I first read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien about 20 years ago, and ever since I’ve enjoyed the stories in the world it created. Middle-Earth has known a lot of stories, be it the novels that were written by Tolkien or the six films that were directed by Peter Jackson, but it has also been the setting for numerous video games over the years. Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is one of those games.
Originally released on September 30th, 2014, it was made for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. It tells the story of a Ranger from Gondor who seeks revenge for the end of his family after being banished from death.
Developed by Monolith Productions, who were known for games like F.E.A.R. and Condemned: Criminal Origins, and published by Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment, Shadow of Mordor takes place in the time between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and is set in two regions in the land of Sauron: Mordor.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor leans into the violence that would be prominent in a medieval world at war. For this reason, it is rated M (for Mature). This is a surprise because it’s the first Middle-Earth game to do so since 2011’s The Lord of the Rings: War in the North.
The game has two main characters: Talion, the Ranger, and Celebrimbor, an Elf who is often considered the best smith of Middle-Earth’s Second Age. While Talion and Celebrimbor have the same goal, their motivations are vastly different. Talion is interested mainly with revenging his falling family, while Celebrimbor starts the game without knowing who he is or anything about himself.
Throughout the game, Talion and Celebrimbor run into multiple characters that help them along with their quest. Gollum, a character who is known for helping Sam and Frodo complete their mission within The Lord of the Rings, shows up to help Talion and Celebrimbor find items to restore Celebrimbor’s memory.
Two other main characters in the game are Ratbag, an orc who Talion helps rise in the ranks of Sauron’s army, and Hirgon, a Gondorian who leads a small community of Gondorians within Mordor.
Later in the game, we meet Queen Marwen of Núrn and her daughter, Lithariel. The two of them help Talion and Celebrimbor in the same way that Gollum does earlier in the game. And finally, there is Torvin, the Dwarf who teaches Talion how to hunt the bigger animals of Mordor.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor has a control scheme that feels much like Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham series in the way that you tend to find yourself beating off many characters at once in a free-flow way, linking hits together before you can make a massive killing move. The main difference is Shadow of Mordor also allows you to ride animals that allow for higher power and speed. The primary control provides for a simple combat that is fun, and the big moves are always entertaining.
The most prominent feature of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is the introduction of what Monolith Productions titled the Nemesis System. The Nemesis System allows for the AI enemies to remember you after they defeated. Plus, they can then rise in the ranks of Sauron’s army. With this being the first iteration of the Nemesis System, it is not without its faults. While allowing for greater generation of enemies, there is a limited amount of dialog. With the small pool of dialogue options, it quickly becomes competitive.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a game I enjoyed greatly. So much so that I racked up over 200 hours of playtime. The story is engaging and interesting, while the gameplay is responsive and innovative. As an action-adventure game set, Shadow of Mordor is set in an open world. Though limited, it has a fun and engaging narrative full of dynamic and creative characters.
Initially released in 2014, this game would go on to make many Game of the Year lists. Sites like IGN, Polygon, and EGM would add them to their end of the year lists, praising the Nemesis System and the combat control system. Not only do I agree with their praise of combat and the Nemesis Systems but of characters and the story, too. This is a game that I recommend to fans of stories set in Middle-earth and of the action-adventure genre in general.