REVIEW: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

“…one ring to rule them all one ring to find them. One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. In the land of Mordor; where the Shadow lies.”

Welcome to Mordor. Kingdom of the Dark Lord Sauron and his army of orcs and other vile creatures. It is a dark land where the future of Middle-earth is shaped from the courageous actions of a lonely hero Talion the Ranger and the valiant folk that he encounters along his way. This is Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, developed by Monolith Productions and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, and this introduction doesn’t do it justice.

Tolkien’s world of The Lord of the Rings is magnificently depicted in single-player mode, and just like the One Ring; surrounds, envelopes, and binds the player in a well-developed, intelligent and strategic experience.

As Talion the Ranger the player explores a landscape of surrounding high-peaked snow-capped mountains in pursuit of his antagonist the Black Hand (Sauron’s right-hand man) to impale justice for his executed kin which brutally takes place in the immediate moments of the story. To achieve his end-game the Ranger acts as manipulator against orc captains and war-chieftains where one is played against the other to manipulate and bend the Dark Lord’s army to his own bidding (thanks to the game’s in-built and pioneering Nemesis System). Other side missions help to build the hero’s strengths and profile for the end’s ultimate conclusion- a fierce and bloody battle (of course).

But… the Nemesis System! To quote its creator’s description, the Nemesis System “…tracks and remembers player actions to dynamically create and evolve unique enemies and scenarios for each and every player.” This includes character traits to enemy combat style modus operandi. It enables the player to achieve battle victory through manipulating the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses. It remembers all! Down to previously inflicted scars on old enemies. It is unique and adds another dimension to an already solid game. It gives the dimension of intuition and allows a game of chess to be played out as a sub-narrative as well as part of the main objective.

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Puppeteering the Ranger via the console’s controls is fluent yet simple as he runs, dashes, jumps, climbs, hides, stealths and even rides (on ugly mongrel-like creatures) through Mordor. This player even found some of Talion’s movement too fluent and quick and had to slow the fingers down on the controls to stay in sync with the Ranger’s movements!

The battle game-sets and game-play, as well as the straightforward configuration, lend to cinematic magic. It is reminiscent of another Warner Bros. franchise; the Batman Arkham series. Bottom line, it tends to quick yet calculated battle moments/movements that can be brutal and uncompromising. As the momentum builds so does the player’s adrenaline. It genuinely sweeps the player away and, on occasion, one could forget it is a game and not another Peter Jackson film. Substitute the controls for popcorn!

The tutorials are clear and precise as is the Menu and Sub Menu text. Even poor Smeagol, better known as Gollum, could navigate and understand the system-(it would be lax not to mention this poor fellow plays a cameo role in the narrative).

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We have merely touched upon the game’s cinematic qualities. The panoramic shots, the battle confrontations, the dramatic dialogue between the hero and non-player characters all combine to create a whole and satisfying – even poignant – entire narrative. The clarity of the visuals charged by the sharp sound-effects electrifies the censors. (Again: Substitute the controls for popcorn!)

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor deserves to be played. Whether a fan of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or not. This game can stand alone and independent of the classic trilogy. It is epic. It is memorable. It is definitely challenging. In this gamer’s humble opinion; it may even rule them all.

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