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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor review: Seven rings to the dwarf lords

Hayden Dingman | Sept. 29, 2014
There's a lot of potential in Shadow of Mordor for a great sequel, but this first attempt is being crushed under the weight of Tolkien's source material.

Did you know, for instance, that in addition to the Mouth of Sauron there were all sorts of other embodiments of the Dark Lord's power wandering around Mordor? And that, in every case, these ultra-powerful Sauron-infused beings could be killed easier than a swarm of two-dozen or so orcs? Monolith really cares about the Lord of the Rings lore, but any story-potential here is being crushed under fifty years of propriety.

The game also forces you to swap locales halfway through the game, which completely undermines the Nemesis system. You've been fighting these same orcs for hours, and then suddenly they're yanked away from you and replaced with a whole new set. You could go back to that old map and see your old buddies again and collect more useless collectibles, but why bother? The story doesn't make you. It also makes the first half of the game seem like a weird prologue to the real game, beginning eight hours in, as you unlock the much-touted ability to mind-control orcs and start playing different factions in the Nemesis system against each other.

And lest we forget the game's influences, Shadow of Mordor repeats some of the sins of its predecessors. Combat, especially, is the same "Just hit the attack button forever and ever while one or two orcs swing at you, amen" style as the Arkham games.

It's fluid, it's responsive, but it's not especially engaging anymore, and Shadow of Mordor is the most blatant rip-off I've seen in years. You even have a Stun ability, though instead of swooping Batman's cape you'll use your wraith-half to blind somebody with light? What's Manfred Mann doing these days?

Bottom line
The Nemesis system is a fantastic piece of tech, and I can't wait to see both what Monolith does with it next and what other open-world games accomplish with the inevitable rip-offs of this system.

But at the end of the day, it feels less like the Nemesis system was built into Shadow of Mordor and more like Shadow of Mordor was built as an outlet for the Nemesis system. It's clearly the centerpiece here--everything else, from the story to the combat to the occasionally buggy free-running is given short shrift. By the time I'd finished eight hours of the mediocre story I was ready to quit, and the actual seventeen hours I put into the game felt really long. Characters disappear from the plot without a trace, none of the pieces really tie together correctly, and the final boss battle is a damn quick-time event.

There's so much potential for a mind-blowing sequel, but Shadow of Mordor is ultimately a great system surrounded by mediocre content.

 

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