“He’s got me twice now,” I think to myself. “That son of a bitch. I’ve gotta find him and finish this.” As I respawn and bring up the map, I see him. Krimp the Gnasher, with his smug face and giant crossbow, is northeast of me. I make a beeline for his general area and enter the spirit realm. After a few minutes, I spot him in the distance. I leave a trail of blood in my wake as I sprint towards him. A short battle ensues and finally, thankfully, I separate Krimp’s head from his neck. I jump off the couch with happiness and cheer out loud.
This is the story of my most memorable captain kill in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, one of dozens. None were as satisfying as that one, but they all made for one hell of a game.
- TL;DR: An action-packed, brutally graphic action RPG with an incredible and unique nemesis system
- Platform: PS4
- Score: 9.2
- Hours Played: 19
- What I Played: Main story and all collectibles for a total of 75% completion
- Recommended?: To anyone who enjoys either the Batman: Arkham games, Assassin’s Creed games, or Lord of the Rings.
Middle-earth, Sauron, the Rings. You’ve probably heard the tale by now. But, you haven’t heard the tale of Talion, a Ranger of Gondor who manned the Black Gate when it was attacked by Sauron’s armies. Talion, along with his wife and son, are sacrificed in a blood ritual by the Black Hand of Sauron meant to summon an elven spirit for Sauron. The spirit is summoned but insteads fuses with Talion, keeping him from his family and the release of death. Both Talion and the spirit want revenge. To get it, Talion must defeat the captains of Sauron’s armies to find and draw him out.
Shadow of Mordor is an open-world game and has definite shades of both Assassin’s Creed and the Batman: Arkham games in it. While Talion is free to run and climb basically anywhere you want, it’s the towers that must be scaled to reveal the map and points of interest that really call on AC. The Batman inspiration is easily seen in both combat and exploration. You can switch control from Talion to the elven spirit who has a detective vision ability, allowing you to see enemies and environmental points from a safe distance.
Combat is also incredibly similar to that of the Arkham games. Talion has three weapons at his disposal – a dagger for stealth, a bow for ranged attacks, and a sword for when things get real. As your hit counter goes up and you flow from enemy to enemy, you’ll be able to trigger executions which are brutal, to say the least. Decapitations, eviscerations, sliced throats — Talion will stop at nothing in combat. And I loved every minute of it. A great touch during these executions is how the camera adjusts itself to give you a better view, along with the game speeding up and slowing down at just the right time to really make you feel it.
You can kill nameless orcs and uruks to your heart’s content, but you should stay on the lookout for enemies with intel on captains. This is where Shadow of Mordor really stands out. The nemesis system allows you to target, track, and kill Sauron’s captains. If you interrogate an orc with intel, you’ll be able to learn about a captain — strengths, weaknesses, fears, location, etc.
Captains have a power level and a rank, letting you gauge how hard they will be to defeat. If you do defeat a captain, you’ll gain it’s power level as you own, unlocking more tiers of skills for Talion to choose from. I’m not sure if this is a byproduct of my playstyle, but I maxed my power level about halfway through the game. Conversely, if you fall to a captain, his power level will go up. To make things worse, he’ll even talk shit to you when you come back for more. “Back from the dead, huh? I’ll just have to kill you again!”
The strengths and weaknesses of each captain force you to approach each one individually rather than with just one preferred play style. Some captains can be one-shot killed via stealth, while some are immune to ranged damage altogether and some roll with huge groups of bodyguards. It’s not necessary to unlock a captain’s strengths and weaknesses before fighting one, but it’s definitely helpful. The incredibly long list is a little much, though. Some of the factors that you’ll see over and over again have little to no impact.
Captains aren’t even the worst of it, though. Warchiefs are very powerful foes that have captains as bodyguards that need to be drawn out before you can even fight them. Enemies will even chant the warchief’s name as he strides around his base, helping the feeling of a truly powerful enemy.
It’s not Talion vs The World out there, either. Captains can and will fight each other to prove their worth to Sauron. It may be smarter for you to let a captain take out another that you’re having trouble with. Also, if you die to a run-of-the-mill enemy, he can take the spot of a dead captain. Sauron’s army is constantly churning.
Through all of this killing, you’ll find runes that modify any of your three weapons. This is the only semblance of customization or gear in Shadow of Mordor and I really like that. Keeping the whole equipment/stat discussion to a minimum allows you to focus on the brutal, satisfying violence.
There is a fair amount to do in Mordor other than hunt captains. Collectibles house memories of the past, allowing you to explore more of the world around you as it used to be. Each of your weapons has a 10-mission series to explore the backstory of it’s original wielder. It’s not an overwhelming amount of side content, but there doesn’t need to be with so much to do to complete the main story. I’m also glad Shadow of Mordor doesn’t have a multiplayer component. Actually, I’m really glad that games as a whole are coming to the conclusion that forced multiplayer isn’t necessary anymore. Sign me up for more fantastic single player experiences, please.
Visually, Shadow of Mordor certainly lets you know that we have officially left the last generation of graphics behind, but it’s also pretty Gears of War-ish and brown. Granted, Mordor isn’t exactly a vibrant place. Music is subtle but medieval, as expected. The sound effects are actually what jumped out at me the most. Each sword parry, smashed shield, and “my insides are now outsides” slice have great sound ticks. As is all but expected, the camera can get a bit finicky when there is a lot going on at once. I never got into an impossible-to-move spots and didn’t find many invisible walls, but the camera can be frustrating at times with so much action.
At the end of the day, Shadow of Mordor is a great game. The nemesis system is great in that it not only forces you to keep a well-rounded play style but also brings things to a personal level when the same captain kills you over and over. You want a Lord of the Rings action game to be visceral and gory, which this is. The story doesn’t feel drawn out, clocking in at just around 20 hours. Shadow of Mordor surprised a lot of people, including me. Grab a copy if you can.