Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is now available now for Playstation 4 and Xbox One; available for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 Nov. 18, $59.99
I just can’t get enough of Lord of the Rings, and judging by the success of The Hobbit, neither can the rest of you. The world J.R.R. Tolkien created is as rich as, say, the world in which we live — because like the world in which we live, anything is possible if you take phrases said in passing and turn them into lore, as is the case with most spinoffs relating to The Lord of the Rings.
This is the case for Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, the recently released action-packed revenge story that, rather than taking you for a romp through the New Zealand countryside, replaces it with Liam Neeson in any movie Neeson has starred in of late: a vengeful family man out for blood. Only there’s a ghost involved . . . and stuff.
Shadow of Mordor begins after you (Talion) and your family are murdered by orcs. Your job originally was to keep the orcs at bay as a ranger (think Aragorn but a bit more amateurish) and you fail spectacularly. Instead of bleeding out on the floor, the ghost of an elf inhabits and resurrects you, because though Elves are kind, gentle creatures, they are also filled with lust for revenge. With your powers combined, you’re free to roam the open world, but you might want to be careful about the choices you make.
Shadow of Mordor makes use of the so-called Nemesis system which means an incredible level of detail to the relationships between yourself and your enemies. It also means that strategy is the key to success.
Your main task is ridding the countryside of the Uruk-hai generals, thereby weakening Mordor’s defenses for the ultimate battle. How you choose to go about this is what makes it interesting because if you fail, your enemies become stronger. A chessboard-like map shows the leaders you’ve encountered and, once you fail (and you will), it’ll demonstrate how the political world has been shaken up.
You were killed by a Uruk-hai security guard? That guard is going to get a promotion, and the orc he works under is going to get stronger. His minions are going to laugh at you if you try to kill him again. Oh, did I mention you’re immortal? You die, resurrect and then the pain continues until you figure out a way to defeat the orcs that will be undoubtedly be smirking in your face until you lop their heads off.
If you’ve ever played Batman: Arkham City or Assassin’s Creed, specifically the second iteration, you’ll be familiar with the system mechanics otherwise. Map foraging, climbing, and even the battle system seem to be directly lifted from the Arkham games. They are, after all, both Warner Bros. titles.
What makes Shadow of Mordor so interesting is the Nemesis system and the relationships you develop with your enemies because of it. You’ll encounter several enemies several times and they’ll have something new to say, and so will you. Talion isn’t a silent avenger like so many protagonists, but rather a smack-talkin’ badass with a sword and an elf inside of him, as we all wish we were.
Sadly, as is the case so often nowadays, in order to do battle against The Lord of the Rings’ greatest enemy, Sauron, you’ll need to purchase the $25 season pass. The pass will give you access to new trials, new skins for your characters and, most important, the ability to do battle against freakin’ Sauron as an elf wielding the ring of power. Worth $25? Eh, it’s your call. Shadow of Mordor is fun enough on its own.
Chris O’Neal is waiting for a first-person game starring Tom Bombadil. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @agentoneal.