Since Warner Bros Games acquired Monolith Productions in 2004, they have attempted several games related to J. R. R. Tolkien’s incredible fantasy world. However, their newest creation is of a far higher standard than any previous game. As a comparison, if Assassin’s Creed and Batman: Arkham Asylum joined together inside Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the result would be Shadow of Mordor (SOM).
The game is set after The Hobbit and before The Lord of The Rings. After Sauron’s downfall, the people of Gondor moved to cultivate the land of Mordor. Quite some time before the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, Sauron returns to his land and does his best to eradicate the presence of Gondor there. This is where the game starts.
The player takes control of Talion, a ranger of Gondor stationed on the Black Gate. A fearsome opponent, Talion fights in vain to defend the gate against Sauron’s forces. Unlike other games, SOM does not treat death as a ‘Game Over’ or force the player to reload to an earlier checkpoint and try again. Talion is killed in the first scene and wakes up in a limbo between life and death. There he meets the Wraith, an undead elf of unknown origins, who was brought back by Sauron. Joined together in their desire to be free of this undead curse, they set off into the hostile world of Mordor in search of Sauron and his Black Captains.
SOM is open world and rewards exploration. The world is filled to the brim with side quests and collectables, already complementing the massive branching story. Talion must fight his way through Mordor, inhabited by this Wraith who is gaining power as his memories are unlocked.
The combat in SOM is almost identical to that of the Arkham games. It is based around attack, counter, stun, and dodge. The higher the combo the player achieves, the faster Talion moves and the more powerful his attacks. The stealth system is much like Assassin’s Creed but incorporates the unusual power of the Wraith, resulting in satisfying and brutal takedowns.
What makes this game unique however is the ‘Nemesis System.’ Uruks (which are larger, stronger orcs) in Middle Earth have a brutal method of society, in which the weak are stepped on and the strong grow in power. It is easily split into three main groups; grunts, captains, and warchiefs. Many grunts have aspirations to become captains and many captains serve warchiefs; all with their own aspirations to become more powerful and grow in stature in society. The Nemesis System gives this society a tangible form, with each uruk worthy of note and possessing a unique name and title.
When encountering such an uruk, they will have their own personality, weapon of choice and attitude to Talion who is infamous throughout the society. Any uruk who kills Talion is immediately promoted and if Talion dies whether by a nameless uruk or by a creature the society still shifts and changes. There is a constant struggle in this society, whether Talion is present or not. These uruks will remember you too. Perhaps you raided a feast that the captain was holding but let him flee; he will remember this and will hate you even more for it; mentioning it in further encounters. This system really gives SOM a depth that most games, Tolkien or not, lack.
Overall SOM is a wide, expansive and enjoyable game. There is enough challenging content to keep any active player engaged for hours on end. Whether you’re a fan of Tolkien or not, this game is a must buy.