If you’ve read or heard anyone else’s thoughts on Shadow of Mordor my calling it a cross between Assassin’s Creed and Batman: Arkham would come be nothing new, even if I said it leans a little more towards the Arkham side of things, and who would see that as a surprise considering it is a WB game. The parallels with Arkham are especially clear when you start to run into the differently focused Uruks. First you have that big guy who you need to stun with your special stun attack before stabbing him and then there’s the big one with the shield who you have to flip over and attack from behind. To be fair though changing up the basic core of this system would dangerous, the icing on top of the chocolate cake is what really makes it king.
The major draw card for this game is the Nemesis System. In Shadow of Mordor there is a chain of command within the Uruk society. Captain controlling smaller bands of warriors up to warchiefs who basically run the show under the Black Captains. So you want to eliminate captains and warchiefs, sure, after a while though you’ll find the captains will be replaced and good luck trying to face those warchiefs early (not that the game really lets you anyway). Not to mention that if you make a mistake and find yourself surrounded by a horde of Uruks and you end up dead, which is not rare, the lucky bugger who got the last swipe on you will get a promotion to captain. If a captain was the one to kill you he just gets stronger and perhaps a promotion to a higher ranking captain.
Within the first couple hours of playing the game I found out just how frustrating this could be. You see there was this one Uruk who caught a whiff of my blood as I was low on health after taking on and defeating one of his brethren. In my weakened state I was no match for this Uruk and he killed me where I stood and became stronger.
So what did I do? I found out where he lived and tried to hunt him down only to run into a different captain first and after defeating that guy he turned up again and killed me. Deciding to just go back to the story which would unlock more abilities for me that I couldn’t use until I had completed some quests I continued for a short while before he confronted me again… seriously this guy would just not leave me alone… in fact by the time I got to a point where I actually could defeat him he told me that I made murder monotonous! It was this Uruk which really sealed the game as a brilliant creation that I would be playing for ages.
On the flip side of that situation I had another Uruk who was just a plain old face in the crowd until he killed me and got a promotion. Not wanting the little upstart to think too much of himself too quickly I found him and killed him right quick. Then a few minutes later I ran into him again… turns out they don’t necessarily die when “killed” unless you plainly cut off their head or rammed your sword through their skull. After about the forth kill the Uruk’s head was so badly damaged it had a metal plate and was heavily bandages, a couple kills later and what little I could see of his face was clearly purple in colour. I would have felt sorry for him if it wasn’t so damn fun. He finally died when I exploded his head with my wraith powers.
One of the key things that I found in being successful in dealing with my enemies was collecting intel on my targets before confronting them by interrogating your general Uruks and even other captains. This provides you with a list of weaknesses and strengths including immunities. It really sucks sneaking your way through a stronghold to the perfect surprise steal attack position or a great place to take our your bow and snipe your target a few times only to find that the bastard is immune. This is especially true if you are like me a large number of the captains are Berserkers or the guys with Shields because they tend to kill you the most.
Once you get into the second half of the game that is where the real fun begins. It is at this point that you unlock the ability to brand your enemies with your interrogations and draining powers. Branded enemies fight for you and branded captains can be sent to attack other captains or insert themselves into the entourage of a warchief as a bodyguard giving you an ally and a surprise edge in combat against your targets.
You can even brand warchiefs or better yet in killing them off allowing your already branded Uruk (who you somehow become attached to) become the new warchief. I found nothing more fun than taking over a warchief’s body guards, giving him another couple that I hand picked to insert into his team and then sending a branded warchief against my target to cause a riot. Seven of mine versus the one of him bwahahahaha.
I have a feeling that we are going to see elements of or modified versions of the Nemesis System in many games to come. If not I will be thoroughly disappointed. Obvious targets for integrating this idea are games like the Assassin’s Creed and Batman: Arkham series but a similar system could easily be put in place for the next Elder Scrolls game. Another idea could be to mix it with the system used in Alpha Protocol. A game I loved and yet it was not exactly the best received game or the highest selling. Imagine playing as an agent taking out a network of terrorists that dynamically evolves and you have to prevent their plots and eliminate cells. Heck even imagine an MMO where the NPCs we are all fighting against have a hierarchy and remember encounters against players. The well is deep for this system it is the beginning of what we have being waiting for to experience truly dynamic games.
Getting back to Shadow of Mordor itself not only do your enemies get stronger but of course you have your own levelling up system. This one includes what basically equates to experience and currency. The experience you get for kills, missions and other tasks eventually bags you an ability point. These ability points can gain you new attacks such as the combat executions or improve your existing abilities such as reducing the combat combo needed to use the combat execution and other abilities. Just which of these you can unlock relies upon your typical tree of abilities (though more of a series of lines in this case) and your “Power Level” which increases as you kill captains and mess with their plans to increase their own standing. Finally the Mirian (currency) you collect can be used to purchase health and focus (time slowing) upgrades as well as rune slots for your weapons. Runes being dropped by captains and warchiefs that give you another form of upgrading that you can switch out and change.
The actual storyline missions are rather limited in number and fairly typical for your action adventure game. Learning your new abilities using them in a variety of new ways and on different targets as well as various gimmicky boss battles using your abilities with quick time events thrown in. If you focus on just doing what you have to I’m sure it could be finished in under fifteen hours easily but the game does such a good job of keeping you more interested in messing with the Uruks.
The storyline you are provided is your rather generic revenge driven plot after your family are murdered in the first five minutes of the game. However if you are a fan of the lore there is plenty of detail to immerse yourself in that you will find interesting, especially if you go hunting for artefacts. Be forewarned though that not everything is going to be exactly congruent with the Middle Earth you know, from the books or the movies. The voice acting, atmosphere both in graphics and sound and the music are all the high calibre we expect from a current generation game.
Overall Shadow of Mordor is a solid entry into its field of gaming that has really been brought to life and extended into prominence by the new evolution it brings. Soon enough though the new Nemesis System elements will become a staple of the action adventure genre (if not others) along side quick time events so I feel we should all get out fill quickly before we are flooded with newer and more slick or quirky implementations.