I expected a few things going into my demo of Middle-Earth: Shadows of Mordor. I didn’t expect for Mordor to be so… pleasant looking. I guess I just thought Mordor would end up being a huge bummer, but that just wasn’t the case.
You see, Talion, the protagonist of this title, is pretty unstoppable. From teleporting around for instant kills to mind controlling orcs so that they’ll do all the killing for you, I never really felt like anything could totally stand in my way. There wasn’t a huge degree of challenge, though it should be said that press demos aren’t often indicative of actual challenge that will be present at release. Still, it’s a bit troubling how effortlessly I trounced even seemingly overwhelming enemy forces.
I will say though, the combat felt pretty fluid. It was, after all, essentially Arkham combat. So I mean the game has that going for it. It’s got a lot of extra features too, like the aforementioned teleport-instant-kills. The wraith powers are pretty cool, and actually the most satisfying part of the game was tied to the fact that your wraith powers become significantly more potent when your combat combo counter is high. This was a very viscerally satisfying way to reward players for performing well in combat.
In an interesting twist, the parts of the game that I was most excited for going in, namely the idea of interfering with a hierarchical structure of the orcish military through mind control and sabotage, wasn’t actually very interesting. The actual act of mind controlling seemed too easy, as I could do it during open combat, meaning that I did it too often for it to feel special. Also, once a sabotaged orc platoon was called into action, it didn’t really effect the gameplay much. It was the difference between fighting 30 orcs and a boss with no mind-controlled support, or using mind-controlled support and only fighting 20 orcs and a boss. The actual fights felt very much the same, and as such I didn’t feel super gratified by my actions.
The intel gained through these methods was interesting at least. Not because of how you gained it, but because of what that intel was. Each special enemy, be it a captain or general, has certain strengths and weaknesses. Some may be immune to instant kills. Some may give up willingly if you turn enough of their clan against them. Others might be hyper aggressive but refuse to kill you themselves. These were all bonuses and weaknesses that felt interesting. The developers weren’t just twisting stat knobs when they designed the enemy types and that makes things fundamentally more interesting.
Overall, I’m thinking this game might end up being a decently polished entry into this whole open-world-free-running-assassination kind of genre. Who am I kidding, there’s no denying that this game targets both Assassin’s Creed fans and Lord of the Ring fans,but i don’t think its going to do a tremendous amount to distinct itself from it’s contemporaries.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is slated for release on September 30 2014 on PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC.