Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is an open-world action game set in the gap between “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Created by Monolith Productions and distributed by Warner Brothers, the game is available on PC, PlayStation 3 and 4, and Xbox 360 and Xbox One. It’s rated M, and it’s pretty violent, but a lot of kids are going to want to play it because it’s set in the wildly popular Lord of the Rings universe.
The game’s story follows a human ranger named Talion whose family is ritually sacrificed before his eyes by the Black Hand of Sauron, a captain of Sauron’s orc army. Talion is next, and with his sacrifice the wraith of an unknown Elf Lord is summoned and bound to Talion’s body. As a result, Talion becomes unable to die and gains a number of other supernatural abilities. Upon regaining consciousness, Talion decides to seek revenge for the deaths of his wife and child.
And, of course, he decides that the best way to do that is to brutally murder an army or two (literally) worth of orcs.
Gameplay & Content Warnings
Shadow of Mordor has been compared to the Batman: Arkham Asylum series a lot, and I think that this is an apt comparison. The combat and stealth systems are more or less identical to Batman’s. One of the only differences is that Batman never kills his foes. Talion doesn’t have quite that much restraint. He rides monstrous Carragors and Graugs and directs them to eat his foes, he slices off their heads with his sword, he puts arrows through their skulls, he stabs them repeatedly with his dagger, he sets them on fire, he poisons them, he uses his wraith powers to make their heads explode, and more. This onslaught of violence is pretty much reserved for orcs alone; there are attackable humans in the game but you are given no incentive to kill them and it’s impossible to perform any of the more graphic executions on them. That said, parents may still wish to consider that when the ESRB says that Shadow of Mordor is rated M because of “Blood and Gore, and Intense Violence,” they aren’t kidding.
But if you aren’t squeamish about violently ending thousands of orc lives, that sure sounds like fun doesn’t it? This game does a great job of making you feel powerful. Talion has a ton of interesting abilities that give you the tools to handle pretty much any situation the game can throw at you. Even so, it manages to be fairly challenging at times. There are certain enemies with special abilities that make it so you can’t just go slashing your way through the oceans of orc bodies that the game constantly throws at you, and the higher up the chain of command they are, the more difficult any given orc is to deal with. In addition, if some orc Warlord or Captain gets the better of you, he gets stronger, punishing you for your failure.
This is a possible flaw if you aren’t all that good at action games like Batman or Assassin’s Creed: there are no difficulty settings, so it could be a bit frustrating to watch your enemies become even more difficult to defeat each time they kill you. And unlike Assassin’s Creed or Batman on lower difficulties, this game doesn’t make it all that difficult for certain enemies to kill you. Some Warchiefs were able to take more than a third of my health with one attack. That said, the combat isn’t all that complicated either, so as long as you have relatively quick reflexes and some practice with the game it should become fairly easy. That’s probably my biggest complaint about Shadow of Mordor: once you’ve mastered the basics and gotten into the swing of things the game won’t really be able to surprise you much anymore. You’ll just run around, murdering various groups of orcs and monsters that can no longer effectively resist you, until finally you’ve more or less murdered them all and the credits roll.
Shadow of Mordor gets repetitive, but that doesn’t really change the fact that it’s still a fairly entertaining, Lord of the Rings-flavored, open-world action game. Gollum even makes an appearance, and you get some background on the Elven smith who created the Rings of Power. I’m always skeptical about video games based on previously existing franchises (everyone knows how bad video games based on movies usually are), but Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor gets my stamp of approval as a genuinely fun Lord of the Rings game. As long as the buckets of black blood and severed orc heads don’t bother you.