Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor - Review
My favorite part of playing Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is this feeling of being mega-powerful without forgetting that I can fail anyway. The game features great smooth combat, a good-sized, beautiful world, and plenty of traditional Lord of the Rings items to find. But what makes it so special is due to the very architecture of the game which constitutes its background: an intriguing hierarchy of enemies who give each victory or defeat an additional meaning.
A brief, but shocking opening scene sets a brutal and dark vibe when Talion, hero and a former ranger of Gondor, is executed along with his whole family. Talion's spirit is then linked to that of an elven ghost and is sent back to Middle-earth to take revenge on Sauron's forces. This is a story that doesn't quite make sense to diehard Tolkien experts, but it's well thought out. She makes good use of Gollum and there are also several new memorable characters including Ratbag, the comedic Uruk who helps you infiltrate the enemy army.
My interest in the plot waned towards the end, although it did a good job of explaining why Talion has such cool supernatural powers with his sword, dagger, and bow. Much like in the Batman games of the Arkham series, you can choose to take down enemies stealthily, one at a time, or dive head first into a brawl against dozens of opponents. This in order to piss them off with a series of attacks and counters animated in a fluid way. But unlike Batman, Mordor's fights involve gory beheadings and violent animation. Apart from the missions foreseen by the scenario, there are few stealth zones and distinctly separate combat. In the end, it's free and seductive and you decide.
Acrobatically slaying Sauron's hideous minions is as easy as it sounds for Legolas in the Peter Jackson movies, and it's even more fun to do than watch. The sword fighting is about as enjoyable here as the clashes in Batman are. So understand that it is quite extraordinary to play. Mordor offers stronger hits than Batman's and allows for easier killer hits, in that you're never stuck in an animation. If you press the counter button, Talion immediately gives up what he's doing and instantly counteres. It is extremely efficient and sensitive. A power to slow down time makes it easy to shoot headshots with the bow, whether in stealth mode or in the heat of battle, although this is limited by ammo constraints and a running out of gauge (but that can be improved). And even the stealth system is pretty basic, it's always good to have the option of reducing the horde of enemies a bit before they realize your presence.
But what really sets the feeling of fighting Mordor apart from that of the Batman games is that it's really easy to get into trouble, especially early on. If you let the Uruks sound the alarm in one of their strongholds, or if you just happen to come across a few large groups wandering the densely populated map, you can quickly become overwhelmed by more adversaries. Spotting shield bearers and ax-wielding bishops (who are immune to frontal attacks) and killing them first is proving difficult to do when you're completely surrounded. Health doesn't recharge much on its own (until it's been buffed) and you may succumb quickly if you can't find a way to escape.
Things got a lot easier after a few hours of playing, when I leveled up and unlocked more of Talion's skill set. This in order to be able to carry out sequences more quickly, to execute two enemies for the price of one and even to fight on a huge resentful graug which crunches the Uruks like Dragibus. It does give a real sense of power, however I never felt invincible, even though most of my skills were at max level.
And what's really cool about Mordor is that there is something interesting going on whether you die or take down your targets. If you kill a Captain Uruk, he drops a rune that you can use to specialize your weapons and get bonuses. Some of them have changed the way I play altogether, for example the legendary rune which increased the time available to me to strike again by 10 seconds before my combo counter reset. Or one that made me immune to attacks that could poison me. If any uruk kills you, even if they are an unimportant soldier, they level up, gain new abilities and cooler armor. More importantly, he rose through the ranks in the chain of command of Sauron's army. Suddenly, you are sure to fall back on it later ... to avenge yourself for example. And he will know how to remind you of his victory with a provocative remark when you meet again. It therefore gives meaning to each of your deaths.
Most Uruk Captains tend to die too quickly to score you, but some still have (sometimes they survive even if you apparently killed them and they come back with a scarred face.) tired of the cutscenes that are played when a captain disembarks that introduce a pause in the action. There are enough different voices and sufficiently varied lines that I rarely hear the same twice; and the faces of the Uruks are surprisingly well animated and expressive.
Even though the Hierarchy is a pretty straightforward system when you figure out what it does and realize that these Uruk Captains don't really roam the map in real time, it's a great pleasure to play with. The Uruks fight internally for power and their rank in the hierarchy, and you may occasionally interrupt their duels, parties, hunts and the like to start fights, kill captains, and ultimately bring up powerful warlords. Each captain has their own randomly assigned strengths and weaknesses, making each fight something slightly different from the last. I ran into a few guys who seemed invulnerable to almost everything which was somewhat unsettling. Once even, a fight took me about 15 minutes, without a break, before I realized that my opponent was invulnerable against my sword and dagger. Also, when I stuffed him with arrows to try and hurt him, his health would regenerate faster. However, it ended up going down thanks to my relentlessness.
In the second act, you go from the first map, bleak and brown, to a refreshing, greener area of Mordor. There, Talion and his companion, the Phantom Elf, suddenly realize that they can control the minds of the Uruks to turn them against each other (This moment in the game is not very clear and it looks like some thing was cut during editing). It's even more fun because the ability to dominate your opponents allows you to give them orders. You can either order him to kill a captain or turn on his cronies. Nonetheless, it may prove more difficult to control an Uruk from chopping off his head. In such cases, it is more difficult to achieve one of the game's recurring objectives: to control the minds of five warlords and to advance in the story. I love the ability to subdue the spirit of a warchief's lieutenants only to then kill them and ultimately see your minion become the new leader. I also noticed that the visual mind control effect caused some slowdowns but that didn't bother me much.
Completing the story missions, which are decent but not necessarily exciting, should take around 12 hours, but the goal of killing, or dominating, the Warchiefs is much more time consuming and interesting. It took me 25 hours to complete this mission and I still have plenty of side quests to complete that rely on testing your sword, bow and sword skills. the dagger. And of course a lot of collectibles and wildlife to kill are just some of the challenges I have yet to accomplish.
On the PC side, Mordor is also comparable to Batman games due to its good graphics quality. There are even some improvements to graphics settings, including ultra-high resolution textures which still require 6 GB of video memory. My only problem with this version is the menu commands, not necessarily efficient, but most are customizable and you always end up getting used to even those that are not customizable.
Finally, after a day of playing Shadow of Mordor in its Xbox One version, I can recommend it without hesitation, just as much as the PS4 and PC versions. It is true that this is probably the one that is the least beautiful to see (but by little) and the PS4 runs at a slightly higher resolution while the PC has better lighting (depending on the level of resolution your hardware can support, of course). Regardless, it runs at about the same level as the PS4 version and effectively offers the same experience. FPS range from 30 to 60 fps, excluding the occasional slowdowns during mind-controlled battles of an Uruk in the midst of a large group of enemies. If you have an Xbox One, there is no reason to skip this version.