Random Game Wednesdays: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

I primarily use my Random Game Wednesdays feature to showcase older games. It’s a good excuse to go back and look at all the games that are sitting in my collection. But, it’s not exclusively meant to be that. So, I thought it would be fun to look at my Xbox One library again, like I did for Mortal Kombat X. This time, the random number generator gave me the highly acclaimed 2014 release, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. 

The big issue with playing games like this for this feature is just how large they are. I typically only play about half an hour before I write my impressions. If I were to start from the beginning, I might barely make it out of the initial story setup and the tutorial. That doesn’t seem like a very good way to go about doing this.

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I had picked up Shadow of Mordor in a Black Friday sale back in 2014, and didn’t really find a whole lot of time to play it. On the same sale, I picked up Wolfenstein: The New Order, a game that I didn’t even start until shortly after E3 this year. But, with Mordor, I managed to get about two and half hours into the game, before getting distracted by something else. So, without any real reminders of what was going on or how to play, I jumped back into that file this morning.

You play as a ranger named Talion, who seems to be basically Aragorn, but, you know, isn’t. He’s joined by a wraith, who basically serves as a voice in his head to guide him through Mordor and avenge the deaths of his loved ones, or something like that. Again, haven’t played in a few years, and the game didn’t really do anything to remind me of what’s going on. Not that it should have. If I was playing normally, I’d be pretty annoyed about being reminded about what’s going on only a couple hours in. But in this instance entirely, I’m a little lost.

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But whatever, let’s just not worry about the story and go about finding stuff to do. Tool tips pop up on the screen and suggest that I mark an enemy captain to hunt. This is actually one of the cooler things about Shadow of Mordor. It’s called the Nemesis System, and basically, it keeps track of several Uruks, the big bad orcs. These Uruks engage in power struggles with each other, as well as with you. As they win battles, they get promoted. As they lose, they get knocked back.

The thing that’s really cool about it is that they’ll remember your previous encounters with them. At one point today, I tracked down an Uruk, only to be completely overwhelmed by him and his minions. I was killed, and brought back to my starting point. When that happened, time passed, and the game presents which Uruks defeated which other ones. I see that my loss resulted in a promotion for that particular Uruk. I decide to run back to him.

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When you spots me, he makes a comment about how if he knew I was just going to come back, he would have taken his time killing me. I’m not sure what the narrative reason for me coming back to life is, but it’s really neat that my death doesn’t result in a lack of progress, but rather it moves the game forward, and the game remembers what happened.

As far as playing the game goes, it’s your typical open world game. There’s a map in the corner of the screen that is constantly filled with various icons to show you the different missions you can take part in. There’s story missions and side missions, both of which I didn’t engage with today. Then there’s the location of whatever Uruk you’re currently hunting. It works very well for what it is, but in that regard, it isn’t really any different from something like Assassin’s Creed.

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You’ll be spending a lot of time in combat, and thankfully, that works pretty. It borrows pretty heavily from the Batman: Arkham Asylum trilogy. Your basic attack is mapped to the X button, and a counter is on Y. While you fight one enemy, you’ll notice a “Y” prompt above the head of another as they run in to hit you. Hitting Y will block the attack and switch your focus over to that enemy. Personally, I don’t find the system particularly deep, but it does do a good job of making you feel powerful, as you deftly knock out whole swarms of enemies without letting any of them get a hit in.

Presentation-wise, Shadow of Mordor is pretty solid. The graphics look nice, with orcs that look like they were pulled straight out of the Lord of the Rings movies. Similarly, the musical score, while not from the movie, could fit in perfectly well. If you’re a fan of those movies, you’ll be pleased with the treatment the sound and the visuals were given.

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I really should play more of this game. Its unique Nemesis System is interesting enough on its own to really want to mess around with it some more. There’s also a pretty lengthy skill upgrade system, something I didn’t really get to try out this morning. Plus, there’s a sequel out later this year. While it’s hard to judge a game from just a half hour or so after not touching it in a few years, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor seems like it’s well worth your time.

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