Review: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4)

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Title: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (26 GB)
Release Date: September 30, 2014
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Monolith Productions
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.
The PlayStation 4 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Golden Minecart Award Winner 2014:
– Best Newcomer (New IP: PS4 Disc-Based)

The Lord of the Rings is the highest grossing trilogy at the box office, leaving all other trilogies in its dust. While the franchise has met outlandish acclaim and recognition in the movie world, it has been mediocre when it comes to the videogame world. The games taking place within the Tolkien universe have never been able to grab the magic and appeal that the films did, leaving the games forgettable. The very-real movie/videogame curse has affected this globally popular franchise massively.

This time, trying to change the fate of the series, developer Monolith Productions was given the reigns of the franchise to do with it as they saw fit. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor doesn’t follow the story of Frodo Baggins and it doesn’t feature Legolas or many of the characters we came to know. Instead the developers have created a story that dives into areas that were not really touched on by the books, but only hinted at. With this freedom of not having to follow a specific story arc or lore, Monolith has created the single best videogame that The Lord of the Rings franchise has had, and with that have created one of the best games on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Don’t misunderstand me, this IS a Lord of the Rings game; it features a lot of lore and themes from the books/movies, including a character or two. Fans of the original book or movie series will find plenty of things that will make them giddy, but it really isn’t that part of the game which makes Shadow of Mordor so awesome, it’s the gameplay and systems at work.

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Shadow of Mordor is a story of vengeance as the opening scene of the game features the death of the main character, Talion, and his family by the hands of Sauron’s pawns. Upon death, Talion’s spirit is bound to, at the time, an unknown Elf-king and he is sent back to the world of the living giving him new skills and powers to help on his quest. Through the rest of the twenty-five plus hour campaign you’ll track down the main forces behind Sauron’s army to gain control and exact your revenge on those who harmed you, your family, and any enemy that gets in your way.

Gameplay:
For saving you from reading a lot of explanations of how the gameplay works, just think of a combination of the parkour skills in Assassin’s Creed and the fighting mechanics in Batman: Arkham City (or any of the new Batman games). Talion is able to make his way over rocks, off and up cliffs, up buildings, and other parkour-related skills. Combat differs slightly from the Batman games in the fact that Talion uses a sword, dagger and bow where as Batman did not, yet other than that the combat is very similar and maybe even a tad bit easier. Combat is mapped to a press of a single button, then a tap of another button that acts as a counter to an incoming attack from an enemy. The difference arises from where Batman relied on a lot of button timing during combat instances. Shadow of Mordor is slightly forgiving, but the difficulty tends to spike as the game doesn’t shy away from throwing more enemies at you than you can handle.

Talion, before death, is highly ranked as a Ranger of Gondor, meaning he is very skilled when it comes to killing things. His masterful skill shows when dealing with basically any enemy by being able to dispatch them within seconds. The difficulty comes in when the game decides to throw multiple enemies at you at once, and it will do that a lot. A small skirmish in Shadow of Mordor usually means you’ll be facing off against at least five or six enemies at once. The most I counted during one of my more epic fights was thirty-two. The game does not shy away from sending more enemies at you than you can handle, and it will do it often, despite your level, skill, or health, keeping you on your toes and being fearful of death.

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Upon death you can gain a new, powerful rune to equip to your weapons, or your killer can rank up within the army, becoming stronger. Getting into a fight with an enemy ranked as a captain or higher and defeating them will reward Talion with a rune. These ruins offer varying bonuses that can added to one of your three weapons to upgrade your skills. The level, or strength, of the rune you receive from a fallen enemy is based on the rank within the army. A bodyguard will drop a higher ranked rune compared to a captain, and a warchief will give an even more powerful one.

As I just mentioned, if an uruk kills Talion, that particular uruk gains experience leveling him up within the army. During your travels you’ll be able to hunt down that particular uruk who ended your life to exact your revenge. Each uruk will even make comments on the previous battles that you have had with him, giving the game a real sense of a “living world”.

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Visuals:
Shadow of Mordor is full of great looking moments. Though there are truly only two different land masses you will be murdering your way through, both are distinctly different from one another and both are equally pleasing to the eyes. Neither areas are that large, but what the game lacks in scale it makes up for in detail.

What I found more impressive though were the character models. Though there is a point when you’ll begin to see repeating character models, the sheer breadth of enemy looks is astounding. Adding to the complexity of enemy appearances are the scars that they gain from battling you. Burns, scratches, loss of arms or legs and many more variations are added to uruks if they somehow survive their encounter with you – providing not only more interesting things to look at, but also adding to the sense of a real world.

On occasion, very rare occasions, I would experience pop-in and slow texture loading but those moments were very few and very far between.

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Audio:
Characters are all voiced decently well, but nothing is really memorable. Likewise, the soundtrack is about as mediocre as you could get.

Online/Multiplayer:
This is a single player game but there is a leaderboard that will show you various stats of other players from around the world.

Conclusion:
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is the first game that has truly shown the power of these new-gen systems. The ‘Nemesis System’, the “living world” aspect of the game, isn’t possible on the older systems and will be completely removed when the game arrives on them.

I had a ton of fun playing through the story and just unleashing unfathomable amounts of pain and punishment on the lowly uruk army. Borrowing some of the best mechanics from some great games and combining them has given Shadow of Mordor a great starting point, and it only gets better with its story.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Kyle Jessee

Kyle Jessee

Your lone Kentucky writer on staff. Loves the Big Blue Nation, rock music, and Resistance 2 (the best in the series).

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  • Keith Dunn

    DAMN YOU! More money I gotta spend.

  • ChazzH69

    Another one added to my must buy list.

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  • J.D. Dabbs

    I finally have been playing this and I found an oversight that is causing me endless FURY with this game: the controls! I swear it’s worse than Assassin’s Creed in parts! Here I am trying to take out a captain and carefully avoid all the adds. This is seriously what happened- I am climbing in the castle ruins having a difficult time getting the guy to just jump across a simple gap. The captain is immune to ranged attacks and various other attacks, but a drop attack seems to work. Even this is problematic because it is a real pain to target the correct enemy, (the guy is right handed and WILL NOT look straight down or at an angle to see) but I keep at it. I get the captain to a tiny bit of life and CAN NOT TURN TO HIT HIM BECAUSE I’m stuck on a rock or in a corner or A ROPE is in my way and I get shot dead by an archer. Last chance effort? Nope. It happened in a frenzied attempt to get my character out of danger. So I am dead again. I get hung up in rocks, tent ropes, random outcroppings…don’t get me started on how weird it gets when you get a wall-climbing mount that barely obeys your commands.
    CIRCLE is used to drain enemies and to drop from hanging…and that feels wonky! Just let me push down on the stick! I keep trying to climb like I’m playing Uncharted. Uncharted this definitely is NOT!
    After stalking the same guy for over 2 hours, I am sad to report a genuine rage quit.

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