Disclosure: We purchased Middle-Earth: Shadows Of Mordor (from here on referred to as Mordor) for £35 of Amazon and played it on X1.
The underdog to rule them all
Mordor didn't look like it was going to be much. It was announced with no gameplay or fanfare, and quickly plummeted in price on Amazon and other sites (except GAME) and as a licensed game we was all expected it join the "meh heap" but then we paused as it was rated M - Mature. That was a good sign, Cash in's are usually E - everyone or T - Teen to maximise sales then slowly we started to get details and it sounded promising.
There and back again... in blood
Set after the Hobbit but before Lord of the Rings, There is no leaning on the films for support (expect one character who makes a loosely connected experience).
The mature rating is put to full use right from the get go. As our hero Talion, A ranger of Gondor and captain of the black gate watches as Saruon's followers kill his family in front of him and then give him the same extreme shave. However Talion wakes in the wraith world and discovers he has been bound to the spirit of an elven archer who also thirsts for revenge. The wraith's desire for revenge is so great it prevents Talion from passing it the next world so no matter how (or how often) you die you always comeback.
The plot is possibly the games weakest part. Not because it's bad, if you remove the Middle Earth lore the story is your usual revenge and redemption tale. It is effective and the Middle Earth's lore really dose help the story feel special. It just that the game part is better.
Game play merger!
We knew that this was being published by Warner Brothers (publishers of the Arkham Series) but we wasn't expecting developer Monolith (F.E.A.R & Condemned) to raid Rocksteady's game mechanics. Mordor's Talion borrows a lot of Batman's play book.
So combat is predictably great and free flowing allowing you to bounce from enemy to enemy using attacks, counters, Stuns and a dodge/flip over, building up a combat multiplier allowing you to unlease a speacil (usually head removal) attacks. Though the system is a little more forgiving than the Bat's as you can counter mid attack. Combat feels rewarding as you chain together hits, dodges and counters. Tailon can also enter the wraith world the same world we see when Bilbo or Frodo puts on the ring, this functions largely the same as Batman's Detective visions
The devs also borrowed from Ubisoft as the climbing and stealth mechanics are faithful emulations of the Assassin's Creed series famous abilities. however enhanced by a the ability to sneak which is handy as stealth is rather important in this title especially when it comes to the captains. Speaking of...
My captain, My rival!
Mordor's big selling point is it's "Nemesis System" and it pure player story gold. For those who don't know this system fills your world with randomly generated Uruk (Alpha Orcs) captains (bar a few plot required ones) so not only are their names, titles, appearances are randomly picked but so are their strengths, fears, weaknesses and hatreds. Resulting in each captain feeling different from their piers. But not only dose the system give you these random mini bosses but it remembers your fights with them. Whenever you encounter an captain you'll lock blades and he'll either reference your legend in Mordor or your previous fight.
Events happen in the world where these Uruk try to move up their hierarchy and become War Chiefs. They do this by ambushing one another, hosting feast, executing rivals, beast hunts, duels, and trial's by ordeal. If a captain succeeds in one of these he is awarded power and moves up in the hierarchy. All of these events are also missions you can invade. either trying to stop an powerful enemy from rising up the ranks or try eliminating them entirely.
I found these enemy level ups are greater punishment for death than Dark Souls' unspent XP drop system, It forced me to play smart and added a real sense of danger to the whole affair.
2nd Act Woes
the seound half of the game see us travel to a far nicer looking area of Mordor but also see the introductions of "dominations" where you can turn an Uruk (captain or not) to your side. This combined with the advanced skills see's the difficulty plummet. As hordes of enemies stop being an danger but an asset, would be assassins become body guards and so combat starts to feel like a waste of resources. The 2nd act is also here the game hit a some majore frame rate drops as one area was over filled with Uruks fighting me, each other and the wild life as a hoard of flies buzzing around and I was exploding barrels.
Despite the 2nd act wobble and relatively weak plot Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor is an amazing game and an example of what Next Gen games can be, if Graphics are secondary.
Destiny might be touted as the first "Next Gen" game but seeing as it's cross gen with only a graphical not feature downgrade. Mordor stands as a true next gen game
+ Frilling combat
+ Deadly enemies
+ True "Next Gen"
- Standard Plot
- Weaker 2nd half
- Occasional Nemesis Monster