Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor – Undead Power Ranger

REVIEW – Slaying waves and waves of orcs has never been more fun than in the latest open world action-adventure from Monolith Productions. Taking cues from the Assassin’s Creed and the Batman Arkham series, Shadow of Mordor puts you in the boots of an undead ranger, who was slain by a servant of Sauron alongside his beloved wife and son – murdered just before his eyes. Talion is somehow resurrected and swears to exact revenge. His only companion is the wraith soul of an elf nobleman, who was also killed by Sauron’s servant and who shares the body of Talion.


The Lord of the Rings franchise is a tricky one. While it’s still popular, it was so much overused by other games – most of them average at best – that it’s hard to make something which stands out. We had already our share of vanilla hack’n’slash games using the movie trilogy’s setting, some rather average RPGs, an utterly failed MMO, and the handful of LOTR LEGO games, which are… well of an acquired taste. Thanks to god Monolith Productions avoided the usual clichés and what we have here is an Assassin’s Creed-like action game with light RPG features, all set in the open world of Mordor.


Two in one

The similarities between the well-known Assassin’s Creed series and Shadow of Mordor are undeniable. You are an open world, where you can climb tall buildings, jump on orcs and assassinate them, and the parcour and combat mechanics are also pretty familiar. Some of the special abilities of Talion are also familiar which includes the activation of a special vision, where he can spot important objects and characters. In fact combat animation feels so much the same, that it was rumoured (but never proved) that programing codes from Assassin’s Creed II were used in Shadow of Mordor.

However the similarities – as strong as they are – ends here. Instead of one hero, we have a “two-in-one” main character, since the bitter and sardonic elf wraith is also inhabiting the body of Talion and he has different, special abilities. Whenever Talion hides in the bushes, or drains the soul of captured orc leaders we are actually controlling the wraith. He also serves as mentor and to Talion and the player and this unholy union of two souls is the very reason why Talion can’t rest in peace. While the idea of one badass ranger in the world of LOTR would have been cliché to the extreme, this solution of actually controlling two characters in one body and using there different skills is pretty neat.


It rings a bell

While those characters are interesting, the story itself feels familiar and sometimes kind of clichéd. Villains and good guys appears sometimes out of nowhere and they frankly don’t have a strong presence either. The story is also rather thin, and feels a bit incomplete. In the beginning of the game the Black Hand of Sauron slits the throats of Talion’s only son, his pretty wife and after letting him witness the murder of his beloved ones, he is given the same treatment. When he is resurrected he meets his “soulmate” – the elf wraith – and together they start their murderous journey to find the Black Hand and exact revenge on him.

Pretty standard revenge story indeed, its high point however is Gollam, who is voiced by the actor Liam O’Brien but sounds even more like Andy Serkis, than the original actor himself. There are also some amusing characters original to the game, like the sly and ambitious orc leader Ratbag, who is becoming our secret helpful ally while he ascends the ranks of the Uruk thanks to our help. Still I doubt that Tolkien aficionados will be awed by the greatness of story or the attention of the details regarding The Lord of the Rings. Fortunately Shadow of Mordor has other aces at its sleeve.


It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it

Talion’s main enemies are the orcs (or rather the Uruk-hai) who fought against Boromir and Aragorn in the well-known combat sequence of the first Lord of the Rings. Combat against them is a dance of blades, arrows and spells and feels like a mixture between an Assassin’s Creed game and the Batman Arkham titles. It’s mostly very fluid and fast, still some lack of precise movement makes certain simple actions more trouble than they’re worth. Some camera angles are also rather clumsy, and I have witnessed some animation quirks as well that turn close-quarters battles into awkward, jittery dances Fortunately those problems are few and far between and the game is pretty excellent concerning the combat.

Fighting the orcs is also much more difficult, than in any Assassin’s Creed or Batman game I played so far. Sometimes there’s almost an army of aggressive orcs surrounding you and you’ll have a hard time just to counter their attacks and defend yourself. Sneaking to your goals, and avoiding orcs sometimes is vital even when the mission you are undertaking doesn’t demand it. Thinning their ranks little by little may be a good idea, especially when you have to kill an Uruk captain or warchief.


Enter the warchief

When an important Uruk leader acknowledges our presence, the camera zooms on him and there’s always a taunting scene. Since the game is pretty hard, you will die a lot from either his hand or from the hand of his troops and it’s pretty funny, that upon the second meeting he will be rather upset, about the fact that you have returned by cheating death. At other instances he is complaining what a sneaky bastard you are by attacking him from behind or instead laughing at you and taunting you when you can’t use some special trick to hurt him, because he is immune against it. The game’s database of potential responses must be huge: I rarely heard the same lines twice.

Every captains and warchiefs are different, and if they kill you, as a reward they will climb the ladder of the Nemesis system, often by also killing other Uruk leaders. They also becomes stronger and their appearance and last name will change as well.


House of orcs

There’s a big difference between the leaders concerning their strengths and weaknesses as well. In fact every one of them is different. Some of them are immune to arrow, or sneak attacks but they are fearing fire, others are very strong against frontal attacks, but they can be killed more easily by arrow wound. We can learn those information by dominating and interrogating orc leaders.

Later in the game you can mess up the mind of Uruks even more by controlling them in their ascent to the Uruk Nemesis system. In the second half of the game you will be also able to assist them in battle and to be their puppet master to achieve your own secret goals. It’s a bit like an orc parliament where you are a secret strong outside power messing with the Uruk-hai.


What a wonderful world?

The visual presentation of the game is pretty impressive. Every locals are well-designed and atmospheric – even if we are talking about a foreboding landscape. To change a bit this constant sinister atmosphere, some brighter, more charming locales would have been welcomed, but such places aren’t overrun with the murderous Uruk-hai, now are they?

Special effects are also abounding and animations – especially those of the combat – are top notch. It’s a joy to look at Talion while he is doing his sabre dance and the execution moves of the orc leaders provides you with extreme satisfaction as well.

The sound effects of the grunting orcs and those of you environment are very convincing and the soundtrack reminiscing you the Lord of Rings movies (while not overdoing it) and the voice acting are both pretty nice as well.

The only hiccup is the unstable frame rate which can hamper a bit your gameplay experience.


One game to rule them all

Shadow of Mordor is undeniably the best LOTR game so far, even if it takes some liberties with the LOTR universe. Besides the well-designed combat and movements upgrading your character is pretty fun and the Nemesis system is also excellent – especially in the second part of the game. Assassin’s Creed: Unity better have some aces to its sleeve because so far Shadow of Mordor is dominating.




+ Combat system is a joy to play
+ Nemesis system is great
+ Eye popping animations and graphics


– Story is rather weak
– Nemesis system is only interesting later
– Gameplay gets a bit repetitive


Editor: Warner Bros.
Developer: Mononlith Entertainment
Genres: akció, RPG, open world, tps
Publication: 30th September, 2014


Shadow of Mordor

Gameplay - 9.2
Graphics - 9.3
Story - 7.4
Music/audio - 8.7
Ambiance - 8.6



Shadow of Mordor is undeniably the best LOTR game so far, even if it takes some liberties with the LOTR universe. Besides the well-designed combat and movements upgrading your character is pretty fun and the Nemesis system is also excellent – especially in the second part of the game.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines - including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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