Discretion Is The Better Part Of…You Know
I crouched down looking at the number of orcs occupying the valley below me. There were around seven, though that did not stop my arrogance.
I can take them.
I leapt down and began swinging my sword and countering attacks. I got this, I have played the Batman: Arkham series. The controls are close, especially the counter system. In my bloodlust I did not notice one of the orcs blow his horn and before I knew it I was surrounded by sixteen enemies, one of them being a captain that I was in no shape to fight. Still, my bravado got the best of me and kept fighting.
Then, I died. The captain got me and he was promoted to a higher rank and became more powerful in orc society.
This was my first thirty minutes with Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
Lesson #1 of Shadow of Mordor: get use to dying. It will happen. A lot. Here is the catch. Dying is not something to get upset about or yell at your screen even though you know it was your fault. Shadow of Mordor actually becomes more fun once you die a few times. It also helps to run away.
Whoever kills you, as I said before, will move up in rank, become more powerful and even remember you when you find him again. I certainly know the perverse pleasure in hunting down the orc who ran you through with his blade. Even when you find him and reveal yourself, they will have a quip ready about how they must not have done a good enough job killing you before. Your enemies remember you just as you remember the names of the ones who have bested you.
This is all thanks to Shadow of Mordor’s “nemesis system” which takes the future of gaming enemies to the next level. The orcs you fight have ambition, they want to be the best. There is a hierarchy at work and you are not the only one affecting it by killing captains and warchiefs. These orcs will have internal strife, planning their next move to move up the leadership ladder.
Each captain will have his own sets of strengths and weaknesses that are not known to you until you find out intel on them either through random items on the map or hunting down an orc that has knowledge of that captain. Once you know that a certain captain is afraid of fire or is vulnerable to a charged headshot with your bow, you can plan out your attack. You can even send off orcs with death threats to their captains or warchiefs which raises their power level while also raising the percentage you will get an epic rune drop to put on your weapons. I never would have thought I would use as much strategy in a game that borrows so much from others.
Assassin’s Creed: Mordor Asylum
Don’t worry Tolkien purists, the story of Shadow of Mordor fits quite nicely into the years in between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. As Talion, a captain of Gondor, you begin the game watching your wife and son murdered in front of you before being killed yourself by The Black Hand of Sauron. Awakening in a shadow realm, you are joined by an elf wraith that has become attached to Talion and prevents him from dying. The wraith has amnesia and together you will search out the details of his past while hunting down the killers of your family.
The game does a great job of connecting events in Tolkien’s universe in a believable way. I was worried going in that there would be some eye-rolling sequence of why Gollum has to be involved in the story, but it comes in a very natural way that made me enjoy the character again. Even when you find out the elven wraiths’ identity, you are left with an “ohhhh” moment that is satisfying.
While some may knock Shadow of Mordor for taking aspects of Assassin’s Creed and the Batman: Arkham series, you can’t say they do not do it well. Traversing Mordor is a parkour affair along with climbing forge towers to activate fast travel to different parts of the map. Sound familiar? Likewise, combat is strictly Batman, if he had a longsword, bow and dagger and did not mind impaling and beheading anyone who dared crossed his path. It feels crisp and responsive just as in Rocksteady’s Arkham games which is a win, yet not a real 1 to 1 comparison.
Of course, using these two games as your foundation comes with a few hiccups. You will encounter problems like latching onto walls when you are trying to escape in small spaces, jumping into the middle of an orc party when you meant to zipline on a rope across them as well as the good old Assassin’s Creed favorite of having trouble dropping from ledges.
Likewise, combat, while working most of the time, won’t register your counters when big parties of orcs are around. To perform a combat execution (which is required to damage certain captains) you need to press two buttons at once. When you have a host of orcs surrounding you and you are trying to target a particular one, it becomes a toss up as to who will lose their head. These are not defining issues, just something you have to get past which is doable with how much fun I had with Shadow of Mordor.
Luckily the makers knew when to change things up at the right time. Just when you think you have gotten a handle on the map of Mordor, you journey to another land that offers greener pastures (literally) which is a welcome change from the cold, dead rock edifices of Mordor. It gave me new energy to look around and learn a new place while enjoying the colored landscapes littered with ruined buildings.
Make Love, Not Warchiefs
Mordor opens up even more when you fully open up your set of powers. When you learn the ability to control the orcs you dominate you can begin to play an epic game of political chess by having captains work their way to become a warchiefs bodyguard just to have them assassinate him and become your pawn that has his own army that will do your bidding. You can work your way to control every warchief, having an army that your enemies can not hope to defeat. I understand holding these powers for later on in the game for storytelling purposes, though I would have loved earlier access to try more machinations that my mind created.
My video game history with Middle-Earth has been checkered to say the least. From Interplay’s The Lord of the Rings on SNES to The Third Age on Xbox, I have played it all. Hell, I even bought The Hobbit on Xbox in the early 2000’s. The one made by Sierra. Yeah, I have been burned plenty. Not here.
You will spend well over 30 hours in Mordor if you want to find every trinket and complete side quests. None of it ever grew tiresome. Do you need to be a Tolkien fan to enjoy all the nuances and information in the appendices? It helps. Luckily all you need to enjoy Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor as a game is a love of well-crafted action with lively combat and a genuine feeling that you want something new in your enemies. It is the best game to ever use the Tolkien license. I would stake my finest batch of Old Toby on it.