At the onset of this year, I was sure one of the hugely anticipated big releases would secure the spot of my game of the year. However, as games like Watch Dogs, Destiny and others sorely missed expectations, Shadow of Mordor managed to shine above the rest as one that not only delivered on those expectations, but completely surpassed them.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
At first looking like a blatant cross between the Batman Arkham and Assassin’s Creed series, Shadow of Mordor isn’t just a shallow copy, but a perfect refinement of the best both have to offer.
The game follows Talion, who ends up eternally paired to an ancient elvish wraith unable to depart the world of the living. The duo’s travels take them across Mordor to defeat the Black Hand and avenge their deaths, as well as the death of Talion’s family. The story, while interesting in unravelling the mysteries of the wraith Celebrimbor and the nature of Middle-earth, is hardly the driving force of the game. Many of the story missions are used to showcase the systems and mechanics that are the backbone of Shadow of Mordor, or place you in interesting positions to take advantage of them in fun ways. The narrative is amusing and a fun adventure for those interested in the series (though apparently takes many liberties with the lore), but it’s the varying use of combat and the unique Nemesis System which truly place the game above all others this year.
Ultimately, the Nemesis System is what will keep players coming back over and over again, and this is where the game takes full advantage of its undeniably familiar gameplay. This system is the perfect playset for an open world game of this nature, allowing you to use the tools at your disposal to influence it and shape the area’s enemies how you see fit. Between branding orcs, killing captains, settling power disputes, and more, there is such a large variety of actions to take in Mordor that simply taking Sauron’s Army for oneself can easily become addictive. Seeing past defeated foes return to re-challenge you is always a treat, and the orcs’ multitudes of personalities and quips never cease to amuse. The Nemesis Systems succeeds in adding personality and depth to what I wrongly assumed would be another in a string of tired, repetitive open world game.
The tools you use to challenge orc groups and captains are what allow these events to never become stale, whether you choose to stealthily poison a camp, lure hungry caragors to attack while you fire arrows from above, or simply cut through the hoards with your sword, each option is always fun and entertaining to play out. The combat itself is seemingly lifted straight out of a Batman Arkham game, though with new interesting techniques like branding, and the feel of a sword sending an orc head flying through the air might even be as satisfying as Batman landing a punch on a hired goon. The progression of feeling utterly helpless against captains at the onset of the game, to being able to deftly handle waves of dozens of orcs by the end feels remarkably satisfying and engaging.
With so many things to complete in the world, from side missions to collectibles to branding war chiefs, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a classic through and through. The systems driven world of Shadow of Mordor as well as the endlessly fun combat made it hard to put down, even after 40+ hours and getting the platinum trophy. Not only is it undoubtedly my game of the year, but I’m incredibly excited and hopeful to see what a potential sequel could deliver on such a promising and enjoyable beginning to what will hopefully be a new series.