Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
A true next-gen game is finally here! One of the main issues with the next-gen systems is the lack of games that are primarily designed for these new consoles. In the past when purchasing a console upgrade you were not just upgrading the equipment, but also unlocking an entirely new library of games only available on your new piece of hardware. These games are designed from the ground up to show off the capabilities of its hardware and to bring about the next level of gaming. With the release of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 this has not been the case. While the graphics are superior to past generation system the majority of games that have been released are designed to work on both systems and therefore the graphics and mechanics are not up to par with the current possibilities that these next-gen systems have to offer. Not since Wolfenstein: The New Order have I been as excited to be playing on the new hardware. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a prime example of a game that was intentionally created to be a next-gen game and showcases it brilliantly.
Graphically this game is unmatched between the lighting, water effects, shadows, and even the way your characters gear reacts to the rain and weather effects. Monolith Software recreated an open Middle-Earth world beautifully and with great attention to detail. If Shadow of Mordor is a preview of what we are to expect from the upcoming Batman: The Arkham Knight that Monolith is releasing in 2015 then gamers are in for quite a treat. One of my favorite things about this game is the facial expressions of the characters, especially the Orcs in the game. When interrogating orcs with your spirit magic it brings up a close-up to their faces. There is such a realistic horror and desperation on their face as if they know that after you release them from your trance they are going to be violently killed. The character designs for Talion and Celebrimbor also bring together a perfect blend of regal and death incarnate creating a Ranger that truly deserves to be feared by the Uruk.
When picking up a Lord of the Rings themed game the fact that you will be in a war-like setting is implied. However, in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit, the reason for the protagonist’s involvement in said war is due to a virtuous cause or a sense of duty. Shadow of Mordor is in all sense of the word a story of revenge. Taking place in-between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy you play as Talion, a ranger of Gondor that is tasked with guarding the Black Gate, always awaiting Sauron’s return. After seeing his family killed right in front of him by the Black Hand of Sauron he is saved from death by Celebrimbor, the elf-smith responsible for forging the rings of power. Through Talion’s possession he is given wraith-like abilities which he uses to enact his plan of revenge and to help Celebrimbor remember his past. The story is not as epic as you would expect from J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, but it is a fun addition to the lore. Smegal makes a guest appearance in his search for his “precious,” hoping that Celebrimbor’s connection to the rings of power will help him in his search. His presence is implemented into the story well, but the more he appears throughout the game his character seems a little forced and more like fan service then really developing the story.
The gameplay mechanics are excellent and the battle system is just plain fun! Even after playing almost 30 hours of gameplay it is still exciting to brutalize, execute, and terrorize the Uruk on your quest to avenge your family’s murder. This is the game that Zelda fans wanted Hyrule Warriors to be. There is many ways to upgrade your abilities and inscribe runes on your weapons giving them unique properties. The monotony of the combo system that was seen in Hyrule Warriors is balanced in Shadow of Mordor due to the many unique abilities as well as the critical strike system which is achieved through accurate button combinations. The critical hit system punishes button mashing and rewards timely placed attacks with critical hits doing considerably more damage and activating certain runes on your weapons. Each experience playing the game is unique and can be played in any way you chose. The interchangeable use of stealth, ranged, and hand-to-hand combat abilities are perfectly integrated into the gameplay. While there aren’t any true puzzles, there are a ton of collectables and mini-games to add to the story and the lore of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Even after completing the story and finishing the 30 plus hours of gameplay I still find myself craving even more and find myself replaying this game daily purely out of enjoyment. Monolith Software has created their first masterpiece for the next-gen systems and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor will definitely be a major contender for game of the year. With all the major releases in the fourth quarter of 2014 this game will be looked over by many. However, this title has quickly become one of the biggest sleeper hits of the year and shouldn’t be missed. Everyone that calls themselves a real gamer should own this title. Don’t hesitate!
Don’t miss our review of Hyrule Warriors as well and see how it compares to Shadow of Mordor. Don’t forget to stay tuned to areyougaming.com for your reviews on the hottest titles of the year and follow us on Twitter @areyougaming.