Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)

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Twenty years before the release of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (just Shadow of Mordor moving forward), what I then knew as Final Fantasy III came out for the Super Nintendo.  In a sequence more inventive than anything in Shadow of Mordor, the main scenario splits into three paths and I followed the martial artist Sabin as he witnesses the kingdom of Doma withstand a siege from the Empire.  To break the siege, nihilistic antagonist Kefka poisons the water supply of the Doman people.  This sends the Doman warrior Cyan into a frenzy, trying to take on the Empire's siege camp alone, and puts Cyan on a collision course with his grief after deciding to join up with Sabin.

I might be old-fashioned - feel free to fire away if you agree - but I'm starting to miss protagonists who are heroic.  In an early mission of Shadow of Mordor, the player character Talion moves stealthily into an Uruk encampment to poison their food supply.  Upon completion of the mission I was treated with the sight of orcs foaming at the mouth as they writhed in pain to their eventual death.  This is more war crime than battle, and had Shadow of Mordor taken a nuanced look at Talion's rage then there might have been room for commentary on what we collectively accept in war when our side is in the "right."Sad to say, Shadow of Mordor lacks the nuance to make anything out of Talion's war crime outside of giving me another mechanic to work with.  This is unless you count some late-game dialogue asking Talion when his rage will feel fulfilled.  I don't as Talion did what he usually does, shakes off the conversation with look of bored detachment, and goes back to slaughtering Uruks.  I couldn't bring myself to poison the Uruk's again, as I saw it as a mechanic of cowardice, and took away from Shadow of Mordor's otherwise good combat system.

This makes Shadow of Mordor is one of those of games I'd praise solely for the combat and little else.  Even then, while I was engaged, there was a sluggish response from Talion's actions that took me out of his acrobatic slaughtering.  Parrying and reversing Uruk attacks sometimes felt like a game of chance as to whether my button press would activate Talion's elven wraith partner Celebrimbor to give Talion a hand or not.  Getting to Talion's full acrobatic moveset is tiring because of this delay in his actions to my button presses.  But once I got about two tiers worth of upgrades in, I was slaughtering Uruk with enough decapitation and quick arrow volleys to make Shadow of Mordor the middle ground between Tolkien's world and Conan the Barbarian's.

I shouldn't have been too surprised by the odd sluggishness of the combat as Talion is horribly constructed for movement.  My advice, rarely - if ever - take your finger off of the run button because he walks with the same precision as a mid-'90s Resident Evil protagonist all wooden and turret-like.  Also because Shadow of Mordor has a weird grasp of what Talion can or can't scale in the middle of combat.  There were more than a few times where I was surrounded by Uruk forces and wanted to back away to make some space when Talion refused to make the eight inch movement from one plane of action to the next.  Holding the run button would force the tiny jump even though I'd been using Uruk for leaps several feet into the air.  I at least got the hilarious image of Uruks confounded by the same eight inch piece of land, so Shadow of Mordor is consistent in confounding friend and foe alike.

Shadow of Mordor's primary claim to fame is its Nemesis system where certain Uruk will rise in the ranks from internal struggles, Talion's meddling, and if a grunt is lucky enough to get a killing blow in on Talion.  In theory, it's a glimpse into the hierarchy of the Uruk military structure and how it responds to Talion's meddling by creating foes as driven by victory or defeat as Talion is after his "death."  In practice, the Nemesis system feels like a mini-boss generator that spits out slightly tougher enemies that give precious little weight to the already Uruk-heavy body count.  I never needed to change tactics to deal with whatever Nemesis was unfortunate to cross my path as the Nemesis generation system usually only locked out one slaughter option.  Since the Nemesis system translated to, "Do what I was already doing, just a bit more of it," it succeeds only as an idea and little in gameplay.Aside from the brief flurries of fun in combat, I did like that Shadow of Mordor has a tight focus when it comes to its open world aspects.  There are two small maps, both packed with combat between Uruk groups and assorted natural baddies, and the sounds of perpetual war add to the violent stakes.  I was never far away from something to do, be it hunting for glyphs or taking down a Nemesis who killed one of my Steam friends, and as Talion grows in power his dashes and leaps made traversing the land enjoyable.  Toss in fast travel that's always available so long as Talion isn't in combat and I was never far from something to do or lacking in engaging ways to travel there.

Shadow of Mordor isn't bad, but the odd movement issues hampered the flow between travel and combat.  The mayonnaise bland protagonist's overall lack of reflection on any of his actions kept the edgier parts of the story from landing with dramatic impact.  At the risk of self-parody, I couldn't get over that I was playing yet another thinly sketched white dude slaughtering his way across the landscape, and when I was finally having some fun I'd hit one of those insurmountable eight inch walls or remember the sight of the Uruks foaming at the mouth.  Once I accepted Shadow of Mordor is little more than its semi-randomized mini-bosses  I found little else to hold on to.

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Posted by Andrew

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  1. Really? Animated, make believe creatures, that are the creation from pure evil, being poisoned and foaming at the mouth, was you’re main issue??

    • Appreciate you taking the time to comment. It’s one of many problems – including the Nemesis system failing to introduce much life into the game (and as its claim to fame, that’s a big detriment), janky movement issues, and poorly responsive combat.

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