Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Review

An Untamed Review of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

In recent years open-world games have become a dime a dozen. However, amid the many Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto sequels that have been coming out recently, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor stands out from the sea of similar titles. This is not to say that the game completely turns the genre on its head – it still has fighting and movement systems that anyone familiar with the Assassin’s Creed games or the Batman series will instantly recognize. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, the developers at Monolith Productions have really shaken things up by implementing a system that creates interesting and unique world encounters rather than relying on having scripted boss fights and story segments do most of the leg work in keeping players engaged. It is this system, the Nemesis System, and the uniquely appealing setting of Tolkien’s universe that serve to set Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor apart from the innumerable other open-world action games.

Mordor's not all swamp and volcanic ash!

Mordor’s not all swamp and volcanic ash!

The first thing that must be said about Shadow of Mordor is that the game looks fantastic. The design of Mordor itself feels spot on and even displays a section of Mordor that is green and flourishing with life which provides great contrast to the bleak and mountainous Mordor portrayed in the movies and other Lord of The Rings games. In addition to this, the look and personality of the humanoid enemies in the game, the Uruks, seem to vary greatly and each encounter I had seemed to be comprised of aesthetically different enemies. The animations of the main character, the enemies, and even the variety of wild creatures found in Mordor all look top notch and combat looks fantastic with moves that seamlessly play into the next. The game seems to be fairly well optimized, as my computer, which is now a couple years old and probably in need of an upgrade, was able to run it perfectly on medium settings and could even manage high settings albeit with a bit of screen tearing involved (if you want to know my computer specs they are on the about me page of untamedgamer.com).

My favorite Uruk. Only a total lunatic would wear that on his head.

My favorite Uruk. Only a total lunatic would wear that on his head.

Despite the quality of the game’s graphics, it is really the influence of the setting that makes Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor’s world come together. Players take on the role Talion, a Ranger of Gondor, who, because of circumstances that I will not divulge in respect to those avoiding spoilers, ends up having the spirit of a mysterious dead elven man suffering from amnesia entrapped within his body and bound to his soul. There is a fairly traditional storyline at work here that centers around loss and redemption, but the way the story is told is pretty tactful and the voice acting is all around top notch. Adding to the Tolkien vibe that the game gives off is the appearance of certain characters throughout the story that will certainly be recognizable to anyone who has seen the movies or read the books. Overall, the combination of solid storytelling, pleasing graphical aesthetics, and classic setting really make the world of Shadow of Mordor feel interesting and lived in.

A barrel of Orcs.

A barrel of orcs.

The quality of the gameplay found in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor only serves to further reinforce the fantastic sense of immersion the game offers. Talion moves around the world nimbly and the variety of ways to approach any given situation which the map design affords gives players an incredible sense of freedom. Whether you want to climb to the tallest point in an Uruk stronghold and look down to find your target or raise hell by unleashing trapped caragors (large, dog-like beasts) and wait until your target comes to you, Shadow of Mordor ensures that you have the option to do so. Stealth gameplay feels tight and you have a variety of options at your disposal for dealing with unsuspecting targets that go beyond the usual “take out quietly” options. When you inevitably do end up in a sword fight, you will find that the combat is silky smooth and relies on a counter system much like the one found in the Batman series of games. The added twist here is that many times Talion will find himself facing a seemingly never ending stream of Uruks if he allows alarms to be raised and that dealing with the captains and war chiefs of Sauron’s army brings unique challenges that serve to keep combat fresh.

A captain I happened to meet while fighting the above group of orcs!

A captain I happened to meet while fighting the group of orcs from the previous picture.

Speaking of keeping things fresh, even after spending 28 hours with the game, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor still feels fresh. This stems from the fact that there are collectibles in the game that add to the background of the story and characters, and the Nemesis system. The Nemesis System is the main muscle behind Shadow of Mordor’s long-term appeal. It generates an army structure for the Uruks consisting of captains and war chiefs that will evolve over time and is unique to every playthrough. These captains and war chiefs all have their own names, weaknesses and strengths, and personalities. They can be found in the world taking part in a variety of tasks that range from hunting wild animals to fighting with their fellow Uruks. Even if Talion is killed by a nameless grunt, that grunt will be given a name and a chance to become a captain in the army, thus allowing players to keep track of the Uruk who gave them a hard time and possibly exact vengeance upon them later. If and when Talion does run into them again, they will remember that they defeated you previously and usually make a rather rude remark about it or mention how you set them on fire before being taken down. Making death seem even more like a fun way to spice up your game and less of a punishment is the fact that when you die in Shadow of Mordor time passes and the constant power struggles found in Uruk society make changes to the command structure of Sauron’s army even without your input. You may find upon coming back from the dead that the Uruk you were so intent on hunting down has now gotten himself promoted to the title of war chief or you may find that he was already killed off in a confrontation with a fellow Uruk.

This is the structure of Sauron's army. The 5 Uruk at the back are war chiefs while the rest are captains of varying influence.

This is the structure of Sauron’s army. The 5 Uruk at the back are war chiefs while the rest are captains of varying influence.

It is because of the great mixing of the combat, storytelling, strong lore foundation and emergent enemy design that Shadow of Mordor is easily one of the best games found in the open-world action rpg genre to date. The game has a distinct Tolkien feel that makes it easy to lose hours wandering the plains of Mordor and hunting despicable Uruks. The fluidity of the combat and world exploration does exactly what it needs to do to support the feeling of being in Talion’s shoes. It’s not often that a game can nail both a feeling of having a well-crafted world to play in as well as giving the player unique encounters that are not hand crafted by a developer, but Shadow of Mordor manages to do both in spades. If you are at all a fan of Tolkien’s universe or of open-world action rpgs, then this game is a must play.

I give Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor an 94/100.

Tomb Raider Review

Tomb Raider (PC)

Square Enix

Meet the new Lara Croft

Overview:

Tomb Raider is the newest installment in the Tomb Raider video game franchise. While it retains the beloved Tomb Raider exploration and adventure feel, the game is in truth a rebirth for the franchise. Gone is the busty and confident Lara Croft from the movies and environment puzzles whose difficulty stemmed more from wonky character controls than anything else. Instead, Tomb Raider introduces us to a more realistic Lara Croft, whose mental vulnerability and, while still pleasing, more believable body proportions allow gamers to bond more with the character. The game’s story, while being slightly on the predictable side, is extremely satisfying to go through and is supported by the game’s incredible presentation, which melds gameplay with cutscenes as well as any game I’ve ever played. On top of this, exploration and combat have been significantly smoothed out which, combined with the astounding quantity and quality of collectables to be found and hidden tombs to be raided in the extremely well-crafted game world, result in the best Tomb Raider experience yet.

 

An example of a hidden tomb. They all look great and feature a generally simple to solve puzzle which must be solved before Lara can reap the sizable experience and upgrade rewards in the recesses of the tombs.

Play this game if you:

-Like collectables (many even come with voiced-over texts which tie in to the game’s story!)

-Enjoy platforming exploration and puzzles with a little well-designed combat mixed in

-Enjoy large scale vistas

-Want a decent story that integrates well with gameplay

Don’t play this game if you:

-Are looking for an extreme gaming challenge in either combat or puzzles

-Are expecting a heavy focus on combat

-Hate collectables and can’t stand cutscenes

-Can’t stand a few quick-time events

-Want a strong multiplayer offering

Set pieces are frequent and explosive! Buildings will explode and crumble around you as you scale them, and Lara will be visibly staggered by strong winds and other environmental effects.

Gameplay: 9/10

Great combat, fun weapon and character upgrade system, and addicting exploration

Graphics: 8/10

Awesome large-scale vistas and detailed textures are only slightly marred by sometimes funny looking animations

Presentation: 10/10

Fun but somewhat predictable story is moved along by fantastic pacing and perfect transitions between cutscenes and gameplay. Cutscenes are never long enough to get boring and are well produced. Set pieces are large and exciting.

Lasting Fun: 7/10

The story is a decent length although if you completely avoid the optional hidden tombs and collectables it may feel short. Could take a while for a perfectionist to completely explore all areas of the world and achieve 100% completion. Multiplayer is fun but won’t be stealing any players from their favorite FPS and I found it practically impossible to find a match on the PC.

Overall: 9/10

Tomb Raider is a fantastic piece of gaming art and it is obvious the dev team put their hearts and souls into the game. Even the credits ooze personality, featuring a bunch of great pictures of the beaming development team and a message thanking you for taking the time to complete their game.

Play or stay away?

DEFINITE PLAY