Middle-earth: shadow of Mordor

meat’s back on the menu as monolith delivers a real orcish delight.
Brogg the Wanderer can do one. This square-shouldered, corpulent cretin has been the bane of our first playthrough of this Tolkienian sandbox adventure. He’s cleaved his poison-edged broadsword into our chest more times than is healthy, even for a main character that’s immortal.

He lunges into combat with swagger and gusto, rubbing past victories in our face. We don’t need to fight him. But, such is the magic of Shadow Of Mordor’s Nemesis system, it would feel oh-so-good to grind his bulbous face into the dirt…

In Shadow Of mordor you play as Talion, a ranger living with his family in a Gondor settlement nestled in the valleys of mordor. It’s been 2,500 years since the dark Lord Sauron was last here, and the magma and ash-filled corruption of the books/films is yet to fully take hold. Set partway between The Hobbit and The Lord Of The rings, monolith’s middle-earth is on the brink of war, and the knowledge of what’s to come ties a heavy stone of tragedy to the feet of everything that unfolds. Starting as it means to go on, the story opens with your wife and child being brutally murdered by three of Sauron’s chief lieutenants. Once they’re done they turn the blade on Talion himself. bleak.

but Talion quickly finds himself resurrected. The Wraith form of celebrimbor, the elf that once helped Sauron craft the rings of Power, including the infamous One ring, has been grafted onto our anti-hero. both of these tragic figures are cursed with undeath, unable to join their families in the afterlife. With Talion’s combat skills and celebrimbor’s powerful Wraith abilities, however, there’s plenty of vengeance to be getting on with before Frodo and co get involved.
“the nemesis system means that even after 20 hours you won’t have seen the same orc twice”
Wraith and see

Seeing the pair through this quest is a case of identifiably Assassin’s creed-style adventuring. You can clamber up rock faces and ruined Gondorian architecture with ease. You can use eagle -sorry- Wraith Vision to pinpoint guard locations and highlight assassination targets. but whereas the creed is all too quick to distract from its titular job description, with sailing, pick-pocketing, tower defending and brotherhood management, mordor’s contract killing comes at you pure and untainted. This is all down to the Nemesis system.

Pause the game and a collection of Uruks and orcs, ordered by their fragile hierarchy, splays our before you. catch a footsoldier unawares and you can tap them for intel on who these orcs are and what their strengths and weaknesses might be. These orcs exist in the world, occasionally fighting each other or throwing feasts and the like to increase their rank. Kill an orc and another will rise
up to take his place.

This ever-shifting map of tenuous relationships is your assassin’s playground, letting you reach higher ranked orcs through their underlings. Your steadily growing collection of Wraith powers, including a game changing ability to dominate the will of defeated foes, allows for pure creativity  in approach, too.

case in point: brogg. We end up gathering some extra intel on him, now fully distracted from a main story mission that we were previously en route to. It turns out this chap is afraid of fire. We chase him down to see if we can utilise this new found knowledge. He’s beaten us several times now and as such has gathered considerable power. When we reach him, he’s in the middle of an execution, beheading a gaggle of subordinate orcs in a bid to strike fear into his followers. What to do…

Grog’s a good ’un

A vat of grog, a favourite of orcs, sits in an open tent behind all of the commotion.
A camp fire lies between brogg and the tent. Hmmm. We sneak around the gathering crowd baying for blood. Slipping a fistful of poison into the grog is easy. We sneak back out and up to our vantage point atop some nearby ruins. A couple of low-rank orcs wander over to have a sip, only to keel over dead. This naturally causes a disturbance, which good ol’ brogg heads over to check out.

As he walks past the campfire we shoot an elven arrow straight into it, causing a massive Wraith-infused explosion. brogg is set aflame and scampers away in shrieks of terror. Finally a win.

The story didn’t end there. In our game Talion and brogg duked it out several more times. When next we met brogg had burn marks on his skin and was wonderfully angry with us. by the time we reached the end he was woefully battle-scarred, and had taken to wearing a bag over his head to cover his wounds.

That this is all part of a system, and not a preordained creation on behalf of monolith, is wonderful. After your 15-20 hour playthrough of the story comes to a close you’ll not have seen the same orc twice. These guys are procedurally generated, and capable of some excellent surprises. Like the best open- world games SOm allows for hundreds of little stories which feel manufactured by
you as opposed to the developer.

Get into a proper battle and there's a brutal, though scrappy combat system in place (clearly inspired by batman’s Arkham games), which lets you feel both powerful with head-exploding Wraith finishers and fragile, as you’re almost always delicately poised on the edge of defeat. die and time will pass in the world. You’ll see the orc hierarchy shift before you, lending fresh impetus each
time you dive back in.

Uruk-in’ good

It isn’t perfect. The freerunning doesn’t quite feel as free as it should. There are too many occasions when you can blame your death on Talion not climbing the bit of wall you wanted or getting stuck on the scenery. Speaking of the environment, oppressive can still look beautiful, but you’ll never coo over mordor’s visuals.Human characters, meanwhile, appear to have been carved out of wax should you get too close.

You can’t knock the unique flow of play, though. much of its foundation is plainly riffing on what’s gone before, but the Nemesis system does assassinations better than Assassin’s creed ever has. That the whole package is wrapped up so deftly within the Lord Of The rings universe is, surprisingly, just the icing on top of this brilliantly realised idea cake. With a tie-in of such proportions, that’s
saying something.


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