Wot I Think Now I’ve Finished Shadow Of Mordor

Now I’ve played for a large proportion of the last five days, with the main storyline completed, and a worrying number of the collectibles and side quests ticked off, I feel far more prepared to give a more definitive statement on Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor: I love it.

When I wrote my Wot I Think So Far of the game last week, I already knew it was great. Now I know it’s brilliant.

The game makes all its big mistakes (and they’re very big mistakes) in the first hour. After that, it does something few games ever do: it gets continually better the further into it you get. And in order to say why, I’m going to talk about systems and unlocks that aren’t revealed until halfway through the game. If you want such things to be surprises, take the advice of my previous coverage and get hold of this action-brawler. If you want some more convincing, read on.

A lot have compared Shadow Of Mordor to Batman: Arkham City, or the Assassin’s Creed series. And with good reason. The game owes them vast amounts, cribbing giant chunks of each. But it’s to neither game I find myself comparing it upon completion. To me, it feels like the unofficial follow-up to the woefully under-rated and doom-ridden Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning. And that’s high praise.

Shadow Of Mordor finds that same midpoint between the noble sincerity of a traditional RPG, and the bubblegum frivolity of a third-person action game. A straight-faced storyline draws quite a bold bridge between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, dark tales of the rise of Sauron, further consequences of the creation of those pesky rings, and vengeance for slaughtered families. But at the same time, you rush around chopping the heads off thousands of orcs in spectacular slow-motion special moves. And ride on the backs of giant beasts, blow up campfires, and meddle in the grunted violent world of orc politics.

It’s this last part I want to celebrate most, but before I get there, I want to talk a bit more about the combat. This, like everything else, improves as you go along. Unlocking more abilities doesn’t make the combat simpler, nor indeed does the game make itself more difficult. It does something so damned rare: it becomes more interesting. The greater your arsenal of tricks and moves, the more intricate and complex fighting becomes. Instead of the game just throwing far harder enemies at you to make you feel constantly under-classed (one of my number one gaming frustrations), here it allows you to be more capable when faced with larger groups. Where once your only option was to run away, now you can cope, executing hit-streaks that unlock spectacular finishing moves, and then figuring how to string these together to become a whirling master of death, despite twenty or thirty orcs trying to attack you at once. And when those groups contain two or three Captains, the super-tough orc leaders, combat becomes like a wonderful dance. Perhaps no more than many of the games from which it borrows, it’s important to add, but still it feels wonderful.

And best of all, I worked out my own techniques within a huge array, much of which I didn’t use. I never explored the throwing knives, nor the wraith bursts, both of which could be elaborated. My preference was taking out a good number with arrows, then dropping in from stealth, and getting busy with my sword. Once I’d specced up to be able to unleash double-big moves with only a five-hit streak, I was a killing machine.

Let’s explore that Nemesis system further – I only touched on it before. There are two large maps that make up the game, the second reached, appropriately, midway through the main storyline. Each map has its own unique orc hierarchy, from ordinary grunts, to various ranks of Captains, to the top spots of the five Warchiefs. As you take out Captains, other orcs are promoted to take their place, lower ranking Captains stepping closer to the Warchief spot, and some becoming bodyguards for a particular Chief. And it’s within this system that you so satisfyingly meddle. Because by the halfway point of the game, you gain an ability to convert orcs to your side – branding.

This is done in various ways, all of which eventually involve your placing a hand over an orc’s face, and warping his mind to your wraith-passenger’s will. From stealth is the fastest way, and perhaps the most satisfying. Sneaking up behind a patrol of orcs, marching through a valley, and converting them one by one from back to front, is great stuff. Their eyes glow blue, and their faces bear your spectral handprint. You can make your way through entire strongholds, branding dozens of orcs, and then when you fancy it, activate the lot of them to fight for you – basically, start a little civil war.

But it gets far more interesting when you start applying this to Captains. Branding them isn’t so easy. They’ll prevent a simple sneaky face-grab, and need to be weakened first. That tends to involve quite a hefty fight, and usually one taking advantage of any strengths or weaknesses you might have learned about them. And even when they’re weak, you’ve got to make sure enough of their buddies are dispatched or far away, to have enough time to do a branding move without getting interrupted. However, brand them, and suddenly you’ve got orcs with influence on your side.

Branded Captains can be instructed to do your bidding. You can tell them to kill another Captain who you might find particularly annoying/threatening. Or you can set them onto a trial to become a Warchief’s bodyguard. Once they’re a bodyguard, you could then have them launch a coup against that leader. Each of these creates yet another side quest on the game map, alongside the dozens and dozens that are placed there by the game. Becoming a bodyguard might involve surviving a trial, or performing well in a hunt, which you can influence from the sidelines, or even by throwing yourself into the fight.

A Warchief killed by a bodyguard on your side is replaced by one of your own, meaning you have influence in the highest places. Or you can even try branding an existing Warchief, which again launches a sidequest – usually the hardest of all, and as a consequence, the most fun. Have all ten Chiefs (five from each map) on your side, and… well, not enough changes beyond the points gained from achieving the goal. But you will notice as you plod about the lands far more groups of orcs already on your side, influenced by their leaders.

I became utterly engrossed in these politics. I remember at one point seeing one of my Warchiefs get killed in a battle, opening up a spot on the rostrum. Not wanting it to get filled by someone I didn’t control, I immediately began looking through the Captains on my side, working out who I thought would be suitable, and tracking him down to take the position before anyone else. Managing the Nemesis system like this is enormous fun, and having the Warchiefs on your side is pretty important by the end of the game.

It’s interesting how the lack of interior spaces (beyond a couple of caves) and the relative ubiquity of landscape in the game didn’t seem problematic. It was certainly the case that various forts were very similar in construction, and between them were inevitably green stretches of field and rock. More variation would have been welcome, of course, but it didn’t seem to inhibit anything. The sense of a living world overcomes all of it, the orcs genuinely seeming to go about their business independent of you, rather than only spawning into existence for a fight. That any one of them that kills you is then named, and promoted to Captain, makes that feel all the more genuine. And that gets more impressive still.

Once an orc is promoted, he’ll be more uniquely identified. Perhaps he’ll have a glowing eye, or a painted face, or be particularly scarred, and his name will be expanded accordingly. Hura Eagle Eye, Otha Eye-Gouger, or one of my favourites, Borgu The Dumb. And as I mentioned before, they remember you. But in way more detail than you’re expecting. Not only will they express their disgust at your coming back from the dead if they killed you, but they’ll remember how. Or if you ran away, they’ll mock you for it. Indeed, if you took them down but non-lethally, they’ll excuse their return, explaining how their friends patched them up after you set Caragors on them. They’ll even bear the scars. This goes further as they mock you for how you attack them – say one spots you crouching above them, you might have it explained to you that you’re not a bird, and should stop trying to fly away. Often the writing for these is superb, as they stumble over their own metaphors, or simply get stuck with how to finish their insult. Orcs are dumb.

And despite being someone who couldn’t yawn louder at the thought of Tolkein’s books, I enjoyed the expansion of the myth in this game. It takes bold moves, expanding upon the relationship between Sauron and the rings, as well as introducing new, distinct characters that ought to have always been a part of the stories. Especially a hunter dwarf, with whom you have a lovely buddy-buddy relationship in the second half. (This is countered with some disappointing rescue-the-princess nonsense – she’s literally a princess – that not only lazily drags out the trope, but then doesn’t go anywhere with it.) Overall, the writing’s sharp, if often extremely po-faced.

The glitches haven’t improved for any post-release updates. Your hunter character is still far too keen to climb up a wall you weren’t facing, refuse to climb a wall you’re directly facing, or get stuck in a corner, always at the most crucially fatal moments. And there’s no doubt it fails to balance those early moments, incessantly springing impossible fights on you, in a very off-putting way. It’s wonderfully satisfying that such fights are easily within your abilities by the end, but that doesn’t make it any less of a dick move at the start.

But wow, I’ve enjoyed it. You’ll hear ridiculous people telling you about how they “finished” it in 10 to 15 hours. Ignore them, about this and everything else they ever think or say. Yes, you could blunder through the main quest and a good few side quests in this time, but you’d be like someone boasting about how fast they drove past a beautiful view. To not soak up the infinite numbers of side quests created by orc in-fighting, to not meddle with the Nemesis system, building networks of bodyguards around your Warchiefs, to not spend an hour or two riding around on a Graug, stomping entire towns of orcs to bits, is to woefully fail to get the point of Shadow Of Mordor. I played every hour I could get away with from Tuesday to Monday, and only finished it Monday morning – and that was because I felt obliged to so I could finally write this, rather than because I’d run out of things to do. Despite collecting 100% of both the Ithildin and Artefacts, and 100% of everything else in the Appendices, having completed the Dagger’s story of side quests and nearly completing the Bow’s, all of the main quest, and a good smattering of everything else, I’m still only at 76%. In fact, I’ve 41 scripted side quests left to complete! Let alone all the instanced events.

It’s huge, fantastic fun, and as I began by mentioning, my true follow-on from Kingdom Of Amalur. What a treat.

146 Comments

  1. MrWolf says:

    Desperately hoping we’ll see an “RPS Verdict” of this one. Would love to read the impressions and stories of the hive mind. Of course, I’ll have to stop playing this delightful game long enough to do so.

  2. RPSRSVP says:

    The voice acting was outstanding. The lines “Make this Uruk scream and his master shall answer” and “Forfeit your mind” I could listen to all day long. All the voice acting was of good quality but Alastair Duncan stood out to me. I like the intros and name chanting for the higher ranked enemies. Overall it was a very enjoyable game. If Monolith continues it’s AI and interaction improvement trend, omits the mistakes/issues in the sequel, it can break into stratosphere where some of the best titles we know reside.

  3. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    I love this game in a way I didn’t think I could ever love another AAA game.

    • romanlevin says:

      Right? I constantly keep telling myself how this game has no right to be this good.

      • RARARA says:

        Sadly, the marketing department doesn’t seem to be confident in the game’s own merits, allowing only sponsored channels to receive review copies (RPS, for instance, didn’t receive one).

        • Horg says:

          I suspect it was less lack of confidence, and more lack of knowledge about the game and the market to make an informed judgement on weather or not it would sell. They used paid promotion to ensure that even if SoM was a steaming turd, the launch coverage would tell you it smelt of roses.

    • El_MUERkO says:

      There was a moment in a stronghold where I was in over my head, I was low level and more enemies kept piling out of the surrounds, I was certain I was done for and then as the fight moved I saw some meat above and shot an arrow into it, it summoned some Carogores which in turn pulled a Graug into the fight, the slaughter was mighty, the chaos of the scene had me scrabbling for the rooftops and there I watched it play out. I’ve not felt part of such chaos since Spartan:Total Warrior on the PS1 ten years ago.

    • DestructibleEnvironments says:

      The Monolith devs still have the old magic in them! *faints*

  4. chiablo says:

    My biggest complaint about the combat is the number of keys you have to mash on the keyboard.

    1. Hit G to lure an orc to you
    2. Build up your meter in combat
    3. hit C to bind an orc
    4. Q to throw some daggers
    5. Hold left Ctrl to grab an orc, then hold E to bind him
    6. hit I to activate the orcs you have bound
    7. Hit V to enter wraith view and X to view the captain’s weaknesses
    8. Hold R to do a fist pound
    9. Hit T to burn the survivors
    10. Hold K to kill the bound orcs

    I would have preferred one or two context keys for these instead of putting them all over the keyboard. Key bindings like this remind me that this is a PC game, but the constant hint prompts on the screen remind me that it’s a console game.

    • MobileAssaultDuck says:

      If you’ve got a five button mouse you can end up coming up with a keybind combination that won’t require too much reaching.

      Also, you can turn off many of the prompts in the options. I prefer playing without the counter prompts and just live and die by watching for animations.

    • Dale Winton says:

      Use an xbox controller – much better for this game

    • ssh83 says:

      Can you rebind keys this game? Maybe try esdf for movement to open up more of your keyboard for easier reach.

    • Yargh says:

      An XBox controller will change your life then. Everything is within easy reach and easy to remember.
      With it you’ll gain at least a few levels of death-ballet dancing.

      • Deathmaster says:

        What kind of blasphemous contraption is this not-keyboard-and-mouse you speak of?

        • Philotic Symmetrist says:

          It’s a PC peripheral specifically designed for gaming and is especially suited to particular genres. I’m not sure what that ‘XBox’ bit of the name refers to…sounds a bit weird to me; ‘Microsoft PC Gamepad’ would be a much more fitting name I feel.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        Aye, that’s generally true on games of this kind. The only glaringly bad thing is that aiming is very important, but it’s still doable.

        • inf says:

          I’ve tried both (as i do with most 3rd person games), still prefer mouse & keyboard. For the bow aiming, but even for overall use. Even though an analog stick might be more directionally and gradually accurate, it has always felt sluggish to me. I mostly use controllers for foot-to-ball games.

          • Premium User Badge

            Harlander says:

            Can you do your gross movement with the controller and switch to mouse for fine aiming? That’s a trick I’m fond of where it’s accomodated

          • welverin says:

            At the same time? I’ll have to try that out.

            The game does switch between controller methods easily. I play with a pad and any time I press a key (say for the overlay) or touch the mouse it instantly switches the input display to reflect the change in input type, take that Metro 2033!

            edit: Just tired it out, you can’t use the mouse at the same time as the pad.

          • lanf says:

            What? I can switch without problem. I use the mouse & keyboard to shoot arrows and switch back to my XBOX one controller to do all the rest

      • FriendlyFire says:

        I found the opposite myself because most of the finishers require pressing two buttons at once which, for some reason, was extremely finicky and unreliable. On a keyboard, I can easily and reliably trigger them at least. Also aiming with the bow.

        I do miss the analog joysticks for movement and camera though.

        • Thurgret says:

          Oh goodness yes, this. If anybody knows of a solution to the problem with having to press two buttons simultaneously on an Xbox 360 controller, and it doing something flaky and executing, say, a pointless stun instead (I’m thinking Y+B – the execution move) or just breaking your hit streak for a laugh, I will send much anonymous Internet stranger love and such.

          I’m really enjoying the game, but this screwy bit with the controller is by far the greatest dampener on it, in no small part since I feel like I’m consequently playing the game in a vastly different fashion from how it was meant to go — with more than a half dozen uruks and two captains around at once (a frequent occurrence), I’m relying on my bow/shadow strike like crazy, and then running to find an orc to drain or elf-shot to pick up when that starts to run out.

          Before anyone suggests keyboard and mouse, my mouse is being flaky and is of dubious use for anything but strategy or turn-based games at the moment. Yes, I’m looking at replacing it.

          • welverin says:

            Practice? I suppose I screw up some, but I’ve played console games my whole life and pressing multiple buttons at once is common so I haven’t found it to be an issue. Certainly not enough that I think it’s a problem.

          • TimePointFive says:

            The Y+B combo stacks every 8 combos or w.e. so you can do it at 8, again at 16, etc. Took me a while to realize why I wasn’t a killing machine after that early unlock.

          • Thurgret says:

            I get that. It just appears to be quite random whether it works as a single move or instead decides that I must want to carry out two separate, useless moves instead.

    • khomotso says:

      Apart from the other mentions of easy remapping, half the things you list are highly situational tactics, and even then hardly necessary.

      What makes a gamepad advantageous in this one is not the buttons, but rather how movement assumes that thumbstick style, which I found clumsily offputting on caragors especially.

    • Faxanadu says:

      So, how is the game with keyboard+mouse?

      My superior binding skills can bind any amount of keys in easily accessible keys, so that’s not what I need a controller for. But does everything WORK? (Like, no weird superspeeded control or messed up mouse like Darksouls)

      • khomotso says:

        I’m fine with keyboard+mouse, honestly. No, no apparent weirdness with the controls, apart from the fact (which doesn’t seem K+M specific) that things get a little sticky at times when you’re trying to jump/climb, especially in corners. And the fact that movement is clearly designed for the swivelly direction-changing of thumbsticks.

        Everything I care about easily fits into the WASD region, a left pinky for left-click or left-shift, and the spacebar for running and jumping. Between that and my mouse I’ve got a few buttons left over.

        If I have one issue, it’s the occasional left pinky fatigue while running around in enemy forts, since left-shift is for stealthed movement, and I’m often wanting to run crouched. So I have Left-Shift+W+SPACE held down for significant stretches of time.

        The one thing you’ll want to map carefully are the panic buttons: narrow windows of time when an opponent is executing a finishing blow, and you have to both move the mouse into a specified region of the screen and then hit the specified button in time to miraculously dodge death. Two of these buttons are on your mouse, by default, one is the spacebar, and another one is ‘E’ (which you might want to swap to something more instinctive).

      • suibhne says:

        I played first-person shooters competitively (albeit not *well*, mind you), and I’m a big snob when it comes to mouse tracking. Shadow of Mordor’s mouse tracking is downright ace: it does exactly what you want it to, with no silly acceleration or smoothing. And that’s been my experience with vsync enabled, so pretty much the worst case scenario.

    • DragonOfTime says:

      One key to kill the orcs, one key to find them
      One key to bring them all, and another one to bind them.

      In the land of Mordor, where the key-bindings lie.

    • Wowbagger says:

      little known fact; “Hold left Ctrl to grab an orc, then hold E to bind him” is written on the inside of the one ring.

  5. Laurentius says:

    Good to know as I was on a fence with this, KoA and AC:Black Flag most hollow and vapid games experiences I had in recent years.

  6. Hideous says:

    I’m sort of still stuck in the initial rut, I think. It’s fun, but not “holy shit” fun yet. But I’ll stick with it!

  7. 2late2die says:

    Feel the same way about the game. Having tons of fun with it and really enjoying the nemesis system. I can’t say I’ve been bothered by the surprise captain attacks, not even in the beginning. In general I find the combat fun, but not too challenging. In fact at some point I realized I might be missing out on part of the game because I haven’t died yet so I decided to start taking more risk and letting myself get overwhelmed. When I finally was downed by some 2-bit uruk I found it immensely satisfying seeing him get promoted to captain – I now had my own personal nemesis, sweet! :)

    • pruchel says:

      I think I either got a dud copy or I’m the God of gaming- I found the game way to easy from the very beginning. I died 5-6 times through 30 hours and 100%ing the game, and most of those were on purpose to make cool uruks captains.

      I love the idea and execution of the Nemesis system, but due to the game simply being so damn easy I never found the real use for using captains/bodyguards to take down warchiefs etc. If a warchief was actually hard to kill I think this game would probably be the most crazy fun I ever had in a game. Using the nemesis system to plant bodyguards to get help during the fight, finding the best uruks to make warchiefs to help you etc. As is doing that stuff is fun once or twice, simply because it’s fun, but for me it gets tired quick when simply running up to the guy and beating him up takes half the time.

      I think it mostly comes down to some really really poor gameplay decisions. E,g you need to power up your combo to execute or do cool stuff, sure sometimes hitting people five times can be hard in the middle of a huge fight with berserkers and brutes, but just shoot five arrows and you get it. Then proceed to press C twice to make to drains/conversions and bam, the arrows are refilled and you can repeat ad infinitum. Add to this runes to give you lots of free focus on headshots, or even health, restoring focus and arrows on recoveries, exploding heads, and not to mention free unlimited fiery explosions of doom every ten headshots and the game is simply broken.

      Sure you can impose restrictions on your own gameplay, but no matter how many times you say that it’s not the same as actually making the gameplay challenging out of the box.

  8. DarkFenix says:

    I found the opposite with the combat. Early on it was really difficult when swarmed by lots of enemies to the point where I’d be forced to run away or die. Later on in the game you’re so super-powered the fights become trivial and thus get boring fast after the initial power trip wears off.

  9. DanMan says:

    I’ve played almost 20h and I’m just about to unlock the 2nd “map”. There’s so much stuff to do, it’s crazy. Most of it interesting, too. If open world games were like this, I’d actually play them.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      Don’t know if you’ve ever tried it, but Prototype (first, second one is broken) was one of the few open world games where just faffin’ about and causing mayhem was rather fun, too. Granted, there in turn the actual plot was bleh, but being a skyscraper running, throwing cars at helicopters and cackling monster-man is rather fun. Plus thanks to jump-flying around you actually get to places quickly.
      It was one of the few games that did “You’re the boss, here’s your playground, enjoy” pretty nicely I felt.

      • Mitthrawn says:

        Yeah, despite the PS2 era graphics I still keep Prototype installed and dip back into it every couple of months. Truly the best “power-trip” sandbox game available. You play an unstoppable eldritch horror, and once you realize that the fun really begins. Just ignore the shit plot with the strange tone (he’s not the hero, stop trying to make him one). The closest in feel a game got to it would actually be Saint’s Row 4 IMO.

      • Headwuend says:

        Just Cause 2 is also brilliant in this regard. Just pick a spot on the map and give them hell with a vast variety of guns, vehicles and grappling hook shenanigans. How about linking the head of a statue with a helicopter and use it like a wrecking ball?

  10. khomotso says:

    The combat is great fun, but I’d agree that it’s when the game tilts over into army building that it becomes something special. Every single captain seems unique in appearance, skills and dialogue heavily infused with personality. Even up to the end, I was finding new captains with new special attacks I hadn’t seen before.

    My favorite tactic was to find the ones with those deadly combos that kicked my ass, then set them against everyone else rather cold-heartedly. If they kept winning, by all means, they earned their rank. But if they lost, then so much the better for my Darwinian management.

    I was a little afraid of my own warchiefs by the end. By the time I’d built them up, I wasn’t sure I could beat them anymore.

    And by the time I’d built them up, I was really craving some multiplayer army action. I would pay good money for this even as DLC, including the ability to trick out my warchiefs in special armor, etc. God, the money they could milk from me. So ssshhh.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Personally, I like to take the Combat Masters and set them up on my side. At that point, they mostly arent going to die to, well, anything. The only problem is, combat masters are rare. But once you get the mind control power – i only just did – treasure them as “allies.”

    • Headwuend says:

      Orcémon, gotta brand ’em all!

  11. lordcooper says:

    I loved every moment of this except for the ridiculously dumb ending.

  12. The Sombrero Kid says:

    Agree so much, I’m not joking when I say it’s a masterpiece. What the hell were monolith doing all those years churning out mediocre fear games?!

  13. ssh83 says:

    Massive props for this reviewer for actually reaching close to 100% before reviewing the game. Often times reviewers don’t even finish the game they review.
    Not saying it out of fanboyism either since i have zero interest in this game, feeling that Arkham and AC4 style combat are an overdone novelty with low skill cap. Good for feel-good action easy to get into but no real challenge like ninja gaiden or vindictus.

    • Dale Winton says:

      It’s actually quite challenging compared to Arkham city. AC games have different combat system , it’s compared to the AC games as you run up wall in this also

      Anyway it’s quite brilliant and easily the best game this year so far

  14. TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

    This is the Assassin’s Creed i always wanted.

    • derbefrier says:

      Ha! Exactly what I was thinking reading this. I must have this game now.

  15. thekeats1999 says:

    Loving this game so far. Trying to make my way through the warchiefs, but I need to thin the captains down first.

    Tried taking out one of the Warchiefs last night, when not one but two captains turned up. As if this wasn’t bad enough a third captain turns up, taunts me and then strolls off.

    My preferred method of combat is to use the wraith dash/kill move to take out archers and quickly dash around the terrain then get into combat use the wraith punch and flurry to build up the combo meter to use either an execution move or the wraith blast. But now I need to look at what upgrade I need to get the execution move at 5 combos.

  16. Gog Magog says:

    Well I really loved Amalur for approximately 15 hours (a lot by my standards, but bear in mind I spent approximately 129825837934698349857 hours with Dark Souls). After that Kingdoms of Kingdoms of Kingdoms of became a big ‘ol bag of crackler dick to continue, the fighting particularly a rote point of rote ness.

    But this does sound rather lovely. Like the Big Lebowski of Asscreed games.
    If only me lowly peasant laptop could run it in all its 1920×1080 nurection-busting glory.
    (I have dick on the mind you see. Mmm.)

  17. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Could someone clarify the “HD Content” free upgrade? It says you need to have, among other things, “a DirectX 11 compatible NVIDIA or AMD video card with at least 6GB of RAM and the latest drivers.”

    Does that even *exist*? Is this just future-proofing or what?

    • nrvsNRG says:

      Ofc they exist. Most of the ppl with 6gb cards are Titan owners. Its included in the game as a bonus, not as a requirement or somthing to get anxious about.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Some report having around 4.5 GB usage with that enabled, all maxed and 1080p.

      They look uncompressed and incredibly great, i tried them at 1600p with my dad’s Apple 30 incher and they really ARE sharp, my GPU in that configuration sits at it’s 3GB cap with just some stuttering here and there related to the VRAM having to constantly rewrite for new data.

      • dangel says:

        At 1440p 4gb of vram chokes :( tbh I’m not convinced the ultra textures look much better though

        • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

          Upon further inspection the biggest difference seems to be on orcs and distant landscape detail, Talion seems completely untouched alongside pretty much everything else.

          They probably could have kept the same texture resolution but increased a bit the compression and it’d likely be unnoticeable.

          This is going to be a trend in new games, i’m willing to bet that. The only good thing about the new consoles is RAM and they will leverage that, given that great textures are the easiest way to improve a game’s look, while other expensive rendering techniques require an amount of horsepower that they simply don’t have.

          I hope the “real” Maxwell will launch with 8GB.

    • DanMan says:

      It’s just a PC developer doing it’s job.

  18. Redcoat-Mic says:

    It’s alright, the nemesis system is a great idea but not as game changing as has been suggested.

    I’ve enjoyed myself but I still can’t really see it as much more than an Assassins Creed game, it’s going through the same pattern for me. Play the main missions, stop to do the side quests, carry on with main missions, side missions grow exponentially so I get bored just freeing 3 slaves and just push on with main quests until now, when I’ve got a bit bored of that now. The combat is more interesting than Assassin’s Creed but still the same boredom once you’ve got the hang of it.

    I’ve had my fun anyway, I’d give it a 7/10.

  19. Drake Sigar says:

    Shadow of Mordor is a good game not because of Warner Bro’s disgusting antics, but in spite of them.

  20. nrvsNRG says:

    GotY for me, as its so much fun. I have Alien :Isolation installed and ready (surprisingly 1 day early steam release) to play but find myself still wanting to continue my second playthru of SoM.

  21. namad says:

    the impossible fights you can run into only a few minutes after starting the game really don’t feel unfair. you can easily run away from the orcs at any time it’s only a gamer’s personal history that might make them unwilling to do this, furthermore dying really is no big deal either, the game needs a way to teach the player that a) dying can be fun and b) you don’t have to kill every orc you see and allowing the player to make mistakes early on is a pretty good way. It’s much better than some sort of bethseda invisible wall, gating, scaling, what have you. Let the player finish the tutorial, or let them ignore it, either or works. sure one is harder but so what?

  22. Moorkh says:

    Thank you John!
    I was able to stop reading after “unlocks” without needing to be afraid of missing anything not playing this.

  23. Hex says:

    I kind of wonder if they intentionally want the player to die a bunch before figuring out what’s going on, just to fill up the Nemesis ranks…?

    • Danarchist says:

      My wife says I have never cussed as much in a single day as the first day I played this. Towards my third hour I tossed my $60 controller across the room and stormed outside to take my anger out on some annoying weeds in the garden. Tried again later that night and for some reason I was able to do a few things I failed at multiple times earlier. No unlocks etc in between. I think getting used to the controls is the hardest part of this game, once you get it down as a ‘flow’ it becomes fairly easy. Mind you the last chance QTE’s and aiming the *()!@ bow are allot easier with a mouse (and much much faster) but a controller makes all the difference for muscle memory.

  24. udat says:

    After reading this I’d heard enough positive things about this game to decide to buy it, so I have found a decent deal on cdkeys.com (23 quid) and done exactly that. Whoa – 34 gig download? I think it would have worked out quicker to go to the store and buy it!

  25. Eightball says:

    And despite being someone who couldn’t yawn louder at the thought of Tolkein’s books, I enjoyed the expansion of the myth in this game. It takes bold moves, expanding upon the relationship between Sauron and the rings, as well as introducing new, distinct characters that ought to have always been a part of the stories.

    This sounds disconcertingly like “I hated the original lore and this butchers it so I like it.” Can someone who actually likes the setting confirm or deny that?

    • khomotso says:

      Um yeah, I think you’re not far off. I’ve often heard people complain that Tolkien’s world is too shallow, black and white, or just dull, and then they go on to praise things even more trite and trope-y. Puzzled for similar reasons here. The characters of the game are from central casting, and the prose purple.

      In terms of broadly accepting the Middle Earth framework, I think it passes the suspension of disbelief threshold. It comes off like the developers only watched the movie, and didn’t read the books, given what’s borrowed or taken as inspiration, but that’s to be expected. Yet the copy of a copy starts to get very fuzzy indeed.

      The backstory stuff and attempts to get under the skin of the Sauron history came off really weak and confused, but they’re not essential, and I forgave it for that. The geography is also a bit topsy-turvy, but again, forgivable. The real story of the game is the internal conflict of the rising orc war machine.

      If instead I take the game as just being about what could have been a footnote of the LOTR story, a Ranger battling the Orc clans in the region of the Black Gate from the inside, while the rest of the war was going on in the wider world, it fits, roughly. And that’s definitely what most of the game is about. The climax is completely off point, but is also forgettable, and doesn’t require much time or effort – just a way to say you can stop playing now.

      If you take it on those terms, an exploration of the setting of Northern Mordor and environs, then when fighting in the shadow of the Black Gate, or seeing it off in the distance while you duel a captain on a remote parapet, it can be pretty awe-inspiring.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Tolkien’s not the greatest writer out there. He’s not that hot with characters. The director/writer commentary from the movies had some interesting details and discussion of this, and of the changes needed for the translation to film. In some ways, I think the films are better than the source material. But Tolkien was a world builder at heart, and there he towered over many, before and since.

      And that’s an issue: Some people don’t appreciate how bare the field was when Lord of the Rings was published. How influential it was in the growth of the fantasy genre. I’ve run across similar things when introducing younger film fans to Hitchcock; they’ll watch films and find them mildly interesting. Because everyone uses his tricks nowadays, they don’t immediately get that these films had the defining use of various techniques. Seeing it done hundreds of times in movies since then, the originals can lose a bit of import and perspective.

      Not likely to be playing the game anytime soon, so I can’t address the lore continuity.

      • Paul B says:

        I remember reading a review of LOTR on Amazon that said it was the most boring book in the world because all it involved was lots and lots of walking, and not enough action. Which shows that you can’t please all of the people, and that they’ll always be a negative review on Amazon no matter how highly rated the source material is.

        In fact that’s what I most liked about Tolkien’s portrayal of Middle-Earth – little incidental details and long, luxurious descriptions of areas and objects. As you say, it’s the world building that Tolkien excelled at.

        • Arglebargle says:

          Yeah, atmosphere and place. That and language were what Tolkien excelled at. It also reads aloud very well, as I suspect that sort of thing was at its roots.

          Interestingly for me, I’ve been watching Game of Thrones on TV and playing the Crusader Kings II mod for it: Every single stinking hamlet and town is named, and Martin did a tremendous job in making them feel like real places. Great facility for names, both place and people. Something that you don’t see a lot of in games, where it looks like everything got chosen from top ten lists garnered from the programmers and office staff. The bad D&D module effect.

      • Det. Bullock says:

        The problem was that Tolkien wanted to emulate a certain archaic way of characterizing chracters typical of old eroic poems an modernize it just enough to use it in a novel, his is a world made of absolutes and even when heroes are flawed those absolutes remain because that was the way of the old eroic poetry he was inspired by.

        The problem with the movies and the way many look at the novel is that they try to make modern something that in many aspects is intentionally anachronistic.

        Though it must be said (if I recall correctly) that even Tolkien himself in the later years of his life thought that in some things perhaps he could have made some things a bit less black and white like the orcs, so to avoid a few unfortunate implications that were pointed out even at that time.

      • Person of Con says:

        Not only was Tolkien bad on characters, he was pretty disdainful of them. I’m taking a fantasy class, and one of our readings is an essay he wrote called “On Fairy-Stories,” where he argues, among other things, that literature is the medium capable of doing “true” world-building justice, especially in comparison to drama (he uses drama, I think, because no self-respecting English scholar in the 30s would deign to give artistic credit to those upstart radio and film things): “Thus, if you prefer Drama to Literature (as many literary critics plainly do), or form your critical theories primarily from dramatic critics, or even from Drama, you are apt to misunderstand pure story-making, and to constrain it to the limitations of stage-plays. You are, for instance, likely to prefer characters, even the basest and dullest, to things. Very little about trees as trees can be got into a play.”
        That should be the series’ tagline:
        Lord of the Rings: Have You Thought About Trees as Trees Recently?

        • Horg says:

          That quote doesn’t imply that he’s disdainful of characters, character building or making them the focus of the work. What he’s saying is that in a stage play, a playwright will focus almost entirely on characterisation due to the physical limitations of the stage. The implication is that a playwright would prefer a terribly written character to a lavish and detailed description of a landscape because it was simply too hard to build that visualisation into a play.

      • Wowbagger says:

        “Foreva in are heartz” Glorfindel and the swan knights of dol amroth. <3

    • welverin says:

      I like Tolkien, I’ve read The SIlmarillion, The Book of Unfinished Tales, the Children of Hurin, and The Book of Lost Tales, and some of his non-Middle-Earth work. I mention this so you have context for the following:
      While I don’t agree with some of their details, they don’t fit with how I viewed things, I’m not offended by them and certainly don’t think it qualifies as butchering. But then I’m not the type to feel that way in general.

      • Eightball says:

        I guess I just bristle a little when John seems to be saying that the books are shit and should have had more random video game characters in it.

        I’ll probably pick this up when it’s deeply on sale and just wall it off story-wise from “the real stuff”.

    • Oozo says:

      Not wanting to lash on you, because it’s such a common mistake (John makes it repeatedly): It’s “Tolkien”, not “Tolkein”. It’s just like nails on a blackboard to me.

      But the misspelling is so common that I have to wonder: is “Tolkein” a real, existing spelling/English name, by any chance? Anyone here got any relatives called Tolkein? (It’s not intended to be snark, I’m seriously curious.)

      • Det. Bullock says:

        Nope, it’s just that some people are really rubbish in coordinating both hands while typewriting (*raises hand*), both keys are at the two extremes of the keyboard and so they are easy to mix up as you have to use both your hand to type the two letters consecutively and a lot of times the wrong hand is faster than the right one.

        • Oozo says:

          Occam’s Razor slashes again!

          (Thanks, that makes sense — the fact that they are in somewhat mirrored positions on the keyboard escaped me, but surely adds to the problem.)

      • Eightball says:

        Computers have turned my brain into mush.

        Also I think part of it is how I was taught phonics – Tolkien is pronounced “Tol-kin” (or “Tol-keen”) not “tol kee-in” which is how “Tolkien” would be pronounced if it followed basic English rules.

      • tormos says:

        the usual argument about why it’s so commonly mistaken is that Tolkien is a germanic spelling, and a more common english spelling of that pronunciation would be Tolkein. Tolkein just subconsciously “looks right” to most native speakers in a way that the actual proper spelling does not.

  26. RaoulDuke says:

    “If I ever met that Gravewalker, I’d rip his fa…”

    EDWENNO O GWATH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Holy shit this game is fun, for anyone finding themselves with plently of RAM + a great CPU, limited by their GPU and getting a framerate less than 30 [Mine is a 7850 2GB + 16GB RAM + 3770K], I HIGHLY recommend turning everything to low except Texture Quality on HIGH, Texture Filtering on ULTRA, Motion-Blur on Camera Only & Depth of Field ON, the texture quality affects the overall graphics WAY more than any other setting in the options. Motion blur looks great in battles/pursuits & the DoF is essential for ace looking executions/interrogations and both don’t seem to affect the framerate much at all.

    Shadows have a very nice improvement from low to ultra but it seemed to be a massive hog for me and they only stand out in gameplay occasionally at best, I have no idea what lighting changes, probably the amount of sources/resolution of reflections on orc skin etc, but I couldn’t notice much difference. The “mesh quality” does a lot but is very misleading as I thought it meant the model definition/amount of polygons but it actually means “Mesh LOD Draw Distance”, it really makes the game look better with more detailed models popping in at a much greater distance instead of 10 feet in front of you. But it was also going <30 fps, like the shadows, on anything except low.

    So mesh/shadow quality DO make a big difference to the visuals for different reasons but if in doubt [I've bummed around with the settings for hours] try my suggestions.

    TL;DR – Best settings I've found for 40+ fps & best visuals overall on a 7850 2GB [With overkill RAM + CPU of 16GB & a 3770K, ie not limited there]:
    Texture Quality – High
    Texture Filtering – Ultra
    Motion Blur – Camera Only
    Depth of Field – On
    Lighting Quality/Mesh Quality/Shadow Quality/Ambient Occlusion & Vegetation Range – Low/Off

    Hope this helps someone here. I'm off to make a sandw…

    EDWENNO O GWATH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • DanMan says:

      Lies. I don’t play any game without Ambient Occlusion anymore, if I have the choice.

      • MrUnimport says:

        I find that a bit curious. In my experience ambient occlusion usually winds up looking more like a bizarre darkness field surrounding objects than any sort of realistic light-bouncing model.

  27. Michael Fogg says:

    Strange, this article didn’t contain the 5 mandatory ‘calls to action’?

    • amateurviking says:

      And did in fact make mention of the hobbit and the lord of the rings. It’s almost like it’s a genuine opinion!

  28. gschmidl says:

    I’m always glad when I find out I’m not the only one who loved Amalur to bits. And you’re right about that comparison: it’s none of its comparisons, but a new and improved congolmerate of all of them.

    • Paul B says:

      Can I join the Amalur love-in. It’s as if a single player RPG had an affair with an MMO and Amular was its offspring. All the joy of an MMO, including loads and loads of quests, but without the annoying people. The only problem is that I feel I’m going to burn out by the half-way mark. 30 hours in and I feel I still haven’t scratched the surface.

      • Noxman says:

        Same boat here, i’ve played it on and off for quite awhile now and have gotten 40 hours in. Did the first DLC thing which was fantastic but reached the point where it seems to be a bit of a grind and have trouble maintaining motivation when the next chunk of storyline seems like it’s at least 5-10 hours away.

        One day, one day i’ll do this.

        • Paul B says:

          Hehe, I reckon I’ve reached the same point. It seems each new area opens up a lot of grind, and the various caves & caverns are starting to merge into one. Still, like you, I want to finish the game as I find its setting so interesting but it’s going to be a long, hard slog.

  29. DanMan says:

    Shady business?

    link to escapistmagazine.com

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Yep, that’s ultimately a very, very horrible move on their part, something that totally deserves to be denounced.

      Thankfully though their lack of confidence was unfounded. This was probably a huge bet for them and they really needed to get some back some big bucks out of it, so i can sort of understand their move.

      Then again, understanding and justifying are two very different things. I’m just glad it all went fine, as long as they stop doing this shit and that it doesn’t get worse with other publishers either i’m good.

  30. Josh W says:

    Edit – Damn, missed a chance to tease a troll before he disappeared. Nevermind, here’s my more sensible post:

    My friend kept trying to muck around with the ork’s dynamics even before he got the brand ability; using his character’s immortality to promote people he thought would be fun by letting him kill them, and defeating their enemies from the shadows. Then fighting them when they got to warlord level and starting again.

    Another game this one seems to be built off is pokemon, I got the same “soften them up, prepare the ground, now use the ball!” feeling from the branding system as in that game.

    Also yes, the combat system is brilliant, and rediculous, some of the chained finishers reminded me of blood dragon in their ridiculousness.

    • Ultra54 says:

      I find it very difficult. I can’t reliably pull off finishing moves. Killing 20 in 2 minutes has me stumped. I’m using the 360 controller.

      • PampleMoose says:

        I don’t know what mission you’re on, but I found most of the side missions became more achievable the further you go into the game, and the more upgrades you have. I would suggest doing at least two or three of the main missions from all the quest branches, partially because they give you abilities you can only get from the main quest line, but partially because you’ll get enough currency to upgrade your health, focus, etc.

        I found many of the bow quests, for instance, impossible on the beginning levels of elf shot and focus, but much more achievable later in the game. A lot of the kill x orcs in y minutes quests benefit quite a bit from the upgrades that give earlier execution moves, multiple Executions per Streak, and similar.

        Having said that, those missions can be done earlier if you use environmental aids. Try shooting Caragor bait, or kiting orcs to the fireplaces and then exploding them. The game design expects you, in most cases, to flee or to run around the environment, rather than simply staying still and battling it out. Even in the timed missions.

      • freiform says:

        I have some problems with my Xbox360 controller, e.g. execute often won’t register, dragging fights out or even tipping the scales towards the other guys.

        Other than that, I really enjoyed this game for the two hours I played so far.

        • El_MUERkO says:

          I’ve also had that, I’ve also moved L into the save zone and pressed the button long before the timer ran out, only for the game to not register the press and kill me, which is fupp’n annoying. Though I’d still forgive this game if it came with a USB nut-punching peripheral.

        • dysomniak says:

          After reading several comments like this I have to wonder if maybe you people don’t just have faulty controllers? I have zero issue hitting Y+B at the same time.

          EDIT was supposed to be a reply to freiform

  31. thekelvingreen says:

    Because by the halfway point of the game, you gain an ability to convert orcs to your side – branding.

    The Persuadertron was the best bit of Syndicate too.

  32. Moraven says:

    Not having played much Batman and never any AssCreed, Infamous: Second Son was the last game I played that had the open sandbox with a main path, but side missions, collectibles and what not. Mordor has that and it is so much more enjoyable with the dynamic content. The Uruks make the world feel alive and interesting. There is a variety of lore to each location. Locations are diverse enough that you learn them enough so that you know the spot to stealth from or the rocks you can send falling onto Uruk heads. Combat is satisfying and Death is not a bad thing, it changes the game up.

    I have not learned the Dominate part that comes from the 2nd map. While I have having a lot of fun on the first map, it probably is worth your while to first focus on the main missions until you reach that ability. Reading about it here and other places makes me feel I am missing out and it will open up the gameplay more.

  33. Flea says:

    Thanks for an in-depth review, it’s articles like these that make my mind up. I must admit I’ve never even heard of this game before it was released and someone posted the video on Facebook, but right now it’s on my wishlist and I can’t wait to play it. And that’s coming from someone who can’t stand LOTR or Hobbit.

    That being said, I still honestly don’t know what RPS writers see in Kingdoms of Amalur. A number of times I’ve seen it mentioned here as an example of an under-rated game. I just don’t get it. The game was playable and that was about it, everything else was bland, deja vu and ultimately – boring.

  34. caff says:

    I’m interested in this having read quite a bit of gushing praise for it.

    Just finishing Dead Rising 3 too – which was another good RPS suggestion that I wouldn’t have tried were it not for your well written review.

  35. waltC says:

    I have a theory (not quite proven) that people who publicly admit they were “bored” by Tolkein’s books do so simply because that is easier than admitting they don’t like to read in general….;) You know, possibly the sort of person who thinks a four-sentence paragraph is a “wall of text”, etc.

    Seriously, though…how is a positive review written by a person who doesn’t like Tolkein’s books supposed to encourage me about the game? I loved Tolkein’s books and clearly understand why they set the tone and standard of fantasy from their first publishing through the foreseeable future. Peter Jackson’s triumphant trilogy was a delight and in no small part because it followed the books nearly perfectly (omitting only the strange interlude with Tom Bombadil which really never fit the storyline.) Previous “LotR” games I have not liked at all because they seemed so pandering and childish–naked attempts to capitalize on the wonderful story in embarrassingly amateurish ways (kind of like the Star Trek games, etc.)

    It is difficult to guess whether the game will be something I’ll enjoy as a LotR title…or whether it’s just a decent game that really might’ve been anything else but just as much fun to play. Or not fun, as the case may be.

    • Howard says:

      One of the worst sins of this game (of which there are MANY) is the frankly ignorant and amateurish blundering it does into what is universally acknowledged as being the most complete and frankly wonderful fictional universe ever created. The ham-fisted main plot is nothing short of embarrassing and their idiotic realisation of Mordor could not be further from the truth (and don;t even start me on the second map – its just too hysterical).
      As ever, game writers show their utter incompetence and the illiterate game reviewers continue to annoy me.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Hate to shoot you down, and maybe I am an exception, but here goes: I’ve read more than 100 fantasy tales. Ryria (a personal favorite); Dark Tower, Wheel of Time, Eddings’s Sparhawk Tales, McCullough and both Webmage and his Blades series, The (Awful) Ice and Fire (to book 3, and there I quit) and almost anything by Zelazny I can get my hands on, including the Amber Chronicles, multiples times.

      And while I recognize Tolkien for the manner in which he birthed a genre so to speak – and for his amazing world building – frankly, I find the books…utterly midling. They are not bad by any means. But great? Earth shattering? Hardly. The writing style itself is…tedious, at times. And full of little details no one really needed. He can build a world, but he cannot describe it in any manner remotely considered artistic. Try Cormac McCarthy’s descriptions of place for comparison; the man paints scenes with words. Awful, blood scenes, usually, but still.

      And characters? Tolkien’s characters were walking Archetypes. The Wise Sage and Powerful Wizard; the unquestionably evil Dark Lord. The Fallen King seeking Redemption. The frail, unlikely, reluctant hero and his trust sidekick. Heck, Tolkien pretty well gave rise to some (of what are now) tropes in fantasy. Tolkien’s Gandalf is the reason you have a Jaffre or a Greybeard sage walking you through Bethesda’s Tolkien-esque worlds.

      So I do love to read. But while I did not despise Tolkien’s works, I could recommend numerous fantasy tales I would want my friends to read before they ever bothered with LoTR.

      • Det. Bullock says:

        Tolkien emulated an archaic way of telling stories using only a modern form, the prose novel.

        The fantasy sagas you are mentioning are not only modern in form but also in content, it’s not that Tolkien is a bad writer, it’s just that his work is more the work of a philologist who preferred tha anonymous poet that wrote down the Beowulf (the Rohirrim speak the same language that poem was written in, after the german philology exam I was pleased to discover I could understand a good chunk of what they were saying in the books without the notes) rather than the 19th century novelists, in that regard no fantasy novelist that I know of has written anything like it since Tolkien.

    • Pundabaya says:

      I hated Lord of the Rings, and the Hobbit was even worse. It wasn’t the fact they were long or were ‘too boring’. It was Tolkein’s style… I couldn’t get on with it. I’ve tried gritting my teeth and forcing myself through them, but I can’t do it. And Tob Bombadil can fuck right off.

      The movies were brilliant.

      The game, its fine. The lore is just background to the real stars of the show, the Orcs. Who are amazing.

      • Horg says:

        The Hobbit films were not brilliant. Not terrible, but far from brilliant. Like butter spread over too much bread, if you will, with the gaps plugged by superfluous CGI that somehow fell into the uncanny valley of animation. They will not carry the same legacy that LotR did, that is certain.

      • Lonestar1771 says:

        Tom Bombadil was the worst, next to the ents. Took me two years to read the trilogy because at times the world building was way overdone.

        I’ve been reading the Foundation series and those books, while intelligent, are boring as all hell.

    • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

      Books brilliant, LoTR films crap, Hobbit movie even worse crap, this game barely fits the legendarium enough to qualify.

      I know everyone has an opinion and all that, but I honestly cannot fathom this fashionable “Tolkien was a bad writer” stuff. I mean, really? I don’t like using sales as a critical metric, but can the second best selling profane book ever written really have put that many people off by its storytelling style? The modern mania for characters and character development is certainly hurting Tolkien’s image, but frankly I and many millions of Tolkien fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Not everything has to be a cynical, gritty “deconstruction”. I think much of the root of Tolkien’s enduring popularity lies precisely in the fact that it is Beowulf or Roland for the modern age: the good guys are the good guys, the bad guys are the bad guys, and it’s all a jolly old romp of a tale. If you need a more earthy and gritty brand of character driven fantasy, I implore you not to read Tolkien.

      • Arglebargle says:

        Bulwer-Lytton was best selling at one point. Feel free to read all his works if you wish, but I warned you.

        Tolkien’s characters ARE kind of flat in presentation. Hasn’t stopped me from reading the Trilogy numerous times, but it’s still evident.

  36. Howard says:

    No, sorry, any potential this game had was utterly squandered by those idiotic first view hours in which everything goes bloody wrong. Constantly getting stomped in fights you cannot win as the game throws 3-5 named guys at you when you just start is unforgivable and the controls, combined with the idiot main characters utter inability to detect edges correctly, kill of any other good will I could muster for this atrocity.
    Any which way you slice it, it is a terrible, terrible game (and yes, I did carry on playing to the second land and am nearly 65% complete – it still never got good enough to overwrite the horror of my first 4 hours in the game).

    • tormos says:

      why on earth would you play 65% of a game that you hated this much?

  37. purpledoggames says:

    The way the living, going on without you open world illusion is shattered when you start a quest is frustrating, probably compounded by how organic it feels otherwise: it’s the only moment in which it feels like the world is there for you, rather than you being in it.

  38. Blackcompany says:

    There was a moment, early on – say, about two hone hour in – when I almost quit. And I mean quit for good.

    Then I cam to RPS to gather some thoughts about the game. And people were recommending ‘run away’ as a viable option early. And you know what: it is. In fact, I think its the intention that you need to run from big fights early, as opposed to conquer them. This teaches you that a stealth system exists for a reason. Also, you have a Bow; use it.

    So I kept going. And I have not had so much fun with a game in a very long time. The combat is exciting and dynamic. I always feel like a dancer of death, epically powerful yet only one mistake, one slip up, from Death myself. Its a near perfect balance of frail but deadly. At least, group combat is; a few hours in and lets face it, 1-3 enemies isn’t even a threat any longer, but this is Mordor, not Lordran or Drangleic, and I am ok with that.

    But that one fight – just before you unlock the new map – with the Black Hand. Just…wow. That is perhaps one of the best melee battles I have ever been privy to in video games. Easily the best, outside of a Souls game. And in at least one way, it even trumps Souls:

    The Black Hand is hard. Not a damage sponge or huge on Poise or damage resistance. His health is reasonable and so is the amount of damage he takes when you manage a real hit.

    Its not his health bar that makes him a challenge. Its not even the Orcs, since they mostly run away after a few die off. No – its his AI that makes him an amazing fight. He can block vaults, side step, stagger the player. He recovers quickly and efficiently from most blows and I think he also blocks wraith stuns.

    That fight was worth the time it took to get there.

    That said, here is one tip for newcomers: Do not spend a ton of time on Orc politics in the first map. If the random Warchiefs are tough draws, maybe make sure the Captains closest to them are chumps to the best of your ability. But really, you want to wait until the second map to really delve into the Orc politics, since its then you have the Branding.

    • dangel says:

      Games used to be really bastard hard. You had to learn and graft at them. These days this comes out and doesn’t make life super easy from the get go and people freak. Also it’s a game where you dying is actually part of its nemesis mechanic – when you die it feels personal. In time that had me hooked

  39. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    You know what it reminds me of?
    Soldak Entertainment games, such as Depths of Peril or Din’s Curse. It’s got that same personal feel and reactivity to the monsters. I’ve not completed it yet, but I had a right bugger in the first half who I just couldn’t kill and eventually got to level 20.
    I eventually killed him off when I unlocked the poison ability, but I was in a weird way sorry to see him go.
    Stuff like that is incredibly reminiscent of those bits in Soldak games where I’ve been warned about a boss and left him alive for too long only to find he’s invaded town and killed the merchant.

    And I’m really digging the Vendetta quests too, where I’m killing the nemeses of people from my Steam friends list. Although I feel they could have polished this a bit; I suspect it only reports someone’s killed a nemesis of yours if they just so happen to be playing online at the same time as you. Some kind of optional report when you log in telling you who has killed which nemesis would be very cool. In fact, I would love to see a GTA / Saints Row-style list of things done, with breakdowns of which orc has killed you the most and various other pieces of statistical goodness.
    Hell, the game’s crying out for a “Wall of Infamy”, where it lists orc captains and warlords you’ve killed with a little portrait and scorecard. Taking this idea and running with it, you could even export the nastiest of your nemeses to people in your friends list for a nice take on asymmetrical multiplayer.

    I must admit, when the guys at work started asking if I was going to get this, I was put off by the fact that it’s a Lord of the Rings game. But I needed something to play on my new 970 and took the plunge after watching TB’s really good “WTF is…” on it. And boy, am I glad I decided to get it. Brilliant stuff, and a welcome return to form for Monolith.

    Speaking of which, I’m assuming this is using Monolith’s in-house engine? I didn’t see any engine branding on the splash screen that I remember.

  40. Phantom_Renegade says:

    The nemesis system is brilliant. The combat is pretty good. The way your death actually matters? Fantastic Everything else is bad.

    The story missions sin in every possible way. Instant fail stealth section in a game which despite it’s reliance on it is not built for stealth? Check. Annoying escort missions? Check. The controls frequently have me running literally into a wall and Talion refuses to budge. The difficulty doesn’t increase over time, in accordance with your skills and accumulated points, instead it is frustratingly difficult in the beginning and slowly transforms into a cakewalk.

    The fun part in this game is messing with the Uruk hierarchy, branding captains and setting up fights etc. I’m 6-7 hours into the game and I’m still not there. The story is passably interesting, but not enough to warrant the abuse the story missions heap on you. What this game needs is a freeroam version of the maps where progression in the trees isn’t unlocked by your capacity to withstand frustration and annoyance, and you can just have fun, instead of waiting and waiting to be finally allowed to.

  41. welverin says:

    Combat Brand John, Combat Brand. Instead of executing all of those orcs with your specials, brand them.

    One thing I like is that it let’s you approach just about any situation however you choose. There are a few exceptions where a quest is quite specific about what you’re supposed to do, but for the most part you can use whatever tactics you please.

    One quest sent me to kill ten orcs, with the bonus objective to brand three defenders. I just snuck around branding all of them

  42. bill says:

    The nemisis system sounds very interesting, as does the politics. But The whole thing sounds remarkably violent and dark. Any thoughts on the idea that it’s basically a terrorism simulator:
    link to theverge.com

    • Howard says:

      That is just idiotic in the bloody extreme, and shows how little people grasp Tolkien’s world these days. The “people” you are “terrorizing” are Orcs, FFS! These are warped, twisted, poisonous creatures created in mockery of the Elves by Morgoth. They have ZERO redeeming features and cannot (no matter the bullshit writing in this hack of a game) be considered to be people in any way at all. Killing them is a service and screwing with them before hand as a way to achieve your agenda is utterly laudable. The writers at the Verge need to get a fucking grip.

      • Melody says:

        You do realize that, by simply replacing Orcs in your comment with a people or “race” of your choice, you are mimicking a lot of human oppression against other humans? Even Aristotle believed that slaves weren’t people and had no redeeming feature and no intelligence whatsoever.

        • commentingaccount says:

          Except that Orcs have never been written as people in the series, just as monsters. The only real difference between them and dragons is less brains and no ability to breathe fire.

        • Volcanu says:

          I think that is a little unfair.

          Orcs are clearly a fictional construct and Tolkien was outspoken in his dislike of allegory. It’s one thing to dehumanise and “other” a race of people in the real world, and quite another to have fictional monsters which are unremittingly evil. The world of Tolkien for the most part, doesnt deal in shades of grey.

          Its also true to say that in the books the “good” characters are generally above acts of torture and retribution – although they can be rather ‘rough’ if they deem it necessary (interrogation of Gollum). In that sense the actions of the protagonist seem a little discordant, but then again he probably isn’t intended to be heroic in the Aragorn mold.

          • Chris D says:

            While it’s possible to criticise Tolkien’s depiction of race on a number of levels, one thing he is very clear on is that evil means can’t be used for a good cause. All those that try (Saruman, Boromir, Denethor) are corrupted, while Gandalf and Galadriel both turn down the ring when offered it and consistently characters refuse to stoop to the level of their enemy. In the end Bilbo’s decision to spare Gollums life by showing mercy is what changes the fate of middle earth.

            In Shadow of Mordor you embrace fear, mind-control and murder. You terrorise your enemies into doing your will and then dispose of them when they outlive their usefulness (There’s an upgrade specifically for that). You set yourself up as a rival dark lord, just as Saruman did.

            ” A strong place and wonderful was Isengard, and long it had been beautiful […]. But Saruman had slowly shaped it to his shifting purposes, and made it better, as he thought, being deceived – for all those arts and subtle devices, for which he forsook his former wisdom, and which fondly he imagined were his own, came but from Mordor; so that what he made was naught, only a little copy, a child’s model or a slave’s flattery, of that vast fortress, armoury, prison, furnace of great power, Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower, which suffered no rival, and laughed at flattery, biding its time, secure in its pride and its immeasurable strength.”

            Frankly I thought the only reasonable way to end the game was to reveal that you had been Sauron’s pawn all along and were now one of the Ringwraiths or something similar.

            While Shadow of Mordor likes to include various references and details from the books for fan service, ultimately it completely misses their point.

        • Howard says:

          @Melody And you do realise how patronising and idiotic you sound? I am well aware of the psychology behind this if I were referencing anything real, but, as others have said above, Tolkien was very clear on where his lines were drawn and the Orcs are, without exception and beyond any shadow of doubt, wholly evil and nothing more than corruption given form. Their mere presence can corrupt the very ground they stand on – feeling sorry for them on any level is an exercise in stupidity, let alone futility. If you know nothing of Tolkien, please stop trying to wade in on discussion s regarding him and his works.
          But, even more to the point, pretending this lash job of a game has anything to do with Tolkien’s work is just an insult to the man’s memory.

          • Melody says:

            First of all, please do tone down the insults and the aggressiveness. It’s very unpleasant and completely unnecessary. If you’re angry for some reason, don’t bring it here.

            Secondly, I understand Tolkien’s vision, but nonetheless I can’t quite buy into it. It requires to completely disregard any sense of empathy, despite the Orcs being fairly similar to humans after all.

            Thirdly, even if they were, as you say, completely and irredeemably evil, killing them may be right, but gratuitous torture and enjoying their suffering would hardly be part of a good person’s actions, it would knock a person down to the same level of evil they are supposedly destroying.
            And then there’s the part in which you, as the player, are doing these things, as opposed to reading about them in a book.

            Finally, you brought Tolkien in to justify the violence and then you say that this game has nothing to do with actual Tolkien, so I don’t know what to say. I didn’t even mention Tolkien in my comment.

          • Howard says:

            First of all, Melody, you are in charge of nothing and no one and no one is answerable to you, so kindly keep your instructions to your self.
            I was being in no way aggressive, I was merely pointing out that your BEHAVIOR was idiotic as were your assumptions and your deeply patronising tone. That is *NOT* aggression, it it observation, and it was made by me without emotion of any kind. If you choose to read emotion into a comment, then that is emotion you yourself are bringing. The difference between me saying “you are stupid” and me saying “you are acting stupid” is vast and cavernous and you need to understand that.

            As to this nonsense you are insisting on selling: yes, torturing them is entirely acceptable: of course it is! He is torturing orcs for information, information that will be used to further the cause of both him and the people of Gondor. If that information is used to manipulate other orcs, to twist their views and force their hand in any way, that is wholly and obviously acceptable, be that in the book or in a game world. If you were to argue that manipulating, killing or torturing other forms of life that have fallen under the sway of Sauron is wrong, then you would have a completely valid point – this is not that.
            Orcs are not people. Not at all. Not even a bit. They have no family, they lack the default set of emotions of sentient beings, they have no desires beyond survival and power: they are pure, malignant hatred and nothing more. Your (and that prat from the Verge’s) desperate attempt to anthropomorphise them is, flatly, naive and simply, as I stated, shows either a complete lack of grasp on Tolkien’s world or you are trying to force legitimate and welcome discussion on important subjects (which your point would have been, in most other contexts) into places they simply make no sense and have no place.

            As to your final “point”: What? The game IS nothing to do with Tolkien, but the devs and its proponents are insistent that it is, so I argued within the bounds of the implied logic. The game uses words from the mythology, but it does so blindly and clumsily before attaching them to a whole slew of things that make no sense within the same world: that does not mean I cannot speak of it in terms of Tolkien, it is just yet another point to show how half-arsed the devs were and how bad the game is.

            Again, see aggression in this if you choose, but there is genuinely none there – well, bar what little you dredged up in me by acting like hall monitor – no need for that kind of stuff. ;)

          • ffordesoon says:

            @Howard:

            Maybe you’re not reading your posts before you post them, but you are coming off as pretty damn aggressive, man. Not to mention absurdly overprotective of Tolkien and his work.

            As to your point about orcs, I understand what you’re saying. Tolkien was very consciously working within the realm of ancient mythology and legendry, and when he says that orcs are the wholly irredeemable creations of an evil god, we can believe that they are exactly that.

            However, Tolkien is not the target of criticism in that article, nor is the article meant to critique the game’s rather substantial departure from the books. Shadow Of Mordor is the only work under discussion, and it is the only target of critique. Tolkien’s intent is peripheral to the game’s portrayal of orcs as beings distinguishable from one another which possess at least a basic degree of sentience and autonomy. You can argue that Shadow Of Mordor is just bad fanfic or whatever (which is a curious tack to take given that you yourself disavow the game as having any real connection to the books, but whatever), but the object of criticism in that article is Shadow Of Mordor in and of itself. Its relative canonicity is irrelevant to the author’s point.

            It’s like if I said I didn’t enjoy a novel about vampires because there was a disgusting rape scene in it, and you told me that the rape scene was okay because vampires are a metaphor for rape. You would be more or less correct that they are a metaphor for rape, and you would be wrong to say that the rape scene was “okay” for that reason, because the fact that vampires are a metaphor for rape is wholly peripheral to my disgust at a given rape scene.

            Hmm. Maybe that’s a bit thin as an example, but you see my point, surely?

          • pepperfez says:

            Howard: There’s really no excuse for how you’re addressing people here. This is games, it doesn’t ever call for abuse.

            On the topic of cruelty to orcs:

            That is, that though of necessity, being the fingers of the hand of Morgoth, they must be fought with the utmost severity, they must not be dealt with in their own terms of cruelty and treachery. Captives must not be tormented, not even to discover information for the defence of the homes of Elves and Men. If any Orcs surrendered and asked for mercy, they must be granted it, even at a cost.

            from Morgoth’s Ring, The History of Middle-earth 10, page 419

            And canon aside, ugh. I really just don’t have the stomach for games literally, unambiguously making me a torturer.

  43. PampleMoose says:

    This is the only open world game EVER where I actually feel driven to try and grind to 100% completion. AC, Prototype, Infamous, Arkham Etcetera – all of these I’ve basically bailed out of after finishing the main storyline. But with SoM, the moment I finished the story, I plunged back in. Yes, I WILL get all of those grog bowls and ancient bone horns. Yes, I WILL find all the Moria door graffitti. And damned if I won’t also construct my own supremely ugly Orc army, purely for lols.

    In fact, calling it all a grind is a disservice. it never once feels grindy, for precisely the reasons John argues above – the combat becomes more enthralling as you go on, and allows you to construct little scenarios just for fun. I enjoy standing in the middle of strongholds, letting the alarms go off, and then fighting for as long as I can before I get bored, mixing together executions and brandings so that the whole stronghold is just a constantly swirling malestrom of bloody, slightly confused death.

    My main complaint with the combat is that the runes don’t seem as effective and tactic-defining as they can or perhaps should be. The further into the game you go, the less the runes seems to matter, and there’s never any real reason gameplay wise why you wouldn’t just sink all of them into health restore options, if anything. I basically sat on two runes per weapon (and the same runes) from about a quarter of the way in, all the way through to the end, before revisiting them just to see what difference it made.

    Having said that, I have enjoyed experimenting with an Epic that gives me a free elf shot for every Shadow Strike kill – I want to see if I can farm a second one, and then basically string together an infinite Shadow Strike Chain (the Chain is a final tier ability, I think, and with two +1 elf shot epics, lethal Shadow Strikes cost nothing).

  44. Borodin says:

    Assassin’s Creed and Batman; yes, certainly. Kindoms of Amalur; I’ll buy that too. But no one has mentioned the very Far Cry 3 feeling I got from this game once I discovered how quests work.

    I assumed at first that quests were simply a matter of locating the orc captain marked on the map, going to him, and relieving him of his life. The orcs in question generally track around those markers, and it seems the obvious thing to do. However, if you try this you will find yourself quickly surrounded by a dozen average orcs, eventually including one or two additional captains. An impossible task at the start of the game.

    The intention is that you travel to the area marked on your minimap, locate the quest marker which is a small swirling cone of mist, and press Ctrl to start the scenario. That leaves you in a fairly contained environment, where there is only the target captain together with several other regular orcs that aren’t replaced when you kill them. This feels to me very much like the outposts in Far Cry, where stealth is of the essence and it is important to take down the targets in a rational order to avoid being swamped with antagonists in the same way as I experience at first in SoM.

    With those three (four?) games as a heritage, it would be nice to imagine that there was little that could go wrong. But experience tells us that the game industry is capable of making the ugliest creation out of the finest clay. Thankfully, in this case, things have come together very nicely indeed, and I am looking forward to my journey around Mordor immensely.

  45. Borodin says:

    While playing this game I found it particularly remarkable that the random speeches from the orcs are so very numerous as to appear unique. I’ve played for probably eight hours so far (which has included many restarts because I was dissatisfied with dying so easily and so early at the hands of an orc who would be promoted and so become even harder to kill.) and only noticed a single repeated speech.

    Regular repetition of spoken lines is one of the biggest spoiler of immersion for me, and is there only to reduce the cost of the development, so this experience is delightful.

  46. Erithtotl says:

    Has anyone played this on XBox One and seen comparisons with PC? I have a high end PC and can usually crank the options.

    I usually play these 3rd-person action games on the console rather than the PC, I just find them better suited to that vibe.

  47. Biaxident says:

    Well looks like I’ll be getting this after finishing Wasteland 2. I wrote it off as just a console action RPG but it sounds really good from what I’ve read.

  48. kevinspell says:

    Please tell me this game does not feel like the unofficial follow-up to Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning. I was planning not to die of boredom while playing this…

  49. quarpec says:

    “To me, it feels like the unofficial follow-up to the woefully under-rated and doom-ridden Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning. And that’s high praise.”
    “being someone who couldn’t yawn louder at the thought of Tolkein’s books”

    lolling at these. good review, but god damn haha

  50. CartonofMilk says:

    I first want to say that like you i thought Kingdoms of Amalur was a criminally underrated game. i played it some years late early this year, put in 150 hours or so to do everything. it is my third favorite rpg ever under Oblivion and Ultima VII

    As for Shadow of Mordor. I have the last mission of the main storyline left to do. I’ve finished everything else and since i’m at my 58th hour in, it’s safe to say i’ve been stretching the game as far as it can go because i could have finished it 100% at least 15 hours ago. But i wanted to build myself a complete army of branded captains for absolutely no good reason other than i could and wanted to pick captains and warchiefs that looked the most badass and yet different (meaning exterminating those i didn’t like the look of until it spawned new ones i liked). Yeah i may have slight aspergers….

    Considering i’ve played nearly 60 hours one could reasonably assume i think the game is awesome (that’s about 5 hours a day since release…i’m between jobs…). Not so. It’s pretty damn good of course but i wouldn’t rate it above a 8. Why? Because it’s lacking in diversity, its side quest are repetitive and shallow, the main storyline isn’t terribly involving, too short and filled with cliches (btw i hated the dwarf, he was obnoxious and i think he was written before they had determined his look..he refers to his gut, which he doesn’t have, and a time when his beard was only 3 inches long…….HE DOESN’T HAVE A BEARD AT ALL) and doesn’t build up to a satisfying climax and the first map especially is ugly and boring. I am a Tolkien fan of 22 years and have read all the books he ever wrote at least 4 or 5 times and it was nice to have Celebrimbor in the story but the story they told with him wasn’t anything special

    See this game does one thing very well and its the only reason i’ve played it so long and it’s the gameplay, the gameplay is the best of AC and the best of Arkham games combined and it’s not a pale copy either, it’s really on par with both. The fighting and stealth are perfect and there is diversity in how you can kill opponents (though the executions are a bit lame because you don’t get to chose which one) but you better enjoy slaughtering orcs because that is ALL that you’ll ever get to do in this game. The hunting and survival sidequests are lame afterthoughts (hey let’s give them something to do on these maps…)

    As for the much hyped nemesis system. Cool…but like most of this game aside from the gameplay, ultimately shallow. So they remember you, big deal, a line or two to remind you you’ve met, or that they killed you…and then what? Then nothing. Branding? well, there is no real use to manipulate the ranks or kill captains except to farm for runes, runes which once you’ve unlocked most of the moves you barely need (Well the healing ones maybe) and It’s not like you have a use for an army in the game either. To help you when you’re around them? You don’t need help, you can kill 200 orcs in a row without breaking a sweat. And if you prepare for captains, they are very easy. It’s hard to get accidentally killed by them even when they’re at level 20 and can kill you in two or three hits, they’re usually as easy to slaughter as anyone else, you just need to approach killing them somewhat carefully.

    The maps are so small you’re revisiting the same places over and over and over and over for the same type of missions. Farming runes is nice, but i’d have liked gear too, i’d have liked to be able to alter my character’s look. Also, is it just me or most of the legendary (or is it epic?) runes have less interesting effects than the regular ones? I think i’m using only 3 legendary runes in total.

    But maybe partly i am the problem in that I guess I didn’t realise this game was a full on action game through and through. Not action adventure like AC or Arkham, it’s action period. There is rarely a minute spent in the game where you’re not killing at least one orc. usually several. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that i’ve killed over 4000 orcs so far. Actually i just broke out the calculator, that would be a bit above 1 orc a minute at 60 hours. So nevermind, make that more like 5000 at the very least. That’s a lot of killing. As i said you better like it because that’s all you’ll do. Let;s just say once i’m finished, which probably will be a few minutes after posting this, i’m not replaying it. I’ve had more than my fill of the gameplay (but i will give credit to the devs that this alone kept me going for 60 hours)

    This could be the start of an amazing franchise if they add meat around the bone, but right now it’s a good but not great game. It sucks you in well enough sure but i doubt it will leave lasting impression on me. I felt the same way about AC until the 4th and i think Arkham will only finally realise its full potential in the next one (yes i also rate arkham games as pretty good but not classic good… shoot me). So there’s hope for Shadow of Mordor yet. GOTY? No, but see you in two or three sequels, then maybe.

    • CartonofMilk says:

      Just want to add though..how would that be an unofficial follow up to KOA? That makes very little sense to me. KOA was an rpg. Yes the combat was kinda action but it wasnt tlike this either and you had you know..quests and levels and crafting and magic and everything you can find in an rpg. This is just an action game.

      KOA though setting wise felt A LOT like Middle Earth in the second age…

      Also KOA is the only rpg iv’e played so far that had satisfying stealth elements and made it worth it to invest points in developing them. i never expected to see instant executions AC style in a RPG.