Shadow of Mordor Review
Shadow of Mordor is about Talion, the Captain of the Gondorian watch over Mordor. One night their outpost is over-run, Talion’s wife and son are killed before his eyes and he is cursed. Now he is “banished from death” and shares his body with a spirit who has no memory of his own past. Talion and the spirit (who is later revealed to be Celebrimbor, the make of the Rings of Power) decide to hunt down the Black Hand of Sauron in the hopes that killing him will break the curse.
The rest of the game is Talion working his way through Mordor trying to find the Black Hand. This is a Mordor that existed before Frodo and Sam found it–a land that was not yet completely blasted and lifeless. There are even some free men who still live there, some of whom Talion meets. Talion and Celebrimbor also gain the power to control and manipulate orcs. They play off Mordor’s politics to get what they want–the Black Hand.
In terms of gameplay, the wiki calls it a third-person action role-playing game. The primary mechanic of the game is killing orcs–often in incredibly violent ways.
Good and Bad
First and foremost, the gameplay is really good. I loved it so much that I had to complete the game 100% and earn all of the trophies (I played it on Playstation 4). I’m not big on super violent games but this one didn’t really bother me. I won’t get into morals here, but the violence felt relatively purposeful.
Troy Baker (Talion) and Nolan North (Celebrimbor) did an excellent job. If you’ve played any major game in the last five years, you’ve heard at least one of these guys before. You would never know it when you play this game, though, which shows their range as voice actors.
The plot was pretty solid. I won’t get into whether or not Shadow of Mordor is canon here, but I was interested in what was happening. Definitely not Tolkien-level complexity (or even the level of complexity I’ve seen in a lot of other RPGs), but still enough to hold my attention and make me invest some emotion in the characters.
SoM does a good job of setting you up with fascinating tidbits of other stories. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do such a good job at paying off those tidbits. What happened to Ratbag? Why did Ioreth’s father hate Talion? Why was Talion banished from Gondor? The end of the game is definitely laying the foundation for more content in the future, either sequels or DLC. (I have yet to play all of the DLC that has been released so far.) I have hard time believing these other stories will be brought to satisfying conclusions.
Ultimately, my biggest problem with SoM was Celebrimbor. The way Tolkien wrote the story, Celebrimbor was 100% deceived. In the game, it looked like Celebrimbor kind of knew what he was doing was bad, but maybe not as bad as it really was. Instead of being a tragic figure, he ends up just looking kind of stupid and greedy. It made it a lot harder to be sympathetic to him.
Should You Buy It?
If you’re a gamer who likes Tolkien, yes.
If you’re interested in a different take on Middle-earth, yes.
If you’re a purist, no.