Why everyone should play Shadow of Mordor

Ben describes his journey through hordes of orcs and explains why everyone should try Monolith Productions’ action RPG, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.

Title overview

Name: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release date: October 2014
PEGI rating: 18
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
More information: official website

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Ben says…

I’d wandered into an orc stronghold, overestimating the volume of warriors I’d be facing. Still I engaged them, sword swinging and dagger slashing as they charged. The battle was glorious but the forces had sapped my strength, leaving me week from a hundred cuts with arrows protruding from my back. Still I fought, refusing to be beaten. Then Uggu Elf-Smasher strode onto the battlefield. With shield in one hand and flaming pike in the other, he taunted me. “Gravewalker,” roared Uggu as he yelled the orc name for me, “I’ve been waiting for this. I’m going to enjoy spilling your guys over my blade!”

He was soon on me, parrying my sword and fist with his shield and tossing me away when I tried my usual trick of vaulting over to attack from behind. Then, true to his word, he spilled my guts all over his blade.

Uggu gained in power, moving up in rank for killing me and increasing the size of his personal gang before disappearing back into Mordor. I wanted him dead and tracked him down only to be killed a second time, my mistake on that occasion being blindsided by a Caragor before Uggu landed a final blow once again.

More power flowed to him and this time I would not be undone. While he consolidated I hunted other Captains, interrogating them all about my nemesis and pulling his strengths, weaknesses and fears from all who knew him. I even issued a death threat that I knew would reach his ears. This time I would be ready; this time I would be prepared.

Fire was the key, and as soon as Uggu saw his gang alight he turned and fled. I chased, vaulting over ruins and carts until I was able to haul him to the ground. I could have killed him then, but no; Uggu needed to know he was beaten before I ended it and when his head was sent spiralling through the air I felt a rush of triumph. It had been more than dispatching a nameless orc. It had been a campaign, a war of attrition.

It had been personal.

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Everything I hate in a video game

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor should be everything I hate in a video game and truth be told, it is. It relies of Ubisoft-esque principles of unlocking the map simply by scaling a tower; it rips off Rocksteady’s approach to fighting and the world is littered with pointless collectibles. It’s also based on a series of films and books that my wife dislikes. Despite my adoration for all things Tolkein, ‘Hobbit-related nonsense’ is a rarity on our television at home.

What the folks at Monolith have done is make killing the Uruk horde the most satisfying combat for a long while.

What the folks at Monolith have done, however, is make killing the Uruk horde the most satisfying combat for a long while and introduce what they call the ‘Nemesis System’. Even before you start unlocking the ridiculously-overpowered Wraith abilities late in the game, Talion the Ranger is a formidable killer. Black Uruk blood flies in all directions from the beginning and it’s not long before heads are spinning through the air a few feet from the shoulders they were once connected to. Talion doesn’t just have to walk in, sword-a-swinging however; he can sneak up and kill from the shadows, shoot arrows from a distance or even mind-control Uruks to fight for him.

It has refined the styles from the Assassin’s Creed and Batman: Arkham series into a versatile and visceral system that makes you feel as though you can take on an army and win… in style.

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Captains, Warchiefs and a whole lot of blood

The challenge when designing such a powerful character is how to keep the player on their toes and fearful of death. A game can quickly become dull when enemies no longer pose a challenge, and this is where the Nemesis System comes into its own. The orc horde has its own hierarchy which evolves as you play, and each area of Mordor is ruled by five Warchiefs, the toughest Uruks in the land. Each Captain has a gang of regular orcs supporting them and the Warchiefs can have up to five Captains as bodyguards. As you can imagine, it’s quite easy to be overwhelmed by sheer numbers if you pick a fight with the wrong enemy at the wrong time.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Shadow of Mordor, video game, killing statistics, stats

When you die (and you will), the Uruk that killed you will be promoted. While the Wraith bonded to your soul (it’s a long story) has the ability to resurrect Talion, being the guy who struck the killing blow is still a big badge of honour in orc society. Accordingly, said Uruk becomes a Captain and can begin working his way up the ladder to Warchief.

Talion isn’t the only thing killing Uruks in Mordor: they do a pretty good job of that themselves too. Advancement up their chain of command is by killing the orc above you and assuming control of their gang, gaining in power until becoming a Warchief. All of this happens in the background while Talion goes about his own murderous business and he can intervene in the various spats should he so wish.

This intervention is important, especially when coupled with the ability to control minds because then you can start directly influencing the shape and structure of the pyramid. Think a particular Captain would make a good Warchief? You can help him get there, control his mind and as a result his army.

I’ve sunk upwards of thirty hours into this game so far, killed thousands of Uruks and never come across the same one twice.

Allied to this strategy is that no two orcs are the same. A lot of work has gone into the naming, voice-acting, personalities, strengths and weaknesses of each Uruk. I’ve sunk upwards of thirty hours into this game so far, killed thousands of Uruks and never come across the same one twice. Unless of course, it is the same orc…

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Remember my name

When they kill you, they remember and will come back to taunt you with it. Call you names, tell you how they enjoyed licking your blood from their sword and how they’ll do it again. Even Captains you think you’ve killed (unless by decapitation) might come back from the dead bearing the scar from your supposed killing blow to mock you. Others will turn and flee as you cut a swathe towards them, and when you encounter them again they’ll take great pleasure in shouting out how this time you won’t get the better of them.

It sucks you into the world quite unlike anything else and makes for an experience that shows what the new generation of console is capable of. It’s why I travel to Mordor night after night, I never know when I’ll meet another Uggu… or something worse.

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