It’s no secret that certain game designs and mechanics are ‘borrowed’ between developers. With Shadow of Mordor, Monolith Productions borrowed from two popular franchises — Assassin’s Creed and the Batman Akhram series. But the game is more than just another shallow clone. While it does borrow from two popular franchises, it does bring something new to gaming with the Nemesis System. Will Shadow of Mordor stand out among the crowd, or will it become another victim of a busy holiday release schedule? Let’s find out.
Shadow of Mordor takes place between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. You play as Tailon, a Ranger of the Black Gate who is killed by The Black Hand of Sauron, only to become the host of a wraith named Celebrimbor. Your quest begins as a simple tale of vengeance against The Black Hand of Sauron, but as you progress through the story you discover that both Tailon and Celebrimbor want more than just revenge.
With the J.R.R. Tolkien’s work serving as the source material, you would think that the story would not only be the main selling point, but one of the main hooks in the game. Sadly, it isn’t. Like most open world games, the story isn’t strong enough to keep you focused on the task at hand. Story events are never fulfilling, so when you complete a mission in the campaign you never feel a sense of accomplishment. Instead you find yourself thinking “okay another cut scene, let’s get back to killing Orcs.”
Shadow of Mordor’s story would be better served in a traditional, linear campaign instead of an open-world affair.
From the moment you dive off the first tower, you will instantly recognize Assassin’s Creed’s influence. And just like Assassin’s Creed, Tailon must climb towers to sync the map(groan). Tailon can also free run like Ezio, but that also comes with the downside of him not jumping where you want him to, or not jumping at all. Talion is as agile as Ezio and his brethren, but also comes with a few new tricks of his own.
Tailon can upgrade his Ranger and Wraith abilities, giving him the power to control and ride various beasts roaming Mordor. He can also dominate and command foot soldiers and captains to fight for him. There are even high level abilities that will give you special powers, like the Shadow of Acharn, which allows Tailon to remain invisible for 20 seconds and have unlimited stealth kills. There are also weapon runes that you earn from killing captains that enhance your weapons by changing their attributes.
There is no right or wrong way to upgrade Tailon, it just depends on your play style. And when it comes to combat, you will instantly see Arkham series inspiration. Combat in Shadow of Mordor is similar to combat in the popular Batman series. You have a basic attack button that builds your combo meter. When you combo meter builds to a certain point you can pull off a variety of special moves (assuming you’ve unlocked them). There are various enemy classes, each with their own set of strengths and weaknesses. Before enemy attacks, a button will appear over their head allowing you counter their attack with an attack of your own. And if you happen to be caught off guard by a group of orcs there is a last resort quick-time event that happens before the killing blow to give you a second chance. Again, if you ever played an Arkham game you will feel right at home when the combat starts.
There was a time when completing side missions and collecting certain items would lead to rare weapons and armors. Many of us can remember spending countless hours raising Chocobos in Final Fantasy VII for the Nights of The Round materia. In Shadow of Mordor, collecting items and completing the open-world side missions get you one thing — trophies. Unless showing off your PSN trophy collection is a big deal in your circle of friends, there is no reason to spend time hunting for lost artifacts or completing side mission. For example, after completing side missions to reforge my sword, dagger, and bow, I was rewarded with a trophy and reskin of my weapons. My weapons did not become more powerful, they just looked nicer than the original set. I even collected all the Wraith memories and lost artifacts, thinking I might get some type of hidden skill or new weapon. Instead I got a trophy.
If trophies are the future of side quests then the system can die today.
The Nemesis System
The Nemesis System is Shadow of Mordor’s main selling point. It’s what separates the game from becoming another Assassin’s Creed/Batman clone. In Mordor, the orcs have a power structure. There are the grunts or foot soldiers, followed by captains, and then you have Warchiefs who rule over the captains and foot soldiers. Within this power structure Orcs will fight other orcs in an attempt to move up the food chain. But more importantly, any enemy that kills you can be become a captain. That means the no name footsoldier that killed you with that arrow in the back will now become a captain.
Of course having a ‘living’ power structure can be manipulated by outside forces. More specifically, Tailon can directly affect what happens within the Orc ranks. For example, if two captains are fighting each other you can interrupt the fight and kill one or both of the captains. Or you can watch the battle and let the game determine who lives and dies. You are free to interfere as much as you like, and it is this system that becomes the hook for Shadow of Mordor. Instead of playing the game to complete the story, you play to topple the power structure.
You spend time hunting down certain Orcs that have intel on captains. You use that intel to murder captains and work your way up to Warchiefs. Once you target a Warchief you must complete certain tasks to bring them out of hiding. Once they’re out of hiding get ready for one of the toughest battles in the game. Of course if you’ve gained the brand ability you could control the Warchiefs bodyguards and have them turn on their leader, giving you an edge in the fight.
It’s the freedom of choice with how you deal with the enemies of Mordor that has earned the game it’s praise.
Overall, Shadow of Mordor is a solid game but it’s not a stand out. The combat is solid and there are plenty of activities to keep you busy, but they never feel worthwhile. The story is interesting, but not enough to pull you through the game. There are plenty of side quests and collectibles, but they don’t serve any purpose other than to occupy more of your time. Completing side missions doesn’t earn you any rare items. Instead you earn trophies, which depending on your school of thought is worthless. The reason you buy Mordor is because it takes solid mechanics and matches them with a new mechanic in the Nemesis system. You play because you enjoy manipulating the power structure of the enemy.
In the end, Shadow of Mordor will probably be lost among the holiday release titles. Games like GTA V and Dragon Age: Inquisition will outshine Mordor in specific areas. GTA V will be a better open world experience and Dragon Age will more than likely tell a better story. Shadow of Mordor is a good game with new designs, but doesn’t do enough to stand out.
Verdict: Buy on sale or borrow from a friend