By William Shelton
Release Date: September 30, 2014
Systems: PS4 (Reviewed), PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games
Obtained By: Purchased
Recently a friend of mine asked why “Reviewers Tilt” is a part of my scoring criteria. Before then it never occurred to me that some might not understand the point of that, so let’s use this as an example: there’s not a lot truly “wrong” with Shadow of Mordor, but I fucking hated this game. In most technical aspects the game rarely managed to be more than average but it did so many things that annoyed me that the act of playing it filled me with anger to the point of rage quitting. At the games very best, when I was having the most fun and saw the most potential, Shadow of Mordor is an decent “Lord of the Rings” reskin of the Arkham games but those moments were few and far between.
The games story is one you all know by now, as it’s been the game story for the past few years: murdered family, out for revenge ect, ect. In many ways the game is such a perfect amalgamation of the most boring open world game tropes from this generation that it might as well have been titled “The Ubisoft Game: Middle Earth Edition”. The only thing Shadow of Mordor adds to the formula is having a tag along protagonist throughout the game. While you make your way through Mordor as Talion the ghost of an Elf named Celebrimbor is always by your side. And if you didn’t think this game could fit in anymore overdone game cliches, Celebrimbor has amnesia. As you progress through the game his memories return in bits and peaces and you learn that Talion’s family was killed to summon Celebrimbor because !spoiler warning! He was the one who created the rings of power. However, by the time I got to that revaluation I had already guessed as much and the game did nothing to make me care. The story is boring and the writing is serviceable but as the game dragged on I began to just skip cutscenes and the bits of Tailon’s memories that play in loading screens. Speaking about those memories bits, some idiot thought it would be a good idea to make the audio for these moments come through the PS4’s controller speaker. Because of this these memories were almost inaudible, making there inclusion near pointless. Maybe there was something hidden in the loading screen messages that would have made the story more interesting, but I doubt it. Even if there was, the execution was so poorly handled that I still couldn’t care.
Gameplay wise Shadow of Mordor plays almost exactly like Rocksteadys Batman games and at first I didn’t mind that. But the first of my major issues with the game became apparent when I had to fight my first real group of enemies: The Orks and Uruks are all damage sponges. Like in the Arkham games once you beat a foe down a bit you can preform an instant take down, but here they fell almost necessary as killing Orks with just attacks takes ages. Unlike the Batman games though, Orks here don’t give you the moments pause you need to preform these moves. While it’s easy to make fun of how thugs in the arkham games will just stand there while badman knocks out their friends, in practice that was to stop fights from dragging on. Here I’d be up against half a dozen or more orks and each time I tried to preform a take down the over long animation would get interrupted by an ork forcing me to perry or dodge an attack, and in the time it took to deal with that the ork I was trying to kill recovers and I was forced to start trying to kill him all over again. Even when i picked up the perk that cuts down the kill time for these moves this kind of thing still happens in every fight. And group fights are this games bread and butter. One of the challenges the game asks you to do requires killing 50 orks in an arena fight, and one boss fight with a “Warchief” near the mid point of the game would only appear once you killed 35 or so, and while I was in the middle of that another boss just wandered into the fight. So then not only did I have to kill another 20 Orks, but I had to take out the Captain, as bosses are even more spungy than normal enemies but the instant kill attacks don’t work on most of them. This brings me to another one of my issues.
Scattered around the world map are Captains of the Ork armies that you can hunt down, but I mostly found myself stumbling across them when I wasn’t ready. I’d be fleeing from a fight I was losing only to be thrown into a boss fight that I knew I wasn’t going to win. And then, out of no where another boss would appear, and I’d have two bosses fighting me at once. And with each boss comes an endless sea of respawning enemies as well. I even restarted the game once thinking I did something wrong or out of order to be having such a hard time, but once I was free to roam the open world, the first thing that happened was me stumbling on a boss fight. That’s pretty much what killed the game for me more than anything. You’re expected to take out large groups of foes, but the time it takes to kill even one doesn’t make that feasible. When you die or flee events around the world continue, making Captains stronger and that much harder to fight and after awhile the game just felt like endless filler as no matter what I did I never felt I made progress.
Not helping matters are the three upgrade trees with four currencies needed. As you play you can experience and level up, giving you points to unlocking new abilities. These I didn’t mind as they had a real impact of the game. The issue is that you had to gain so much “Power” to unlock certain abilities (which you only get form certain missions) and had to beat story missions to unlock others. So for the good and worthwhile sect of upgrades there were almost always two barriers to getting anywhere. This could have been easily solved by just using level up points, but having to spend more of them for the ones that needed more “Power”.
At the same time you can attach Runes you get after killing bosses to each of your three weapons which offers passive buffs. While I did go through the process of opening up new rune slots and picking out the best ones for each weapon I never felt they had much to offer and kind of wish they had just cut these out of the game entirely. Along those same lines are the rewards you get for beating challenges. You get yet another currency for yet more passive buffs (though this time they are more useful, like extra health and the like), but the challenges tend to be rather dull or harder than they need to be and thus simply more frustrating than the prizes is worth. And again, it’s hard not to think they could have simply added the most useful abilities from here and add them to the level up list as well. This all goes back to why “Reviewers Tilt” is a part of my scoring: none of this is broken and in a lot of cases I can see why the game was so well received, but it just didn’t click for me.
Aesthetically there’s not much to write home about either. The game looks fine, but it’s all visually indistinguishable. Without the ability to set waypoints I would never be able to have found any of the objectives as everything just looks samey. With the exception of the moronic choice to put certain audio bits through the controller the voice work is competent but unremarkable. The voice actors were clearly aiming for a C grade performance and they got a C grade performance. Better actors or a better script could have made for something more interesting, but as is it’s inoffensive and that seems to be the goal for all involved.
I can’t say I recommend this, but I can also say I’m probably an outlier here. If you’re a big Tolken fan then maybe there’s something here for you that I just didn’t get. For me, i’ll stick with the Peter Jackson films and try to forget about this game.