Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4) Review

A true next-gen experience.

The world of Tolkien’s famed trilogy continues to grow, and in the video game world, it has never really found its place. There have been some decent titles, such as the Two Towers back in the Xbox/PS2 days, but a lot of the efforts have been a lot less impressive than the other forms of media they are based off of. Shadow of Mordor is looking to break that mold with a unique storyline featuring some characters that have not been explored before, as well as a few familiar faces. Tie that in with the Nemesis System, which is the most interesting game play concept to come along this generation so far, and expectations are high.

The story is certainly the highlight of the game. Taking place outside of the movies and featuring characters never before explored, fans of the Middle-earth lore will be in for a treat. The performances are also just as stellar. Casting Troy Baker and Nolan North in the same game was a wise choice, but the rest of the cast is far from mediocre. I really enjoyed the story it told, though anyone not deep into the world of Lord of the Rings might be lost in some areas.

With a little help from my friend.

Platforms: PS4, XB1, PC, 360, PS3
MSRP: $59.99
Price I’d pay: $59.99
Multiplayer: N/A
Time to beat: 15-30 hours (varies)

The most prominent feature of Shadow of Mordor though, is the Nemesis system. The main character, Talion, must fight his way through the Uruk army to Sauron himself. Along the way the Nemesis system offers up some unique game play aspects that have never been seen before. This is definitely the most intricate part of the game. Talion can take down captains and use his Wraith bond powers to search their mind for information, including the whereabouts of other captains or war chiefs, or even create an army all his own within the ranks.

It is a very deep system, one of many Mordor beholds. I spent a solid two hours learning the mechanics of the game, only to find out I had truly learned nothing. Every enemy on the battlefield is dynamically generated, meaning no two captains have the same name or personality. They also remember if they kill you, which also rewards them with more power and promotions. The system is almost too deep. I found myself overwhelmed more often than not trying to progress things faster. This is a massive game, and powering-up Talion, learning patience and stealth and knowing when to strike are key.

I know what you are thinking…literally.

Once the system clicked though, it was brilliant. The strategies involved with taking down war chiefs in the first half of the game were satisfying. Then in the second half I was introduced to branding, which allowed me to slowly create an internal orc army all my own. This is truly a next generation mechanic that simply wasn’t possible on the previous consoles, which explains why it has been removed, and the game delayed for 360 and PS3.

The open-world of Shadow of Mordor is also full of life and activities. There is also something to do, and it was also nearby. The fast-travel system works well, and completing the side missions, and unlocking new powers and runes for Talion is addictive. I spent hours just leveling up each of my three weapons to unlock their ultimate power, which is well worth it. All of the side stuff in Mordor is fairly interesting. It made me want to do it, well outside of the hunting missions, which are drab and involve tracking down menial creatures such as spiders.

Combat itself is incredibly satisfying. Talion fends off enemies much like Batman in the Arkham games. There is a rhythm to the fisticuffs. As I upgraded his powers, I unlocked ways to handle larger groups of foes. The executions are brutal, and on PS4 the sound of the sword comes from the speaker on the controller. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but the first time I got that slow motion action accompanied by the sharp sound of steel coming out of the speaker, it was incredibly immersive.

A couple areas where Mordor doesn’t shine as bright begin with the visuals. While there are moments where the game impressed, there are just as many that feel like higher-res versions of last-gen games. Makes sense considering it is a cross-generation title, but not any less disappointing.

Learn the system, use the system.

The other area is of course the learning curve. Mordor uses a lot of mechanics, and it requires players to learn them all to proceed. There is no difficulty setting, so for those just in it for the narrative, there is no simple way to breeze through the game. That said, these mechanics are what make the game special, and also makes me glad I stuck with it and learned how it all comes together. It is immensely satisfying, and should pave the way for future games to mimic the systems.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is the first game on these new consoles that screams next generation game play. Even those not so sweet on the source material need to check this game out. I am not a huge Lord of the Rings fan, and I still found the story both well-told, and genuinely interesting. The rest is one of the most innovative and interesting titles to drop so far, and it sets a nice stage for the current crop of consoles.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.

  • Nemesis system
  • Fantastic combat
  • Story is well done
  • Side missions are actually fun
  • Steep learning curve
  • Visuals are hit and miss
Written by
Ken is the Editor-in-Chief of this hole in the wall and he loves to troll for the fun of it. He also enjoys long walks through Arkham Asylum and the cool air of Shadow Moses Island. His turn-ons include Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft.