Game review Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor - a great mix of slasher and stealth

Author: Przemysław Zamęcki
Date: 2014-10-01 13:20:00
The review was based on the PS4 version. Also valid for PC, XONE versions

Almost three years have passed since players last received a production worthy of Tolkien's name. Hardly anyone expected that The Lord of the Rings: War in the North would be as good a title as it turned out to be. After an uninteresting beginning, suddenly Middle-earth appeared in front of our eyes, with memorable mounds and snow-capped peaks that I could not see. And this snowstorm ... The latest product of Monolith, based on the Middle-earth film license : Shadow of Mordor, traveled a similar path. In the first trailers, the game seemed an uninteresting clone of the Assassin's Creed series , but after many hours spent in Udun and on the Black Route, I can confidently say that this opinion is unfair . In fact, we received a very good mix of themes known from the adventures of Assassins and Batman, but with a well-made combat mechanics and, above all, fresh ideas, of which the one responsible for factional battles in the ranks of the Uruks will perhaps give the industry an impulse to start using it for new and new ways.

In the game, we play the role of Talion, a Gondorian guard stationed at the Black Gate in the unlucky period when in Mordor Sauron, driven by a desire to take revenge for the defeat suffered two and a half thousand years earlier, gathers strength to attack the countries of free people again. In the tutorial that assimilates the basics of fencing and stealth, we get to know the main character's family and the circumstances of their death at the hands of the Black Hand nomen omen - a ruthless captain acting on the services of Sauron and his band of Uruks, i.e. powerful orcs born in special families. Talion is also murdered, but for unknown reasons, death is renounced, burdening him with the company of a mysterious ghoul who cannot remember his own past. Our goal is to take revenge on the murderers and restore the memory of the ghost fused with Talion's body.

The plot, as is usually the case in such games, may not be of the highest caliber, but it is enough to be effectively chained to the TV set. The greatest fun in discovering its secrets will be found mainly by fans of Tolkien's prose, because not only will they have the opportunity to get acquainted with interesting characters who lived in Middle-earth in the period preceding the War of the Ring, but also find in the production many references to situations only indicated in the novel, such as a stay and the torture of Gollum in Mordor. If you would like to find out what exactly happened with Smeagol there, you absolutely must reach for the work of Monolith.

The medium-sized world in Shadow of Mordor has an open structure. Each sector is dominated by the Forge Tower. Climbing it and hitting the anvil will reveal the area and side missions. From now on, we also get the ability to quickly travel to the tower, as well as the ability to speed up time, thanks to which, for example, herbs that regenerate the hero's health points grow back. These are useful functions, but rather at the beginning of the game, when we still have to go to the selected location "off the boot", and behind each bend of the wall, there may be a deadly group of several orcs, with which the fight for survival can be truly deadly. The game is difficult up to a point, and maybe even very difficult. At least until we learn that standing up to an open fight with a usually large group of opponents led to battle by two, and sometimes even three captains, is doomed to failure. You have to be extremely divisive in order not to get sniffed by driving a sufficiently inexperienced figure.

However, the faction fight among the Uruks is the most interesting. In this brutal society, strength and cunning counts, so that the strongest and most cunning, and also the cruelest, becomes a leader. At first, he only acts as a captain, but as the game develops, some of the captains climb the career ladder and eventually become one of the five chieftains. However, all this is not happening somewhere in the background, no matter what we do. On the contrary. Talion can actively participate in the development of the situation. Wandering around Mordor, we can start missions related to battles for influence between the Uruk captains. There are only a few types of them, but our stance during these skirmishes is not forced in any way. For example, by finding out that one group has set an ambush for another group, we can help one of them. Or not to help anyone and just wait for the result of the clash. Nothing stands in the way of killing all the orcs.

When we get to the feast of two groups, we can poison the drink and watch the group rise to each other. There are a lot of options and regardless of what we will do, the hierarchy among the Uruks will change, which allows us to follow the game on one of the menu screens. As if that was not enough, each death of Talion by any orc raises the latter to the position of captain. If we fail to kill a target in a mission, it becomes more powerful. If there was another captain in his vicinity, he also receives bonus points for surviving the fight. It may happen that for a good several dozen seconds or even longer we will observe in the menu how captains fight among themselves, gaining more and more status. Those who lose such a clash die for good.

This is something completely new for video games. More importantly, this isn't just a smokescreen to cover up the numerous borrowings throughout the rest of the game. It doesn't always pay off to eliminate the Orcish captains on the fly. Sometimes it's better to be tactical and let some of them gain more and more power. The more powerful and experienced the captain or commander, the greater the reward in the form of a rune that increases the stats of a weapon, we get for killing him. It can be said that we breed a herd of orcs only to then slaughter the fattest of them in order to make the greatest possible profit . Clever and ingenious.

Here we move on to killing bosses. Each captain and chieftain has a set of traits that characterize his strengths and weaknesses. To get to know them, we must first capture information from the marked individuals or search for them elsewhere. This is a bit similar to the Batman approach where we grab a guy and start auditioning him. In this way, we learn that the boss can be a "killer", with one blow of the club ending Karagor's life and non-bending arrows fired from a bow, but fearing flies from Mordai or prone to being killed by surprise. This allows you to choose the right tactics and simply diversify the fun. However, the number of these features is quite limited, so they are often repeated. Which in turn makes subsequent kills more and more mechanical.

It is worth writing about the game's most serious drawback, which is the relatively limited size of the world. A large number of random missions related to faction battles means that we will quickly visit almost everything that the creators have offered us and it will suddenly turn out that we perform new, not very different tasks in repeated places. Even the extremely interesting mechanics described by me in a few paragraphs above becomes persistently boring at some point. We roll over and over again. Factions of factions, freeing slaves, nobility of opponents in the so-called the path of a sword, bow or dagger to make them legendary weapons and only twenty, not so diverse, main missions. You can feel a little unsatisfied.

Special applause is due for the musical setting of the game. Especially for the initial inserts from fights with the chiefs, where the choir chants their names. Seriously, shivers down my spine. The soundtrack tries to refer to the soundtracks of the films, especially fragments describing the orcs and the lands of Mordor. So it is quite dark.