Being a contender for the Game of the Year award in 2014, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a greatly refined hack and slash action-adventure for its time that brought unique features to the genres.

Still Holds Up Alright

The game piqued my interest very early with its fun combat and living world. The higher ranking enemies spread across Udun and Nurn remember previous encounters in the case that either of you have fled or you died. This initial magic drew me in and I kept playing for 20 hours, falling just a little short of 100% completion on the main story and side objectives of the base game. Over this duration new combat mechanics are introduced and develop along with your interactions with the world through skill and story progression. It brought in new elements at a good pace to help keep the game fresh, but I felt that it became stale with still a ways to go before the end.

Your interactions with the world are quite minimal at first. You can obtain intel on captains and warchiefs such as who they are and their strengths and weaknesses. Eventually you can mind control them, as well as the basic enemies, and instantiate ambushes, riots, executions, and betrayals. This feature came much later than I’d had hoped, having seen this in a demo before playing and thinking much of the game would be like this. The ability is introduced at a point in the story where it feels like you’re already nearing the end and there’s not much use for it left in free roam. A nice touch however, is that you can let the events unfold on their own by advancing time, or you can contribute and ensure that the job is done if you want to.

Uruks, a breed of Orcs, are what you slice through, but they don’t present many challenges. You acquire runes for your weapons and progress your skills rather quickly, enough to bring even the captains and warchiefs onto the same level as most of the other basic enemies. Stealth turns out to be quite forgiving and ranged combat to be very overpowered. You get to play around with the environment and use it to your advantage, but it doesn’t take much effort or thought to do it well. The skills you obtain throughout the game do give you more options, but you almost forget about some of them when the same formula works time and time again.

The story behaves similarly. Talion’s tale intrigued me at first, but it lost my interest towards the end. Many of the story missions weren’t much different from the optional ones. Aiming for the bonus objectives sometimes keeps things interesting, but on rare occasions the reward is too small to even bother. I was also let down by the final few boss battles of the story, hoping for a difficult challenge, but being given ridiculously simple quick time events instead.

Despite the critiques the game is still quite satisfying. The stealth takedowns, combat finishers on hordes of Uruks, mounted combat, and fiery explosions are what kept me playing all the way to the end. I played more for Talion’s skill progression, and let the main story and side missions tell me where to place my efforts. There were just enough of them, not including the endless amount of captain and warchief events, for me to see the end of the skill tree. In the end the combat was entertaining enough for me, and there was just the right amount of content to consume with it.