Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor - Stripped
Updated: Mar 27, 2020
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is an open world game based on Tolkien's Epic High Fantasy novel Lord of the Rings. It takes place in the time-span between the Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings. Shadow of Mordor is an Action RPG that focuses more on the Action than the RP. Taking on the role of Talion (and the wraith Celebrimbor) the goal is to take revenge on the Black Hand of Sauron for the deaths of Talion’s family. Through manipulation and attempted genocide of Uruks, Talion strikes into the heart of Mordor.
The story is all about Talion’s quest for revenge, and Celebrimbor’s quest for knowledge of his past. Shadow of Mordor’s storyline is one of my favorite pieces of game writing I hate. The lore just doesn’t match up with what Tolkien wrote. From there never being any way for men or elves to be brought back, no mention of Elven “wraiths”, and Celebrimbor never having anything to do with creating the One Ring, Shadow of Mordor seems to just pick and choose pieces of the lore it wants to abide by.
The story and lore that the game does set up is incredibly interesting and fun to follow regardless. The story really shines when it focuses on Celebrimbor rather than Talion. Celebrimbor is a complete badass in this graduated fan fiction. Forging the Rings of Power, single-handedly challenging Sauron, and branding his own army of Uruk are just a few of the things the legendary Celebrimbor has on his resume. Whenever another Talion story aspect comes along you start hoping that it will lead to another flashback of Celebrimbor.
Talion’s story isn’t bad, but it really isn’t that great. It starts off with Hirgon, an apparent past friend who turned outcast. There isn’t much information on how far back their relationship goes, or how strong it is, just that it existed at one point. After a few missions with him Talion moves on to Lithariel where her Sarumon possessed mother teaches him how to raise an Uruk army of his own. The skills gained through Lady Marwen are the conduit for which the Black Hand is destroyed.
The story has several interesting subplots that keep you busy like killing Uruk while riding caragor with Torvin, the Dwarven hunter. Somehow promoting Ratbag, a pathetic excuse for an Uruk to Warchief against all odds. And using branded Uruk to fight Sauron’s in a living game of chess.
The story is quite interesting and keeps you wanting more, it’s biggest problem is how short it is. As I re-ran this game I completed the story in 18 hours. And a large portion of it was just messing around with branded Uruk’s watching them fight and get stronger. You can essentially do this infinitely which is where I feel the developers thought a lot of the players would spend their time. Unfortunately this substitute for story only works for so long. In the end Shadow of Mordor would have greatly benefited from a lot more story and character development worked in between playing live Uruk chess.
The ending to the story was an extremely subpar way to finish off what could have been a great story. After the short Lithariel story you push on to the next area, which is actually just one fight with 5 strong Uruk captains and their lackeys. Once that battle is over you move on to fight the Black Hand which in reality ends up a fight with Sauron; Which isn’t actually a fight at all. You mostly just watch an underwhelming cutscene, press a button to defeat Sauron and then you are back to playing Uruk puppets.
Shadow of Mordor has an interesting story but is unfortunately short and plagued with a boring ending.
The characters in Shadow of Mordor don’t really have much depth to them. Hirgon and Talion apparently have a past but it’s not mentioned outside of brief sentences of “He used to be our enemy”, and “I couldn’t let the other rangers find and kill you.”
The most interaction you get with Lithariel is dragging her out of an Uruk stronghold after she gets captured alone somehow. Talion has affections for her because she reminds him of his late wife, but it’s more likely he’s just got the hots for her as we barely speak to her at all.
Gollum is… well Gollum. He’s got a feigned allegiance to Celebrimbor, or the Bright Master in Gollum’s words, in an effort to find the One Ring. He hates Talion and isn’t afraid to show it, demonstrated plainly by trying to smash his head in with a rock.
Ratbag is probably the most interesting side character. He’s an Uruk who decides to team up with the Ranger in an effort to raise his standings amongst the other Uruk. With the rangers help he he takes credit for the rangers kills and becomes your ringer, eventually achieving Warchief. He’s a great conduit for comedic relief and his missions were always fun.
Torvin is my favorite character in the game (excluding Celebrimbor). He’s a Dwarven hunter who is in Mordor to kill the Legendary White Graug. He’s constantly busting Talion’s balls for being a Captain. Torvin is a badass and through him you learn to ride Graug (though unintentionally). Torvin’s constant positive attitude in the most corrupted region of Middle Earth is a pleasant surprise. His missions were great because it broke up the constant serious tone that looms over the rest of the game.
Talion is the main character of the game and surprisingly the most boring. Talion’s story about his slaughtered family and seeking vengeance is overused and bland. Talion doesn’t have much personality and doesn’t banter well with the other characters. The only time I feel Talion has a personality is when he’s trying to kick the shit out of Gollum for being, well... Gollum.
Celebrimbor is the real shining character in this game. This Elven wraith is what keeps the story interesting, keeps Talion interesting, and keeps the gameplay interesting. In the game (not the novels) lore Celebrimbor, due to Sauron’s manipulation, crafted the Rings of Power, even the One Ring. Celebrimbor shares a past similar to Talion, his family slaughtered by dark forces. Celebrimbor didn’t give up though, he fought Sauron to the end, and continues to fight him in death through Talion. The cutscenes that show Celebrimbor’s past are the main interest point of the story, it starts to unravel the mystery of Talion’s spiritual passenger.
Celebrimbor’s ability to brand Uruk to work for you is the focal point of the second half of the game. It allows us to force Uruk to fight others and create power struggles within the ranks of Mordor. It’s the basis for about half of the gameplay content, and only made possible through Celebrimbor, the shining light within Shadow of Mordor.
The characters all have interesting potential but aren’t given enough time to really shine.
Combat & Gameplay
Combat in Shadow of Mordor is the pinnacle of quality in this game. It’s intuitive, rewarding, and you can take it at your own pace. Large scale battles against many Uruks, or Stealth assassinations, you can choose how you want to go about completing most of the missions. There are missions that are locked into certain gameplay strategies, but most allow you to choose your own way.
The skill tree in the game allows you to pick how you want to fight. You can level wraith abilities like stuns, elf-shot, and drain, or you can improve Talion’s abilities. The skill tree isn’t too large and is directly to the point. I liked the skill tree as it was straightforward and you can
clearly level what you want to work on. The tree is locked in tiers by "Power" points. These points are gained through completing Uruk-centric missions. The points to level the actual skills are gained through leveling up, collectibles, and missions. The more content you complete the stronger Talion grows.
In addition to the skill tree Talion can place runes on his weapons. Runes are dropped from killing Uruk Captains and they add bonuses to each weapon for which they are attuned to. You can place them on your dagger, sword, or bow to enhance all of their respective skills. It’s just another fun incentive to slaughter Sauron’s horrid minions.
The stealth in this game was done extremely well. Climbing mechanics are fluid and extremely responsive unlike other games, particularly ones that rhyme with Sassassin’s Bleed. A variety of stealth finishers and branding keep the animations feeling fresh. Combinations of the bow, dagger, and branding allow you to clear entire compounds leaving Uruks wondering why it’s so quiet.
The large scale fights with the sword and combat finishers/executions allow you to take a swarm of Uruks head on without a sweat. Combo streaks keep Talion one step ahead of all the enemies and make you feel like a total badass. By combining the Elf-shot into the mix of sword play, enemies drop faster than Uruks can shit themselves. The diverse and fluid combination of skills Talion has at his disposal keeps combat feeling exciting and fun.
Through branding Talion can command Uruks to fight for him. When stealth branding they will continue to meander around where they were before, acting like everything's normal. When you are ready to fight, a keybind will activate your sleeper agents sending them into combat against all hostile Uruks around them. The stealth brand is a very satisfying way to fight in this game because Talion can clear an entire Uruk compound without even fighting a single one. Just brand enough enemies and they will eventually kill the hostile ones. Once you have no more use for the branded Uruks, a single keybind will kill all of them in one swift animation leaving nothing but you to bear witness.
If by chance you manage to brand an Uruk in the middle of a battle he will join in on your side backstabbing his previous comrades. It’s rare to be able to brand an Uruk outside of stealth. When there is more than one to fight the ability takes a few seconds and cancels whenever damage is struck against Talion or the Uruk in your grip. But if you can manage it, they are a perfect way to get an archer off your back. The branded Uruks draw quite a bit of attention away from you so you can get those combo finishers off without too many pesky enemies you have to parry.
Mordor’s gameplay is the shining diamond of the game. The straightforward skill tree and runes, interesting animations, attack combinations, and unique gameplay elements (branding) manage to make up for the lack of a longer story by quite a bit.
Graphics and Visuals
Shadow of Mordor looks fantastic. Flora and fauna are well rendered, bushes move with Talion as he stalks through them. Grass flows with the wind. The structures are mostly cookie cutter textures arranged in different patterns but even though they are heavily reused the implementation of them feels natural for Mordor. Aesthetically, the textures match the theme extremely well. Degradation and corruption looks to be rampant and spreading in two of the three areas. In the one that still has greenery you can tell that the shadow’s corruption is starting to wear at the edges of life.
The Uruks look disgusting and tainted like the creatures of shadow they are supposed to be. Their faces are unique and somehow always a little more revolting. The armor’s design is epic, intricate, and varied. The Lord of The Ring’s style was captured perfectly in this game.
Most cut scenes are rendered and scripted in game. They look quite decent and I haven’t had problems with bugs at all in any of my playthroughs. It isn’t anything graphically advanced but you have to hand it to them for at least giving a consistent quality; There really isn’t a time where I thought the engine-scripted cutscenes looked sup par.
Celebrimbor’s scenes look exquisite and beautiful. The filter used to show the murkiness of the memories pushes the emotional level of the scenes. These scenes are pre-rendered and certainly look it. Celebrimbor and Sauron look gracious and elegant. The combat scenes have the models moving fluidly and with purpose. The scenes really look like Celebrimbor’s foggy memories, the quality of the visuals leave no room for interpretation.
Unfortunately the game does suffer from some of the normal visual problems that games with swords have. It clips through your character on certain animations, clipping through the cloak is unavoidable, and the sword levitates above your characters back rather than actually being attached. Depending on how you start a stealth kill the animation will sometimes have your whole hand puncturing the Uruk’s chest; If you think of it as actually being intended it makes Talion a little more badass though.
All of the wraith animations look clean and visually appealing. Branding (or grabbing) Uruk’s to gain intel or command captains has them looking as helpless as they are. The sheer terror on their face is exceptionally well animated. It almost makes you want to laugh from
the juxtaposition of their initial confidence and quivering “I shit myself” face.
Amazing cutscenes, well rendered flora, smooth and flowing animations, semi-lore-friendly artistic armor, and diverse Uruk enemies make this a visually stunning game worth looking at.
Shadow of Mordor has pretty good voice acting for most of the major characters and even the Uruks. There was quite a few voice actors used for the amount of characters there were. The solid voice acting helped add to the lack of character development the game has by giving them personality in just the few lines they have.
Unfortunately Shadow of Mordor only has two types of creature that you can interact with. Caragors, and Graug. I would have loved to see Great Spiders or Giant Trolls. The Caragors and Graug serve their story and gameplay purposes but the game would have benefitted greatly with even just one more type.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a fun, fast paced Action-RPG that keeps you wanting more. The fluid visuals and gameplay synergize to create an experience that keep it contending with all the other big games. Quality stealth, movement, and large scale combat allow the player to approach situations in his own manner. Exquisite pre-rendered cutscenes provide beautiful backstory to the mystery passenger we play with. These great elements overshadow the games lack of story content and character development. This game is a big must play for any Lord of the Rings or open world games.
Shadow of Mordor has earned a 7.5/10 Rating from Buck Naked Gaming.