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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor - review

Jack Graal
4 November 2014
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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was a great unknown until the release day. And here it turns out that we have received a decent chunk of sandbox game which introduces a new level of gameplay depth  - and does it well.

The main character is Talion - a guard serving on the Black Gate. The orcs capture him along with his wife and son after a failed attempt to defend the fortification. They are all ritually killed by the servants of Sauron to summon a wraith, who unexpectedly enters the body of Talion and brings him back to life. That spirit is none other than Celebrimbor, the elf, who has forged the Rings of Power a long time ago, but does not remember a thing. Thus, we have in fact two protagonists in one. One wants to know his past, and the other wants to avenge his family.

The story has been quite cleverly woven into the canon of Middle-earth, and the whole games is soaked with the atmosphere of both of Peter Jackson's trilogies - though sometimes the game is much more gory. Even the soundtrack, which doesn’t make use of any music motives from the movies, preserves that unique climate.

The Nemesis feature will be a little simplified on PS3 and X360

What distinguishes Shadow of Mordor is the Nemesis system. The orc captains have randomly generated looks, names and personalities, based on a set of strengths and weaknesses. This ensures that every struggle requires a slightly different strategy or some planning and intel gathering before the confrontation. Orcs remember their victories and defeats. That's why losing in this game makes a difference. Every death is a promotion of some orc in the hierarchy. If you do not want to fight with the army of captains at the maximum level - try not to die too often. And the frustrating Quick Time Events do not make it any easier.

Orcs compete against each other and kill their own kin, to take their place in the hierarchy. Thanks to that, the situation on the map is constantly changing, which can sometimes shatter your plans, but also increase the lifetime of the game. And to get rid of an orc for good, you have to excecute him by decapitation - otherwise, he may return to the battlefield even uglier from the past wounds, but also more skilled. And if an orc is executed, another one takes his place.

Free DLC “Power of Shadow” allows you to play in the skin of one of the main bosses

When you finally get the ability to dominate orcs, the game becomes even more interesting and diverse. You can even lead to a situation in which all of the orcs in the army of Sauron will in fact serve Talion. I also like the fact that the skills in the character development tree are practical and not invented just to fill a blank space. You don't have to buy them all, but each skill can significantly facilitate or spice up the hunt for the orcs.

The combat system is extremely complex. Combos and counterattacks, slaughtering, Shadow Strike, which allows teleporting to an enemy of your choice, archery, mounting large and even larger beasts, blasting bonfires, attacking from stealth or from heights, exploiting enemy fears, or issuing orders to dominated orcs. All of this fits together smoothly and allows for a completely different approach to every battle. And thankfully a well designed control system does not make things any more difficult.

Additional uncompressed textures can be downloaded to PC version, but they need 6GB VRAM. In fact you don’t need them, because they don’t make any difference

Mordor is divided into two separate maps - the first is barren, the second entirely covered with lush vegetation. The cycle of day and night and very realistic rain heavily diversifies the landscape, so you do not feel bored with the environment. The graphics in Shadow of Mordor are gorgeous - just look on the area from a higher building, or use the Photo Mode to see all the bells and whistles. And although some of the textures of the walls or the ground are not as good as the rest, the looks of this game is still very impressive. It is also well optimized and runs pretty smoothly even on hardware that barely meets the minimum requirements.

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