— There are no major story spoilers in this post.
As you can likely deduce from the fact that this post is being published in 2017, it took me quite a while to get around to Shadow of Mordor — and even longer to finish it once I had.
I bought the game in November 2014, started it in December, but never quite found my way back after that first foray. Late last month, however, I decided it was time to go back; too long had Talion’s adventure sat at 1% on my Trophy list.
Getting the Game of the Year Edition solved that, with the added bonus of being digital, too; I haven’t bought a physical game since Uncharted 4. Alas, though, the Game of the Year Edition wasn’t much use to me in the end — I’m going to have to fork out for the DLC after all.
You see, it turns out that Shadow of Mordor’s Game of the Year Edition comes with an entirely separate Trophy list to its standard cousin. I suppose players wishing to cast their shadow over the Black Land for a second, third — maybe even fourth — time might appreciate this, but having earned a single, solitary Trophy when I dipped my toe in back in 2014, I didn’t. At all. It was with a heavy heart that I deleted the digital game from my console, and blew the dust off the physical edition — and my wallet.
With so much time having passed since the game’s release, I had, as you might expect, heard a fair bit about it before jumping back in. Now, having utterly finished it, I have to say that I expected more.
Shadow of Mordor is a game very much in the vein of Assassin’s Creed — an appropriate elevator pitch for the game would be to describe it as Assassin’s Creed in Middle-earth, with a much more satisfactory combat system — and while this does make for a solid enough foundation to build upon, Shadow, unfortunately, doesn’t do much building. It inherits many of the problems of that series, the foremost of which being that it’s incredibly repetitive.
There are twenty-four Outcast Rescue Missions in Shadow (more than there are Main Missions). Twenty-four. And yet, fundamentally, each of them is almost exactly the same thing, on repeat: evade or dispatch nearby uruks whilst freeing various slaves. Main Missions, too, provide a similar feeling of ‘been there, done that.’ Though they definitely offer an appreciable variety of objectives over their outcast-liberating brethren, their defining feature is the story-progressing cutscenes they bring to the table.
Elsewhere, Shadow’s gameplay remains a mixed bag. Though still undeniably repetitive, I found the missions in which you forge the legends of Talion and Celebrimbor’s various weapons to be the most fun available, but was dismayed by the pointless, dull, time-wasting busywork of the various Survival/Hunting Challenges.
BREAD AND BUTTER
Having said that, though, I never tired of Shadow’s core gameplay, the bread and butter, if you will: the combat. Thanks in no small part to its very-few-holds barred brutality, said gameplay is incredibly satisfying.
True, Talion might seem as though he has a mind of his own at times, and the odd — often contortion-demanding — double-button commands can prove frustrating in more chaotic situations, but none of this takes away from the pure (if somewhat concerning…) joy of lobbing the head off uruk after uruk.
Of course, an integral — and oft-discussed — element of Shadow of Mordor’s gameplay is the Nemesis System, which allows uruks to both be promoted for, and remember, having defeated Talion (who can’t, it’s worth mentioning, permanently die — as much as he might want to). In fact, they’ll even remember non-lethal encounters, taunting Talion if he’d run away from said encounters, or swearing revenge for their various injuries if they’d been forced to flee.
However, while technically a gameplay system, I found Nemesis to be most effective on a story-level, its ability to create rivalries between various uruks and Talion proving to be a notable highlight. In my case, an uruk I encountered near the beginning of the game, and which rose through the ranks parallel to my own progress — eventually becoming a War-chief — later became integral in my unlocking one of the game’s trickier Trophies.
These unique (if, admittedly, not particularly deep) mini-stories are, as I said, a true highlight of the experience — which can’t, unfortunately, be said for Talion’s tale.
TAKING THE FIGHT TO MORDOR
Shadow of Mordor is built upon a great premise — undead Ranger takes the fight into Mordor itself?! — but while Talion’s story is bookended by a strong beginning and end, the stuff between isn’t particularly remarkable. In fact, it’s the glimpses into Celebrimbor’s past, rather than what’s going on in the present, that prove the most interesting — so much so that it can be frustrating to return to the actual game.
It would be remiss of me not to mention some of the technical hiccups I encountered whilst playing: more than once, Talion got stuck inside walls (requiring use of the fast-travel mechanic to escape); similarly, he was often impeded by invisible borders around various objects, and, on one occasion, fell through the map entirely, plummeting into the oblivion beneath. But despite these, and my other issues, I came away from Shadow of Mordor satisfied with the experience, eager to jump into the DLC in pursuit of that glorious 100% for my Trophy list.
If, reader, you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself carried through Shadow’s adventure by its gameplay rather than its story — but sometimes (even though, in an ideal world, it wouldn’t be an issue) that’s enough.
Sometimes, it’s okay.
Shadow of Mordor is a game very much worth playing, and I have my fingers firmly crossed that its recently-announced sequel will be, too.