Coming into Shadow of Mordor as someone who isn’t into the Middle Earth saga at all, felt a bit odd initially. Other games based around Middle Earth, such as the various Lord of the Rings titles have come across like they are for fans only, with the only exception being the LEGO games. However Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a totally different experience from the very start.
Even early on it is clear that this is a game built as a game, that leads with game mechanics rather than trying to shoehorn a game into a lore aimed at fans. In doing so you have something that is actually very approachable for anyone, whether they are Middle Earth experts, or just someone wanting a good game to play.
Even as just an open world game that mixes the best elements of Assassin’s Creed and Rocksteady’s Batman games, it ticks all the right boxes and would be an enjoyable experience with those alone. The combat in particular is very satisfying using a combination of attacks and counters to take on the various enemies that try to engulf you.
What really makes this a bit special though is the AI that is built using something the developers refer to as the Nemesis System. This architecture builds enemies of various levels that will roam the game world dynamically, partaking in their own missions. But they aren’t just randomly generated and just around, there is a proper hierarchy here.
There are War Orcs who then have several layers of captains beneath them and so on. It may be a case that you encounter one at a time, or find yourself in the disastrous position of having multiple captains after you at once. You can of course try to avoid them, but because they are also taking part in their own missions, they are too leveling up, improving their strengths and trying to fix their weaknesses.
So the longer it takes you to take them down, the harder they will be to defeat further down the line. And whilst we said that the enemies aren’t just random, their movements may as well be, they aren’t set on a select path and will then follow that until the game triggers and event. You could be taking on a mission of your own, and encounter one or more of these enemy types going about their own missions.
In fact, the game almost lives on the idea of creating moments that will take you back and even as the game moves forward it continues to add more and more moments of surprise. Especially when you discover how you can use the Nemesis System in your favour, finding ways around the hierarchy that is in place. Using enemies to your advantage.
You often hear a lot of marketing for games about how the world is ‘alive’. GTA, Watchdogs, Assassin’s Creed, Sleeping Dogs have all made this claim and to a degree it is true, but when you see how the world in Shadow of Mordor works and it takes it to the next level. It isn’t a case of other characters just going about their business, they really are a part of your game.
Exploring is really well implemented as you climb around the various locations, use the world to be stealthy to attack your enemy, or even to escape potential encounters. How you use the world doesn’t feel forced either, it is just there and it is up to you how you embrace it.
The story seems competent enough, but we cannot comment too much on how it fits in with the rest of the Middle Earth series, the books, films, other games, etc. There do seem to be some things that are forced almost to serve as a reminder that this game is part of this world, but it may be a case of us not quite understanding how it all fits together. What we can say though, is that at no point did we feel like we were being spoken down to, or left on the sidelines as the game panders to fans of the Tolkien world.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor isn’t an earth shattering, game changing title. But it does do enough to move the genre on a bit. The Nemesis System in particular should start to make other developers look at how they create enemies and other characters in their own game world. What you do have here is a game that is just great to play, that will soak up many of your hours and leave you wanting more when it has ended.