerous path through the wastes of Mordor.
Fans of Batman: Arkham City will immediately pick out some distinctly familiar elements here; the combat, stealth system and certain open world elements having taken heavy inspiration from that title, with even an odd variation of detective mode available for use. However, rather than presenting itself as a cheap copy with a fresh coat of paint, what’s present here builds upon these with new concepts.
Chief among these is the nemesis system and how the title deals with death. In his determination for revenge, Talion can interrogate, assassinate, mind control and manipulate the hierarchy of the orc forces. By targeting specific leaders he can trigger in fighting among their ranks and feuds, setting up the situation he needs to find the Black Númenóreans he is hunting. Your presence and impact will be recognised down to minor details, from certain wounds struck upon them to recalling killing you in a past engagement.
The title’s actual fighting mechanics are extremely well refined, a very good thing given how combat orientated an experience this is. While counters are a key part of combat, unlike Assassin’s Creed they do not make you invincible and the game will not hold your hand in fights. There is absolutely nothing to stop you throwing yourself into a fight far above your tier, and you can easily stumble upon situation where flight is your only option.
If there is a truly notable failing for this title, it’s that the side-quests are unfortunately repetitive. While the title’s content is excellently paced, the final few hours do start to wear thin. This is something not helped by the story ultimately boiling down to a surprisingly generic tale of revenge despite the lavish mo-capped cut scenes. Better diplomatic mechanics and relying less upon the game’s codex for in-depth lore would have significantly helped in both regards.
If you are after another fantasy open world title Shadows of Mordor will be well worth your time, but there are certainly a few better ones out there.