[dropcap size=small]S[/dropcap]hadow of Mordor was a great game in its own right, with many raving reviews and awards to prove it. Be that as it may, not all great games are right for everyone; sometimes providing the opposite of a fantastic experience. While I may be in the deepest bowels of the minority, my review is far less romantic, and borderline cynical to some.
A review is meant to be the unbiased opinion of someone who experienced the content first-hand, and while I feel I may stand alone atop a mountain looking down at the mob below who support Shadow of Mordor, I must stay true to myself and the values I hold in being honest about my experiences, regardless of negative input. That being said, this is my review of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
If I am being honest, I must say that since the launch of the PS4 and XOne, there has been massive hype around games that simply do not deliver. Among those titles are Titanfall, Watch_Dogs, Destiny, and now Shadow of Mordor.
What could be happening here, is that the PS4 and XOne are suffering from getting table scraps as each of the aforementioned titles has been released on prior and current consoles. Point is, the power of Microsoft’s and Sony’s current consoles are not being pushed to their limits whatsoever. And SoM is no exception.
The story takes place in between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; following Talion, a ranger who was left for dead after his family was wiped out by Sauron’s forces. Moments before suffering death himself, Talion is brought back to life having been welded together with a Wraith who grants him otherworldly powers (reading minds, absorbing… whatever it is that is being absorbed- it replenishes your mystical spirit bow and arrow, I don’t know). Talion is on a revenge mission to take down the evils who wronged him, blah blah blah, you know, that old story.
What got me the most is how quickly Talion’s family was killed off in the beginning. To most, this would likely go amiss, and it probably would not impact their experience with the game, but for me I value a good story. In order for me to take over Talion, place myself in his shoes properly, I must feel the burning rage and the pain of loss he felt upon witnessing the tragic loss of his loved ones. The thing is; there was no build up in order for me to really care about them at all. I may be nitpicking a bit, and I do not blame you for saying that out loud to yourself while you read this; but the fact is, it happen too quickly and suddenly for me to care.
In the eyes of Talion, he spent his life protecting and loving his family, providing for them, caring for them; whereas from the player perspective, we got a grand total of 3 minutes before they died. I did not even remember his wife’s or son’s names fifteen minutes into the game. Because of this, it was difficult to feel motivated as Talion was to exact revenge on those who wronged him. But this is a game and I understand the need to progress and move forward, so I did; chipping away at the story line picking up the pieces to the many story puzzles I had to build in order to understand the much bigger picture here.
The combat system is simple and easy to understand, with constant pop-ups alerting Talion when he needs to counter or block an incoming enemy attack. Aside from archers on high cliffs, well-placed counters make it almost impossible to take damage from melee attacks from the endless orc onslaught. Which, to be fair, can be fun at times, though pounding the square and triangle buttons simultaneously while not looking at your flat screen will result in slaughtering at least a dozen orcs with minimal damage ( I know, I tried it).
In most cases, after you have taken out two dozen enemies, an alarm sounds and brings two dozen more making it difficult at times to progress to the next stages of your objectives. The camera also has a tendency to shift and move at odd angles occasionally making it difficult to see Talion and the oncoming enemy attacks. That and archery fire are one of the very few instances where I took damage, though only a few hits are enough to kill Talion and send him back to one of the many glowing respawn towers nearby. Yep, that is a thing.
The game early on received criticism for using the code from Assassin’s Creed and rightfully so, as the game plays just like it. Jumping off of high ledges in in Shadow of Mordor is identical to jumping off of high ledges into a pile of hay in Assassin’s Creed. Scaling and climbing up walls also resembles Assassin’s Creed almost exactly, as does the battle system for countering incoming enemy attacks.
Running into an enemy that you have encounter before, courtesy of the game’s Nemesis Engine, makes for a unique playing experience. The memory of enemies caught in a previous battle makes dialogue and revisiting old foes entertaining almost every time. If you can get past the same three or four voice actors for nearly every enemy. The one drawback is that enemies have a tendency to flee with very little health, often resulting in being killed by a well placed arrow from a distance, if you felt the need to kill them off quickly without running into them again. The fleeing only takes place after a short cutscene and a single sentence of enemy dialogue, so you always know when a captain or orc is running away.
The game does not look like it belongs on the PS4. The environment is decently rendered, but Talion looks like an early PS3 character model at best. The orcs look god right up close, but that isn’t saying much considering that you spend 75% of your time seeing them from a distance making it difficult to appreciate.
After reserving a copy of the game at my local GameStop, I received a unique character skin that Talion was able to wear immediately upon starting the game. The only thing is, Talion does not wear any of his unique character skins during the games cutscenes; something that you would surely think developers would implement, but felt the need not to.
The dialogue in the game was easily my favorite part. I intentionally killed myself several times over just to seek out the same enemy to experience what new things he would say and how combat would change. There was something different said almost every time, though each encounter with an orc captain started off with “man filth” by the same voice actor, even if the character I was fighting had a different voice. Getting over this bit was easy enough, but it did get repetitive and just felt lazy.
While the dialogue was unique and fun, the voice acting was equally well done, though it would have been nice if the developers included more than three or four voice actors instead of using the same ones trying to alter their voices to a slightly different accent.
The music was forgettable. Even now, I have a difficult time remembering any battle music, despite having played the game literally fifteen minutes before writing this review.
Controls are easy enough to remember, counter attacks make it almost impossible to take melee damage if you time it right, making combo moves lengthy and effective. Nothing too special here.