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Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Review

Replay Value:
Overall Rating:
Online Gameplay:
Not Rated
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Monolith Productions
Number Of Players:
Release Date:
September 30, 2014

What do you get when you combine the fantastical, intriguing open world of Assassin’s Creed and the legendary J.R.R. Tolkien atmosphere? The answer should be obvious: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor . You will climb tall buildings, sneak up on unsuspecting enemies, engage in pitched battles with multiple foes, and face down terrifying bosses. In other words, if you’ve always been a “Lord of the Rings” fan and you typically enjoy Ubisoft’s AC series, this is the game for you. From fluid, satisfying combat to great adventure and platforming mechanics, Middle-earth is well worth exploring.

One could argue that a somewhat unstable frame rate puts a damper on an otherwise impressive visual presentation. While it’s true the game isn’t quite as stable as I would’ve liked, there are many wonderfully appointed locales. These well-designed and engaging areas bring you deep inside an admittedly foreboding landscape, and you’re immersed from the get-go. Toss in some very pretty special effects and animations, and the result is a technically accomplished, wildly involving production. I would’ve liked to see some brighter, more charming locales, but such places aren’t overrun with the murderous Uruk-hai, now are they?

The gritty sound effects and sweeping soundtrack take center-stage during this adventure, as the terrifying grunts and growls of your foes contrast with the nicely selected orchestral score. Sauron’s demonic presence has brought darkness to a once-quaint land and you not only see this taint with every step, you hear it, too. The voice acting is excellent and despite not having Andy Serkis for Gollum, the developers found a worthy replacement in Liam O’Brien. In short, the production values, sans the iffy frame rate, are super high, and fans of Tolkien will appreciate the fantastic attention to detail.

The graphics and sound give the player a front-row seat for the end of the world. Well, it’s only the end if Sauron has his way, and you’re out to stop him. Blending the rhythmic combat and parkour platforming of an Assassin’s Creed with the deep, beautifully written “Middle-earth” folklore, Shadow of Mordor places you in the highly capable boots of a ranger named Talion. He’s quite literally a split-personality, as a bitter, angry wraith also calls Talion’s body home. However, it’s important to note that by all rights, Talion should be dead; this ghostly spirit keeps him alive. It’s an intriguing partnership that does indeed have an impact on the story and gameplay.

The designers don’t do enough with such a promising plot line, though, and there are missed opportunities with other characters as well. There’s just so much amazing description and imagination in all of Tolkien’s characters, and they feel somewhat thin and underwhelming in this quest. At the same time, the major characters get their just due: Talion is an interesting, conflicted character, for example, and Gollum is…well, Gollum. I’ve always found him to be an extraordinarily sad and disconcerting character, and his depiction in Middle-earth fits this mental image to a “T.”