Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)

If there's a game set in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth that has gotten a lot of praise, it's Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. On the surface, it's just another open-world action RPG, but this time around it has a twist in it that makes it really stand out: each time an orc kills you, that orc becomes stronger and rises among the ranks of Sauron's armies.  If a random orc manages to stab you to death, the foul thing is given a name and a standing. This way, if you so please, you can let that same orc kill you time and time again until you've created a hulking nemesis for yourself.

So, how is it, that you can die multiple times then, you may ask, and there's a simple answer to that. This isn't even a plot spoiler, as this happens during the introduction: you are very much dead already. Not a zombie or anything boring like that; you're just stuck between the worlds only a wraith of ages dead elven archer to keep you company and to aid you in your quest to slay the beasts of Mordor and avenge the death of your family.

Wannabe nemesis

While the game itself is written as a story of a male ranger Talion, you can play the main bulk of the game by using a different character skin, even a female one. The change of the character skin doesn't effect on the cutscenes or dialogues, you'll always hear the voice of Talion and see him in the cutscenes. It's mighty nice from the devs to allow to do the combat as a different character though, even if that doesn't effect on the voice acting or cut scene content. And in a way that does work with the whole wraith thematic, as you can just pretend that Talion is using his wraith powers to control other people.

As stated, ME:SoM is an action-adventure RPG, set in an open world Mordor. You can go anywhere you please, tackle the missions and quest the way you see fit. You can use stealth or head-on attacks to dispose of your enemies. Or you can use the wraiths archery powers to drop the orcs from a distance. There's also character progression, that gives you more powers and skills, as well as aids you to improve your three main weapons, a sword, a dagger and a bow with runes you get as a reward from doing various tasks.

Ranger and a wraith against the world. Or at least Mordor.

 The combat system, which makes or breaks a game like ME:SoM, is a delight to use. The basics are simple: left mouse button is used to hit, right mouse press is used to deflect a hit. If right button is held down, you get into the wraith archery mode, which also slows down time, allowing you to take a couple of headshots before you go back into the melee combat. If you manage to score a steady stream of hits, you can use finisher moves, if you've opened up the needed skills. Then there's the stealth killing, that is as easy as sneaking behind a target and pressing the left button. This you can carry on doing as long as you're not detected.

The missions, quests, and tasks of Shadow of Mordor are quite a typical fare. The main missions tasks take drive the plot forward and outcast rescue missions help you get more info of your surroundings. You can also get more info about the orc leaders by grabbing orcs and questioning them. Sword, bog and dagger quests are optional experience quests, and then there are the power struggles, in where you can dispatch elite orcs and gain more power points.

The map of Mordor. Yellow tags are plot quests. Challenges can be completed whenever you happen to see a challenge specific subjects during the game.

Then there are also several side tasks, like digging out ancient relics that give more light to what has happened in Mordor and collecting magic phrases and conducting various hunting missions. These tasks are optional but are a good source of additional experience in order to make your character a better killing machine.

Art direction of Shadow of Mordor owes a lot to Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy. It owes it so much, in fact, that familiar characters like Gollum are based directly on the movie, which isn't a bad thing, considering how nice art direction Jackson's vision of Middle-earth has. None of the actors from the movies reprises their roles, though Liam O'Brien who's voicing Gollum is doing his hardest to sound like Andy Serkis.

Now there's a familiar face. And he sounds pretty familiar too.

Overall the voice acting is solid. The cast is manned with names like Jennifer Hale, Claudia Black and John DiMaggio, who all are seasoned professionals. And the script isn't bad either. The style owes probably more to Jackson than Tolkien, but it does feel like a proper Middle-earth tale.

All in all Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a fantastic game. It's one of those games that felt good from the minute I started it the first time, even when the first things I was doing was to set up the graphics settings to provide a smooth frame rate. It's not just one of the best, hell it is the best, games set in Middle-earth, it also is a good example of how to make a solid open world action RPG.

And after you've finished the main game, there's a bunch of DLC campaigns you can tackle afterwards.

If you came to a conclusion, that you'd love to give Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor a spin, you can get it from Steam.