Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor returns us to the world that Tolkien built. Instead of focusing on well-known characters from the book, this time we take control of Talion. Talion is a Ranger of Gondor who has suffered a horrific loss at the hands of Saurons’ forces. During his death rattle his body is imbued with the spirit of an elven wraith. The Wraith has no memory of his past, but he knows that he and his family were wronged.

Together Talion and the Wraith head out into Mordor to find The Black Hand of Sauron. The story focuses on the two searching for The Black Hand and collecting artifacts for recovering Wraiths’ memory. In essence, the story is a means to shove us into taking on the various armies distributed around Mordor. Talion and The Wraith are like Grim and Grimmer, they both seem to share the same depressing view of the world. Seeing as the both of them are trapped between life and death by fate, it is vastly appropriate to the story.

This does not make them likeable characters by any means, and their grim take on the world will often cause a few eye rolls. I don’t mind my characters being bleak, but if they don’t seem to have some sort of hopeful confidence… well what’s the point? It didn’t take me long to stop listening to their depressing tales and instead focus on the gameplay. I will say that the Orcs and Uruks are far more interesting as characters, even if they come off as hard asses most of the time.

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Shadow of Mordor creates something new and spectacular for the player to lose themselves in. The hierarchy system is unlike anything I’ve seen in a game before. Uruks will battle it out for supremacy and struggle for power to take the position of their peers. They have their own goals, specific skillsets, and even distinct personalities. Your goal is to weaken the army by slaughtering their leadership and replacing them with backstabbing Uruks of your own. This is accomplished by finding information from other Uruks or slaves in the nearby camps. Talion can even issue Death Threats to bolster the strength of an Uruks to earn better loot.

Monolith has gone a long way to capture the combat of the Batman series. By that, I mean… it’s the exact same system with a sword instead of punches and kicks. Every battle takes on the combo infused fighting style of the Arkham games, from finishers to the flurry of attacks… this game has copied the combat completely. They even share the exact enemy same enemy variety. Instead of a Ninja from Arkham, you will instead fight a Berserker who counters each normal attack.

That goes to say that anyone that has ever played those games will instantly be familiar with the swing, counter, and flip gameplay style. It adapts similar scaling and movement from games such as Assassin’s Creed. Players can easily vault over objects, climb tall buildings, and parkour between various obstacles. Some would say that Shadow of Mordor does everything right, as it even incorporates a fully realized and fluid stealth system.

Talion can easily stay out of sight from his enemies and get the drop on them from cover or from the sky. Combat is enhanced by a simplistic abilities tree, and a robust loot based upgrade tree. Killing Captains will reward the player with runes that they can attach to Talions’ weapons. Each of these range from random percentage rolls of white, blue, and epic.

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Gearing Talion for combat comes down to an analytically designed function of knowing all the moves. Eventually you’ll just settle for whatever the highest numbers are on defense and attack, and maybe for regaining focus. Talion also makes use of a bow that he can use to snipe or teleport himself towards an enemy. He also has a varied assortment of special moves that can send enemies flying, or leave them with a headache that they can never recover from.

In the end, the combat is extremely satisfying if not a bit repetitive. Since Talion doesn’t naturally get stronger over time, combat comes down to staggering enemies with combos and trying to get finishers. Luckily, the hierarchy system of running about and challenging Captains is fantastic. Players can interrupt feasts, stop executions, or even become the deciding factor in duels between Uruks. Other side-missions have players taking on stealth challenges, or Batman style arena combat to forge powerful weapons.

Traveling around Mordor can be achieved by running around on foot or hopping a ride on the vicious Caragors. Shadow of Mordor is a stunning world that mixes the desolate lands of Udun, with the vibrancy of Nurn. It’s thanks to the beefy system requirements required for Shadow of Mordor to run at a pristine level. A HD download pack was released for the PC version that allows for Ultra texture settings, but his requires at least 6 gigabytes of Video Ram. I personally have a GTX 980 and was forced to run the game on High texture settings, but I maxed out the rest of the settings.

I was able to run the game at 65 – 80 frames per second depending on the area. This is amazing since the game has up 60+ Uruks onscreen amongst vast amounts of particle effects, and some detailed texture on character models as well. Shadow of Mordor looks fantastic and the Lord of the Rings soundtrack supports the action perfectly. The voice acting is great and each of the characters  have a deep attachment to the world, and it feels good to hear Gollum ranting like a mad man again.

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If I had any complaints about the game itself, it would be the idea of completely taking the Arkham combat system. Mordor has thousands of Uruks waiting to be killed by our champion. I’m finally ready for a game to wake up and allow me to instantly kill or injure enemies in one or two slashes. As long as these enemies are replaced by another viable enemy to slaughter, the need for hitting them with a nerf sword will be obsolete. This would only change if the enemy has heavy armor on that the player would systematically break with their weapon.

Who would have thought that a return to Middle Earth would have turned out so well? Slashing Uruk after Uruk to bits is entertainment I wasn’t expecting. Geek Citadel gives Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor four stars out of five. This title takes a tried and true combat system to its core, and inserts its own gameplay mechanic that fleshes out a fantastic game.