When the Lord of the Rings themed Shadow of Mordor was announced, I really didn’t give it much thought. Besides the general poor performance of movies turned to games, there was also the simple fact that I’m just not really into Lord of the Rings. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good fantasy story, but Tolkien’s books and later movies just weren’t my thing. Now credit where credit is due, without his books the fantasy genre would likely have stayed on the fringe of popular culture instead of one of it’s strongest pillars. However, that fact doesn’t make me enjoy the lore anymore than I have.
After the game was released I had heard some initial good things, but as stated I wasn’t really looking that hard at it. It wasn’t until a couple months later when I overheard somebody at work describe it as “Assassin’s Creed in Mordor.” That had my attention. I breezed through a couple reviews of the game and it did seem to implicate that the game was using a sort of Assassin’s Creed style “sneak and kill” type of gameplay. I dropped the game onto my Amazon wishlist and decided that I might check it out once I was done with the holiday lineup.
Some time later a family member ended up selecting it from my wish list for my birthday, and then it went up on the shelf to collect dust while I focused on two Assassin’s Creed titles and the Master Chief Collection. Once I had finally finished up with those around the end of December I decided to give it a try instead of moving onto Dragon Age as I had initially planned.
After a few hours on the game what I discovered was not so much an Assassin’s Creed in Mordor, but a Batman Arkham game in Mordor. The one shining difference being that instead of beating up thugs, I was murdering orcs. This one difference may have been where so many people were getting hung up. But the games sneaking mechanics, climbing, combos, and hordes of seemingly endless enemies are definitely all defining qualities of the Arkham games, and not Assassin’s Creed. Don’t misunderstand however, I fully enjoy the Arkham games, so there was plenty of fun to be had.
One of the most fun features of the game is the orcs command structure. There are about 20 Captains on each of the games two areas, and then above them 5 War Chiefs that control each area. There were constant power struggles between them that I could exploit if I chose that added in some very creative and fun elements. Later on in the game you learn the ability to mind control enemies so they are under your control. Unlike the ability in some other games where this kind of control is relegated to one or two enemies for a specific amount of time, Mordor let’s you mind control any number of enemies, and they belong to you until they are dead. This includes Captains and War Chiefs. Once I learned the ability I almost stopped killing orcs all together. By the end of the game when I would run into patrols, it was more likely to be orcs under my control than not. Adding it in with the command structure built into the game made for even more fun and interesting ways of planning out objectives. The best part of it is you could do as much or as little as you chose, but I found myself frequently planning out every detail, turning every Captain, and utilize every fear to my advantage. It made what would have been a relatively short game much longer.
The actually story of the game was fairly ho-hum, but as I mentioned above I’m really not into the lore. You play a Ranger that could easily be Aragorn’s brother, who was murdered along with his family by the Black Hand of Sauron. However the ghost of Celebrimbor (who I guess forged the original rings of power?) doesn’t allow you to move on, and keeps you trapped in the world of the living so you can aid him in stopping the Black Hand from resurrecting Sauron. The game takes place a few years before the trilogy, so they set this up as Sauron’s first attempt to return. They hope that if the Ring is lost forever, they can force the ghost of Celebrimbor to forge another instead. 50,000 murdered orcs later, things didn’t quite work out.
Graphically the game isn’t Assassin’s Creed Unity, but that’s to be expected for a game that launched to both old and next gen systems. The gameplay is where the game really shines, and while combos are included like the Arkham games, they are limited to double button presses instead of long multi-button combinations that you really don’t want to try to remember when fighting off 36 assailants.
Overall I found the game pretty enjoyable and would even consider some of the DLC if I end up bored after the rest of the games on my list. I’m looking forward to more of the same from this series.