Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor doesnít mess around when it comes to setting the initial tone. The opening cutscene showcases the brutal execution of our protagonist, Talion along with the rest of his family.
Now, our protagonist isnít actually deadÖ right? Of course heís not! This IP is based around Tolkeinís fantasy world, remember?
So basically, Talionís soul is bound to the wraith of an elf, while the same curse banishes him from death, and the only way to break it is to find the one who cast it on him, and this is where our journey through Mordor begins.
Now weíve all seen the LOTR
films, so we all know that strolling through Mordor isnít as pleasant as it sounds. Luckily though, Talionís curse isnít all bad, and heís acquired some pretty impressive supernatural abilities from it.
That leads me onto the beef of Shadow of Mordor
- the combat. More specifically, the two ways you can go about combat: stealthy or aggressive. Now this works quite similarly to the Batman: Arkham
series... except of course youíre using blades and arrows to slaughter filthy Uruks, rather than just beating up punks. But you get the picture.
Iím not usually a fan of stealthing around in games, Iím more of a hands-on letís bash some skulls sort of guy. However, something about SoM
makes me want to hide around in bushes and ambush unsuspecting Uruks... maybe itís the brutality of Tallionís executions, or maybe itís just because fighting is a little easier after you thin the crowd a bit.
Either way, that doesnít mean I neglect the aggressive approach, and this is where SoM
really shines through. The combat is as free-flowing as it comes, from sword slashes, tripping enemies to the ground and finishing them with your dagger to using wraith abilities such as stunning Uruks and combo-ing that stun with a flurry attack. Everything just fits together.
And then I come to the counter-attacks. Games that require counter-attacks usually drive me round the bend. Itís all about timing your counter perfectly, otherwise youíll get hit and itíll break your combo... usually. Thatís not the case in SoM
though. You see, when you hit the counter button, Tallion stops what heís doing instantly and blocks the incoming attack.
Now on paper, that sounds like itíd ruin the 'free-flowing' combat I mentioned earlier, but on the contrary, watching Tallion acrobatically vault over one enemy to block the incoming axe of another actually enhances the fluid gameplay.
My only niggle with the combat in SoM
, is that in the earlier hours of gameplay, you find yourself unable to execute an enemy when youíre surrounded by other Uruks, as the animation takes too long, and youíre forced to counter/take a hit before it finishes (Hint: this problem doesnít occur for long).
The map is split into different sections Ė some areas are safe zones, and some are Uruk strongholds. Starting a brawl with a group of enemies in a safe section of the map isnít too much of an issue. However, if you get detected inside a stronghold, you better run or get ready for an overwhelming fight, because strongholds are alarmed.
Anyway, strongholds need leaders, right? And that brings me onto one of my favourite parts of SoM
Ė captains. Amongst the usual riff-raff grunts, youíll come across Uruk Captains. As you can probably guess, Captains are much tougher than normal enemies, and each one has different strengths and weaknesses. You can discover this information in one of two ways: Interrogating certain grunts, or collecting intel left lying around the map.
Whatís so special about captains, you ask? Well, as you kill a captain, youíre rewarded with a rune which you can use to buff whichever weapon you used to kill him (kill him with the bow, earn a rune for the bow, etc). Runes are interchangeable and can be swapped out whenever you feel like altering your play style.
Anyway, as you kill a captain, one of the grunts will step up to take his position Ė every group needs a leader donít they? What really adds personality to the game though, is when you get killed. The grunt or captain that claimed your life will earn a promotion for slaying such a high priority target Ė captains become stronger, and grunts get promoted to captains.
So, youíve taken your death. Yeah, we all know it was a cheap shot from some nasty bottom-feeder of an Uruk, but hey-ho, you canít actually die, so you get back up and go to continue playing, only to be met with an animation of that filthy fucking grunt laughing about his promotion and boasting that heís slain you. Oh, it's game on now you ugly prick.
Anyway, thatís enough of that dead little wanker. Time to talk about upgrades. As weíve all come to know, killing stuff grants XP, XP levels things up. Each time you earn enough XP, youíll receive a talent point which can be spent to upgrade attacks and learn new abilities.
As well as earning upgrades via XP, you also earn Mirian points as you complete tasks, which can be used to upgrade how much HP you have, how many arrows you can carry, or even how many runes you can add to each weapon.
Shadow of Mordor
boasts some of the most free-flowing combat Iíve ever experienced, showing off some killer combos and executions while cutting down Uruk grunts and Captains alike. The enemy hierarchy system and potential to continuously unlock new weapon runes mixed together with the varied combat options make this game one of my favourites this year.
+ Brilliant free-flowing combat
+ Enemy promotions add real personality
+ Interesting story concept
- First few hours of combat may seem very difficult
SPOnG Score: 9/10