Shadow of Mordor is set between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and an undead ranger, Talion, who has been brought back from the dead by a mysterious wraith has the task to destroy Sauron’s plans as he travels from Dol Guldur into the Dark Tower. Yes, our guy is a stalking, backstabbing killing machine, and yes, the game feels a lot like an Assassin’s Creed episode – but in the LOTR universe.
There were some rumors that Shadow of Mordor actually used stolen code from Assassin’s Creed. Gameplay-wise the similarities are striking: we have a guy with swords, in a medieval and slightly pre-industrial milieu, who climbs up several buildings, towers and other architecture and then jumps down and stabs people in the back. Does this bothers us? Not particularly, because Shadow of Mordor looks simply fantastic.
Killed or be killed – that’s the orcs own mantra
Besides the usual stalking and killing gameplay, the most interesting part of Shadow of Mordor is the Nemesis system. While you have your own missions and goals in the game and you are exploring the whole world of Mordor, the world around have its own life and its own rules. We are not talking only about just a city and villages were people have their everyday life, like it’s customary nowadays in every open world games, but we are also talking about your enemies, the orcs, who have their own sort of power game. They are constantly trying to kill or dominate each other and they level up as they defeat their enemies. Like in any Darwinian world the strong get stronger and the weak get crushed, and replaced with new low level orcs who start their own climb up the pyramid.
This evolving power structure gives focus to the gameplay and creates additional narrative context that’s specific to your own version of the game. If an orc leader, named Horak is losing an arm on his road to becoming a warchief, he’ll soon be walking around the world spewing orders with a hook for a hand and become known as Horak the Claw.
It’s all about politics
There’s also an army screen which shows all the important orcs in a sort of muster; the war chiefs are arranged on a raised platform with their bodyguards and retainers arrayed in front. Clicking on a single orc not only reveals his key motivation in the world (to get drunk all the time and to become a chief) but also reveals his most important strengths and weaknesses. Weaknesses can be especially funny: one orc might be terrified of some hyenas that roam the land, while another could be especially afraid of fire. This might be an important information if you’ll have to fight them.
You’ll also be able to see that orc’s connections with other orcs. This information can help you to reach a chief through the line of his allies. At the lowest level, targeting the allies and retinue of a chief will certainly draw him out from his fortified position. Chiefs usually have a considerable protection, so to hit them in a vulnerable position is crucial.
Still other chiefs may have other weak spots: for example Shuga the Drunk, an orc chief with too much fondness for alcohol would come out to fight if you hit his grog supply.
What’s your master’s goal?
Whoever this wraith is, who awakened you, he, or she has granted you the gift of dominating the orcs. If you can grab hold of some orcs, either in combat or through stealth, you can use this gift to somehow dominate their mind, turning them into your slaves. Your goal with that is to have them betray whichever warchief they’re serving. Just send them on a mission and, if you follow, you’ll see them approach their chief and attack them by surprise. While you probably won’t kill the chief just like that, still, during the following chaos, it’s our turn to jump into the melee and help take out the chief.
In the ensuing combat you will experience the game’s combat system which is clearly reminiscent to Warner‘s Arkham games. The swordfights are fluid with several cinematic animations and a cool counter system which – while not so simple, than the one from the Assassin’s Creed games – still gives you a sense of control without bothering you with complex moves or combos.
And of course there’s the obligatory upgrade system which gives you a potential for lots of sophistications and customizations and lets you improve your weapons and unlock new abilities.
Sauron says: “LOL! I have a whole trilogy to live through!”
We still lack the knowledge about the scripted contents or the long term objectives for the game. A trailer says that Talion has been brought in to battle the Black Hand, who is presumably some kind of a general or sect associated with Sauron. Since the story takes place prior to The Lord of the Rings it definitely limits the possible effects that Talion can have on Sauron, but the story material suggests that there must be some lesser but still satisfying objective at the end of Talion’s story.
+ Slick combat feels like AC II
+ Cool main character
+ Orcs evolution system
+ Influence system
Not sure about:
– Story is still a secret
– Sauron cannot be really harmed