Released in 2014, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is an open-world action-adventure game developed by Monolith Productions and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. The game is set in the fictional fantasy world created by J.R.R. Tolkien, and takes place between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
You play as Talion, ranger of Gordon responsible for guarding the Black Gate of Mordor. He and his family are slaughtered by the armies of Sauron, but he is brought back to life by the wraith Celebrimbor, and the two go on a quest to seek revenge against Sauron. This revenge story is nothing original, and the characters that you meet and play as are not particularly interesting, but the voice actors (including Troy Baker and Alastair Duncan) give committed performances.
The combat system is very similar to the one featured in Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham franchise: you can attack with your sword or bow, counter and dodge blows directed at you, grab and stun enemies, or use special features that you unlock as you further progress into the game. You will be able to improve your sprint, as well as being able to ride certain monsters and to improve your stealth skills.
The main feature that distinguishes this game from other sandbox adventures is the Nemesis system: there is a huge hierarchy of Uruks, and if one of them manages to kill the player character, they will be promoted. These Uruks become more and more powerful, and they might even come back after you thought you killed them, trying to get revenge. This system is straight-forward but immensely satisfying, making you feel powerful each time you defeat a captain, only to become more and more enraged when one Uruk keeps killing you multiple times. Each encounter becomes a unique experience for each player, and the procedurally generated Uruks makes it so that everyone has a different adventure in the land of Mordor.
The engine used is LithTech, used in most Monolith’s games like F.E.A.R. and Condemned. The graphics are very good, especially in the detail of Mordor and the different looks of the Uruks. Performance is not well optimized, with multiple frame-drops when fighting large waves of enemies, but it does not diminish the enjoyment of the game.
There are plenty of things to do in Mordor: other than completing Main Missions and killing Uruk captains, you can also take part in different activities such as hunting animals and collecting plants, building up the legend of your weapons by achieving certain feats, and avenging your Steam friends who have been killed in their own game. If you are something like me, who loses himself in this types of open-world, you are going to spend at least 50 hours exploring Mordor, that is without counting the downloadable content.
Overall, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a solid open-world game that distinguishes itself thanks to fun and challenging combat and the Nemesis system. Nothing ground-breaking, but definitely worth buying.