SoM kill all the orcs

It feels as though all I’ve done since getting Shadow of Mordor is rave to people about how much fun I’m having. It’s been a long time since a game has elicited such a strong and uncontrollably gleeful response in me. There is a lot to love about Shadow of Mordor, and also a few frustrations.


Shadow of Mordor takes place between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and it tells the story of Talion, a Ranger from Gondor whose wife and child are killed. Technically, he is also killed, but instead of dying he is cursed to wander Mordor possessed by a wraith, Celebrimbor. Although their goals are separate, their fates have merged, forcing them to pursue common enemies as they seek to save Mordor and lift Talion’s curse. To do this, Talion and Celebrimbor must conquer the forces in two key areas, the dark and terrifying Udûn and the lush and fertile Núrn. You can fast travel between the two main areas, or within them, via Forge Towers once you have revealed them. Each major area also has its own set of “Sauron’s Army” – a collection of Captains and Warchiefs that make use of the Nemesis System.

The Nemesis System is about as perfect a concept as you can get. When I heard that any grunt of an orc or Uruk could become a boss/captain, I thought it would be some strangely scripted mechanism that would ensure it was always a character intended for promotion. However, this system actually works really well. There I was, looking for a collectible in a fortification when I got sucked into battle upon being seen. Massive brutes were taking me on and whittling down my health as I dodged and countered and continually failed in combat. However, it was that pesky archer in the tower who took me down – he ended up getting promoted to captain and later moving up the ranks even further. His name, strengths and weaknesses came to haunt me, just as I would haunt those who were afraid of beasts or fire as I continually used their weaknesses against them.

SoM captain rune

It’s important to get as much intel on these Captains and Warchiefs as possible – knowing which ones can be taken out with a stealth finisher compared to ranged or melee attacks can make a world of difference in difficulty. And the game does offer quite a bit of tricky combat, especially when you’re swarmed by Uruks who are determined to kill you and get promoted. It adds context and motivation to your enemies as well as yourself, making the mobs of enemies seem to not just be mindlessly attacking you based on orders, but because they are determined to advance their own selfish goals.

Dying in the game is frustrating, of course, but also enlightening. As time passes while you’re busy respawning, orc politics are playing out with Captains leveling up, dueling and even getting defeated. This, combined with the excellently executed open-world, helps to make the game feel alive – the consequences of your actions are felt and it seems like you are actually infiltrating Mordor instead of it being designed for your character.

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There are a variety of ways to get stronger so that you can defeat these enemies. The game works on an XP system – whether you’re sneaking around and killing orcs, grabbing collectibles or gathering herbs you will gain XP to use towards a two-pronged leveling tree. Half the skills are aligned with the more human abilities you’d expect Talion to have, such as improved combat combos or endurance, while the other half is based on the wraith skills of Celebrimbor, such as wraith dashes, flurry kill and my eventual favorite – branding. Each tier of the skill tree can only be unlocked once you have the necessary power, something that is gained by taking on the Captains – this ensures that your character is well rounded while still allowing players to upgrade according to their preferred play styles. Of course, some skills are locked behind plot gateways, only becoming available once you’ve progressed far enough in the story, and you probably won’t feel compelled to unlock all the skills before finishing off the game.

SoM graug

Combat in Shadow of Mordor certainly takes its cues from Batman and Assassin’s Creed. You’ll generally find yourself smashing the attack button unless that counter button lights up. However, there are opportunities for a whole lot more options with combo finishers, the use of focus to slow down time so you can whip out your bow in the middle of combat, as well as upgrades that unlock unique attacks. It improves upon the system in the sense that it does feel more fluid than either of its influences – missing your timing or pressing counter too soon won’t lead your character to stutter or stop moving all together. It’s a much more forgiving system, while still being tricky enough to make it challenging and fun.

Also similar to other games in the genre, Shadow of Mordor has tons of side activities. The Nemesis system is a rabbit hole to fall down, but there are also more missions – these include saving outcasts in Mordor, hunting or gathering, as well as collecting numerous artifacts or key points. Added to this are a ton of challenges to build the legend of your sword, dagger and bow. All side missions take place within the open world, which means you also have a chance of encountering a Captain in the middle, adding a boss fight into a challenge activity. This helps to keep the world feeling sustained and alive – of course a Captain will be in his fort, even if you’re just using his grunts as target practice.

The aesthetics of Shadow of Mordor are beyond compare. The voice work is particularly excellent, with each character feeling alive and individualized. With some tour de force performances, I never doubted the emotions and responses of the various characters. Added to this were spectacular visuals in a world that was vast and explorable. I kept seeking out new parts of the world, checking out glorious vistas and delving into the deepest caves.

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SoM Saruman queen

One of my favourite things about playing the game on the PS4 was the exquisite use of the built-in speaker in the controller. While in stealth, you can whisper to attract an enemy to their doom. However, that whisper comes from the controller itself, a subtle and fantastic addition to the immersive quality of the game.

In fact, the game was so very immersive that when problems cropped up they were even more glaring. As usual with contextual parkour, Talion didn’t always jump and climb where I wanted him to go. For the most part the parkour was smooth, allowing me to easily move up and down towers or buildings as I saw fit. However, occasionally the character would get confused and refuse to climb the wall right in front of him, or would climb when I actually wanted him not to. It doesn’t help that the controller mapping is such that stealth is mapped to the button used for parkour in Assassin’s Creed. It took me a while to get used to which button would make me run and climb compared to sneak and skulk.

Similarly awkward was one particular character instance that seemed to miss some post-production attention. Towards the end of the game, you encounter the awesome hunter dwarf, Torvin. He is a fantastic character with some rather enjoyable missions. However, there are frequent mentions of his enormous gut or massive stomach… and yet the character appears to just be normal sized (for a dwarf). There is no enormous belly on the character and the continuous mention of it breaks the immersive experience.

SoM Talion and Celebrimbor

Finally, there is the ending of the game. I will not be spoiling the game, but suffice it to say that after such a deep and engaging storyline, the ending feels like a cop out. The sort that’s little more than a setup for a sequel. The final battle is also less than thrilling and fails to take advantage of all the cool skills acquired over the course of the game, in fact, it’s nothing more than a glorified QTE experience. I didn’t want to finish the game because I was having such a good time playing, and then I felt let down by finishing the game thanks to a poor ending.

Despite these issues, Shadow of Mordor is a ridiculously fun game, filled with all kinds of fantastic, emergent experiences. Running around Mordor, encountering captains, fighting for your life or dying and watching someone benefit from your death – it’s a truly addicting and thrilling game. For fans of Tolkien’s lore, there is also a ton to discover; artifacts can unlock memories and secrets while environments have full descriptions and lore for those who wish to learn more. Just when I thought I’d explored everything there was to do, I kept finding more fun things. Even after watching the credits roll, I wanted to go back into Mordor and hunt down more Captains and Warchiefs.

 

Last Updated: October 6, 2014

Shadow of Mordor
Summary
While not perfect, Shadow of Mordor surpasses expectations - it's fun, engaging and truly impressive. The Nemesis System is a stroke of genius and sets this game apart from its competitors. A serious contender for Game of the Year.
9.0
Shadow of Mordor was reviewed on PlayStation 4
84 / 100

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. I believe people should stop defining themselves and just enjoy playing games, so let’s get on with it!

  • Cadis Etrama Di Umar

    Wowza…your potential GOTY? …. Wish I had a PS4 🙁 This game looks delicious

  • JJ of Meridian

    Everything sounds excellent, but I’m not a big fan of these “hit this button to counter 5 zillion times” things, but nothing’s perfect.

    • Hammersteyn

      The combat is very close to the Batman series. Only you have a sword, with which you decapitate or impale enemies. Plus the action slows down oh so nicely when this happens.

      • William Francis

        Completely agree, combat is simple and when you get that execution, Its a magical experience, seeing the head come off with a spurt of black blood and a facial expression of “You did not just do that bro!”.

        • Hammersteyn

          The other nice part is making their heads explode

          • JJ of Meridian

            I assume it’s not by using complex mathematics.

          • Hammersteyn

            Nor physics

  • RitterBruder

    the games is good !! its really fun ! but one thing that puts me of is the sticky controls !! its not very fluent

    • Hammersteyn

      Agreed, especially when climbing in certain places and you just want to drop down.

      • Jonah Cash

        Dropping down sucks ass!! It is like the dude is afraid and catches every little thing possible on the way down!! I am for now just jumping down and to hell with the consequences!! I’ll just kick the archer of his perch!!

        • William Francis

          Try holding the O button, I found this to help. When you want to stop falling, just release and he grabs onto the next available ledge.

          • Hammersteyn

            Thanks 😀

          • Jonah Cash

            Thank you good sir!!

      • Sageville

        …or riding a caragor near a wall and suddenly your climbing the damn wall on a mounted beast,…

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    You’re a Raver? Wrong fantasy world 😛 *goes to read more*

  • Hammersteyn

    More fun than beating up Gollum. That pesky archers and spear chuckers is the only thing that makes makes dying feel cheap.

    • GooseZA

      Poison spitting ghuls annoy me more, especially during that one sword legend mission.

      • Hammersteyn

        That too.

      • Sageville

        I gave up, the matriarch at the end just poons me.

        • Alien Emperor Trevor

          Spoons? O_o

          • Sageville

            Hey, keep your freaky monster fetishes to yourself!

  • GooseZA

    I’m having a lot of fun with this at the moment. I’ve only done about 6 story missions so far. Been spending a lot of time just running around collecting things and hunting captains. The stealth kills and executions are tremendously satisfying, even after killing hundres of Uruk. And the game is very pretty on the XB1 as well.

  • Hammersteyn

    The other bad part is when you are busy fighting a captain and another captain joins and another. Insta bail.

    • GooseZA

      LOL! I’ve ended up killing 3 in one go. Helluva fight but man did I feel bad-ass at the end of it. It can get a bit crazy though.

      • Hammersteyn

        Sometimes I just stand still and wait for the next attack just to counter and then get the rhythm going again.

    • Spaffy

      fecking archer captain. Hits you triple shot while busy fighting another captain and bam, you are out

      • Hammersteyn

        I know right, so basically you have to stop fighting the captain you are busy with and press x till you flip like a russian gymnast over to the archer but then the other captain retreats.

  • Jonah Cash

    I haven’t spent all that much time with this yet, but the controls is irritating me to no end!! I play this for an hour and then go back to Destiny… Other games make me realize just how good Destiny’s gameplay is!!!

    • Hammersteyn

      Same here, I just can’t stop playing Destiny. It’s repetitive to no end but you want to grind out every last bit of the game. Also this was classic

      • Raidz

        Honest trailers are the BEST!

    • GooseZA

      What about the controls is frustrating? Gotta say, while destiny’s gameplay is excellent I’m really enjoying the break. Probably also because lately I haven’t been able to stay connected to the servers for more than 5 min at a time.

      • Hammersteyn

        Everyday before I start Destiny I turn of my WiFi and reboot the rooter. That and all the port forwarding I did seems to have done the trick.

      • Hammersteyn

        The climbing is a little frustrating, also if you try to pick up an item after dropping a captain you end up grabbing the nearest orc.

    • Sageville

      When I looked at my friends list the day after SoM released, 80% were still playing Destiny.

      • I saw that two, but then sunday hit and it was all SoM and one destiny player

        • Hammersteyn

          Wait till FC4 releases

          • it going to go like that for awhile, it is october after all, this month madness

      • William Francis

        Yeah I saw that too. Btw, thanks for avenging my death, got a nice notification while I was in Nurn saying you took the bastard down.

    • fred

      Destiny’s gunplay is just epic , had so much fun doing a hard strike on my own last night , barely surviving looking for headshots with my ammo running low , then finally taking the chief down. Look , it might not have a story , but other wise it is perfect fps action. Got SOM today , hope I can let go of Destiny for a while.

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    Cool – sounds good to me, and far more interesting than the books or movies.

  • GooseZA

    The revenge missions are a nice touch too. Where you go an kill an orc who killed someone on your friends list.

    • Hammersteyn

      I tried those, but then they killed me, lol.

  • CAE9872

    Am definitely thinking about this one…

  • Martin du preez (D4RKL1NGza)

    This Orc murder simulator 2014 is seriously my GOTY! Game fucking ROCKS

    • Hammersteyn

      Apt description right here.

  • ReaperOfSquirrels

    Sounds like an epic game… will get my hands on it at some stage or another.

  • Travis

    All my feelings about this game confirmed. Over hyped nemesis system and assassins credd gameplay. You guys enjoy Im giving it a miss.
    “The Nemesis System is about as perfect a concept as you can get.”
    “Combat in Shadow of Mordor certainly takes its cues from Batman and Assassin’s Creed.”

  • Ichigo

    Love this game. But Damn I SUCK at it.

    • Hammersteyn

      Upgrades, do side missions, gather intel and you too will chop Orcs like a Ginsu chef

  • Sageville

    So I killed an Orc Captain, a minute later he’s back, kill him again, back again…

    …and he lets you know that you fought him before. Just curious how they are coming back or is it a case of “I never really killed him in the first place”….

    • Hammersteyn

      Saurons power is dark indeed, all I know is every time I run into the same orc he looks uglier than before.

      • Sageville

        Yeah, I thought that was a great touch, in the end the dood is just wearing a bag over his head.

        So apparently ripping his throat out is just a “Flesh Wound” in Mordor.

    • JJ of Meridian

      Sauron is just sitting there, clicking copy and paste.

    • William Francis

      I also saw that, I killed the one orc who was a body guard, then went on to the Warchief, only to see the arse strutting along next to him. His life was short lived though, as he took an arrow to the Knee moments later

      • Sageville

        DAT KNEE!

  • Admiral Chief 0

    Good!

  • Sageville

    Hmm, I wonder if the amount of hype publishers dish out for a game impacts the review scores i.e. Less hype = meets/exceeds expectation = good score, while more hype = expectations not met = bad score….

    • Hammersteyn

      Sounds legit. Poor Destiny

  • FSR

    This wasn’t even on my radar as i’m not a huge LotR OR RPG fan (i know rite!)…
    But. I. Can’t. Stop. Playing. It.

    It’s so much fun and so rewarding. Highly recommend.

    • Sageville

      Like you I wasn’t even aware of this game, until the faint nerdgasms from reviewers start tickling my ears….

  • Rags

    It’s pretty cool game. And the controls pretty damn good on the PC. It can be both too easy and infuriating frustrating, but its fun. I’ve put about 12 hours in and its starting to become really repetitive though. So I am taking a break from it for a day or two.

    The review also gives the impression that the world is vast. In my experience, its not THAT big, I don’t even bother with fast travel most of the time and just go kill everything I encounter between the waypoints(which is probably why I haven’t progressed much in the story).

    It also looks okay, but Mordor is a pretty grim and dreary place. But most importantly it did not follow the D3 art style of just throwing in effects for the sake of it. It feels like a part of Middle Earth and mostly true to the lore. That was my main concern for this game. The Voice acting is very good too with very familiar Middle Earth dialog.

    Game of the year contender? Hurmph.
    Just happy Monolith is back with a bang. Now use the funds to make a proper game like Blood 3!

    • Alex Hicks

      And just as I post – someone mentions the PC version. Decent you say … interesting.

      • Rags

        Yeah its got like a crazy high 95% user approval rating on Steam. Only a few who seem to have technical issues.Swayed me in getting it.

        • Alex Hicks

          Are you using the vanilla version, or the high-def pack? Are you playing KB and mouse or via gamepad of some sort?

          • Rags

            Using K&M.
            I am also using steam version(not sure if the HD pack is included). Its just standard traditional textures, which seem high enough resolution as is. Its not like its going to turn it into PBR materials or anything 😛

    • JJ of Meridian

      The world not being that big is a bit of a disappointment to me. They said it was going to be huge and it was one of the intriguing things for me.

      • Hammersteyn

        Agreed

      • Rags

        Yeah, agreed. And the environment lacks variety. It’s Mordor afterall. But I can already tell they are going to milk this with DLC and say expand to Gondor and other regions. “Grass and horses DLC”. Well they are stupid if they don’t. 😛 I just wish it had a bit more ‘epic’ locations in the open world.

    • Hammersteyn

      Blood 3 FTW

  • Alex Hicks

    Sounds great from the review; sounds like the controls are a bit of an issue from the comments; and sounds like I’ll have to wait until I get a clear idea of what it plays like on a PC.

    Console ports with poor control mapping make me nervous.

    • Rags

      Controls are sweet on the PC.

      • Kensei Seraph – Staff

        Thanks for the heads up.

  • Sk3tz0

    Game is awesome to boot.. makes up for that dreary dog pooh of a watch dogs I bought earlier this year.. now bring on arkham knight mofos

  • Darren Peach

    You know it’s a good game when you savor it. I am loving it. Yum.

  • trevalyan

    Zoe, this was a really good review, so bravo. I have only one quibble- the ending was FANTASTIC. Yes, it looks pathetically easy, especially the final quick time event, but there’s a really good reason for that. You see, there are tons of hints throughout the game, especially collecting the Ithildin, that Celebrimbor is secretly evil. He’s learned from Sauron how to be a master liar with a fair-sounding agenda, and the Tower calls him out on it by saying he could have left you at any time. The final battles with the Tower and the Black Hand are very easy mechanically- that’s because just by showing up, you’ve already lost. The whole process of the game is Tallion damning himself, and the end is the climax, where Tallion’s will becomes that of Celebrimbor and the Black Hand- to make a new Ring.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/shadowofmordor/comments/2idoi/major_spoilers_shadow_of_mordors_plot_is_amazing/

  • Kensei Seraph – Staff

    Zoe, you should probably be careful.
    My wallet has grabbed a dagger and dark cloak and has just disappeared.
    I fear it may be after your life. Again.

  • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

    I’m getting my copy this evening. I’m kind of excited.

  • Nikola

    I must say the game is really brilliant graphics look great, character design is actually brilliant Orcs look awesome the captain and the whole different weaknesses they have makes it so interesting, but maybe one of the best thing about the game is how smooth the controls are like the character in combat does exactly what I want him to and hit the Orc I want exactly really really polished Combat I must say better than Arkham series even, and the best thingg it is set in Tolkien lore what more do you want:))

  • SlagywaG

    I feel horrible for playing the “Wallet Safe” version. Shall be picking this up after payday out of pure respect for one of the few really good games this year

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