Shadow Of Mordor: Over Rock and Under Graug

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Shadow of Mordor is the first "next gen" title I've played that has felt truly new and innovative. It's easy to bemoan the relatively short story, and I'm sure there is plenty ammunition for Tolkien purists to pick apart, but I've seen few games pull together their individual elements so well. Even tangential activities like relic hunting are tied into the narrative in interesting ways. The real star of the experience is the Nemesis system. Its dynamic enemies have given me numerous story worthy moments, a few I'll share here.

More than just collect some of my more entertaining experiences, I'd like to give you an idea of the scope of Shadow of Mordor. Geographically, it's not much larger than most open world games but the wealth of activity and the flow of the game's systems stretch the figurative horizon line by quite a bit.

The Nemesis System doesn't just affect your interactions with the uruks (orcs). It affects the way the interact with each other. Grudges can develop between rival captains and the power struggles created by their encounters can have huge implications on the game world. A particularly powerful captain could be killed or overthrown by a  much lesser uruk, leaving a weak link in the command structure that others (or I) could exploit. All of these things happen with or without your influence.

I spent an hour just advancing time to see what would happen in the uruk heirarchy. I watched several captains and be succeeded by others, a tit for tat series of ambushes between two captains, and another who threw at least seven feasts for himself. At any point, I could have interceded, breaking up an ambush, poisoning a feast, etc. but it was more interesting watching the drama play out organically.

My own encounters with the uruk captains and warchiefs were, on average, more challenging and interesting than the few boss fights Shadow of Mordor threw at me. Their personalities ranged from terrifying to hilarious. My favorite, one Gimub the Mad, was a portly Uruk with a portion of his brain exposed. While raiding a camp in the Sea of Nurnen, he trundled up to meet me. I had looked at him in the army information tab previously and expected him to have something frightful to say upon our introduction. Instead he informed of the state of the worms in his head; they wiggled. Sadly, I killed him with a single arrow to his oped noggin. I would have loved to take him under my wing and make him a warchief.

I've heard many reviewers go on about how disappointingly short the story was in Shadow of Mordor. As someone familiar with and particularly fond of Tolkien, I'd like to offer a counterpoint. The Hobbit, taken as a single book, is not very long. Looking at the illustrated edition we bought for our oldest daughter, I count 290 pages. Now take into account the numerous things happening around that story; the little details, the things explained and expanded in the appendices or the Silmarillion. That material, often considered extra, is what fleshes out the world more and gives more movement and meaning to the events of the principle story. So it is with Shadow of Mordor. The relics, Ithildin and the appendices put more than enough meat on the story's bones.

My time in Mordor lasted about 15 hours. With the principle story complete, I'm now free to finish the side quests and collectables. With the Nemesis system as my playground, I'm sure that I can find plenty to keep me occupied.