Impressions: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Alrighty, this game. My first impulse buy in a long while, and perhaps the most important question to answer is “do I regret it?” Uncharacteristically, I’ll answer that right in the header: No. No, I have no regrets at all (thus far). I spent some three hours with Talion in the lands of Mordor last night, it and all three of those hours were engrossing, interesting, and fun. Some funny snippets, some “aww sweet!” bits, and more than a few “ooh’s” and “aah’s.” Vault the jump to splash in the less descriptively-muddy waters.


In my three hours thus far, I have accomplished much while roaming the landscape and avoiding the main missions. At least a hundred Uruk warriors owe their end to my blades and arrows, I have ended the rise of at least six hopeful Uruk captians, risen again to obtain bloody satisfaction, ridden a Caragor (badly), slipped silently into the shadows and left my enemies bewildered and terrified at the thought of me.

Many have correctly pointed out Shadow of Mordor’s similarities to that of Assassin’s Creed, and I’d throw Batman’s Arkham games into the comparison-pot too. Traversal works by holding a button to sprint and while you hold it you’ll vault and climb whatever’s in front of you, assuming it’s climbable (the majority of things are). The same for being stealthy: hold a button down and you enter a stealth mode to slink about less-seen; hold both sprint and stealth to slink more quickly. Fine movements and encounters with small scenery doodads can be unpredictable, causing some mild frustration at times.

Combat smacks of the Arkham games’ mechanics but more in AC’s style (swords and blood and things). One-click attack , one-click counter, one-button dodge, with some double-taps and extra buttons thrown in for a little depth and variety (like a “Wraith strike” ability, and a takedown move once you’re at an 8-hit combo). The combat works well, feeling fun and fluid. Except… Well, at this point, it’s too easy to beat the tar out of the Uruk (should the plural be Urukai?). I can hold a fight down one-handed (with the mouse), and the more abilities I get the more I’m concerned I’ll be entirely over-powered soon. I died only once, and deserved it for angering a stronghold and getting a swarm of Uruk on my case, along with a captain or two, in close quarters. I held them for a solid ten minutes with basic counters and hits (I hadn’t unlocked the combo takedown yet). I survived two last-stands, took a hit while performing a ground takedown because I waited too long to counter (I didn’t want to interrupt my takedown), and finally didn’t pay attention to the third last stand. Lasting that long in that situation just seems like something I shouldn’t be capable of yet. Where others have complained about a first hour that was too hard, I breezed through and worry that it was too easy (not to intentionally tout the Supreme Input Methods of the Master Race, but every complaint I saw about too much difficulty was by someone with a controller… Seems strange, is all).

Being able to mow your enemies down may not be a bad thing, but here it’s a disservice to one of the game’s coolest mechanics: the nemesis system. In three hours six of the captains on my board were dead, not because I actively hunted all of them (I only intentionally hunted my first killer for revenge), but because they happened to be around when I was spotted and were dispatched in the ensuing encounter. The nemesis system doesn’t get to shine when even the higher-level captains can’t land a hit; they’ll all die before they come close to being proper nemeses. I like the special enemies that are unique to my game and the possibility for the emergent rivalries to develop, and had a good laugh about the grunt who took me down and got promoted. There’s a great immersion-builder there, but I’m not about to go easy on a few token Uruk to build those rivalries falsely.

Of course, the possibility exists that I’m being too critical, too early. I avoided the main missions so probably haven’t let the game get all its gears engaged. I haven’t had encounters with captains using ranged or unblockable attacks, or even general Uruk that are anything but the regular fodder. Hopefully, more advanced enemies will start making appearances once I get through a few of the initial campaign missions, and I’ll see about updating this post then.

I love the nemesis system, even if I’ve only seen glimmers of its shine in my own play, and how death is incorporated into gameplay. The combat is smooth and fun, and there’s enough depth to promise a good challenge down the line. The lore is rich and giving me a hankering to finally read the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings for realsies (I have to wonder how much Tolkien developed, and how much Monolith or WB’s writers added). The smidgen of story I have seen has been intriguing and sets the scene well. Suffice to say, I feel the game was worth the buy (I still balk at the full price though, but hooray for discounts!). I can see a lot of fun times are to be had, and I have but scratched the surface.