I don’t care for Lord of the Rings so it took quite a bit of convincing to pick up Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Even ignoring the LOTR license, the deck was stacked against it because it was described as an Assassin’s Creed clone with Batman: Arkham series inspired combat infused with it. The mere mention of “Assassin’s Creed” raised a red flag for me. I’m tired of Assassin’s Creed and anything that resembled it.
So why did I decide to pick up Shadow of Mordor?
The praise Shadows of Mordor’s Nemesis system.
Without the Nemesis system, Monolith Production’s game would have been a ho-hum open world Lord of the Rings game — a collectathon with directed story quests. It would have been an Assassin’s Creed clone.
The Nemesis system was born out of necessity. The orcs were an endless horde that would always fill in its ranks with up and coming members. Only the strong will ascend and that’s exactly how the power structure in Shadow of Mordor works. When I took out a ranking officer, some other low level orc was promoted to succeed the fallen officer. Fortunately, I was able to choose who took over by influencing “Power Struggles” between rivaling orcs.
Each orc had its own name, characteristics and personality. They could be more defensive oriented, immune to ranged attacks or fearful of certain things like fire. These characteristics should, in theory, have changed the way I approached each battle but I was able to brute force my way through without much fuss. And eventually, I was simply too able for the orcs to handle and their strengths and weaknesses were made moot. I wish they introduced additional weaknesses and resistances to counteract my ever expanding abilities.
Trophies made Shadow of Mordor a better game. I loved how those mini-objectives guided me into manipulating the orc power structure. One Trophy tasked me to mind control five bodyguards, get them assigned to one warchief and then have them turn on the warchief during battle. It’s a interesting system that I wish they explored more of.
Talion was brutal towards the orcs. When he didn’t thrust swords and daggers into the face of orcs, he sliced their heads clean off their shoulders. (Did you know orcs were made out of dark goop?) I found some of Talion’s actions stylish but it paled in comparison to Batman’s craftiness with his fists. It was heads and shoulders better than Ubisoft’s efforts though.
The story missions involved following characters and their instructions. I was baffled by the fact that these missions were still prevalent well into the latter stages of the main story thread. I didn’t care for Talion or the people he was interacting with. I was willing to collect artifacts and other junk in order to expand Talion’s potency on the battlefield but I wasn’t willing to explore the lore behind each collectible. I just didn’t care for it.
Monolith Productions created a fun game to play but the trappings and source material didn’t resonate with me whatsoever. On one hand, here was a game that made jumping over boulders in an open world a game in itself. While on the other hand, this was a game that tried its darnedest to leverage its source material with visions of rings, fictional languages and bewildering appearances of Gollum. The Nemesis pushed it above mediocrity. It was a memorable system that went beyond the disconnected meta games that other open world games tried to include before. The Nemesis system responded to the player and more personal than anything else they scripted.
For more information on Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, visit the official site.