Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Shadow of Mordor is a great first step into the open-world action-adventure genre for Monolith. It up-ends what's come before with the Nemesis System, which brings the player closer to the game with personalized foes. The game isn't perfect - resurrecting foes can be frustrating - but those issues won't hold you back from enjoying yourself.
Ultimately, like many ambitious projects, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor doesn't deliver on everything it sets out to do. Although Monolith's heart is in the right place and the studio honors the lore, it doesn't really add anything that's worth seeing outside of some solid open world gameplay. It isn't a bad game, it just feels far too repetitive for its own good.
Middle-earth just wants the player to explore it like a playground. You can climb up structures, leap from them to tackle a wild creature of the land, and even enlist your own group to drive the dramas that ensue. Shadow of Mordor paints the pictures that rest somewhere between bookends.
If you're fond of Tolkien, you should enjoy this side story without being too offended by the updates to popular lore. If you've enjoyed Assassin's Creed, you may appreciate the visceral change of pace the game brings to the genre of open-world stealth. The world feels alive and treacherous, the combat gives you lots of gruesome options, and the enemy army is always evolving. It might not offer the challenge you crave, but if you enjoy killing orcs, there are two maps filled with the savage monsters and they're all looking for a fight.
Shadow of Mordor is without doubt the best Middle-earth game available on consoles. Though not entirely original (then again, what is nowadays?) all of the elements which it borrows flow in sync with Monolith's intuitive Nemesis system, creating something both immensely fun and replayable. That's not to say the game doesn't start to lose steam, especially once you've hit the thirty-hour mark, long after you've finished the story and explored the world. Still, when you eventually come to that milestone you will undoubtedly have had your fill.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor wears its influences on its sleeve, but integrates them so well with its own ideas that it stands up as a unique achievement on its own.
Shadow of Mordor takes the focus away from new generation resolutions and framerates, and really starts to show what types of gameplay innovations are possible given the more powerful console hardware.
Dark, compelling, and occasionally unflinchingly brutal, Shadow of Mordor is Lord of the Rings for grown-ups. It's not just a good game based on an established franchise, but a fantastic game in its own right and one that deserves to be judged purely by its own merits, and not by what has come before.
A triumph of emergent gameplay, slightly let down by a heavily scripted ending.
At its core, Shadow of Mordor is a fresh, exciting game. I love what it does to make every enemy feel special. Open-world games like Assassin's Creed and Grand Theft Auto haven't really done much to expand on the possibility for emergence in the genre. They look like a pair of Casio digital wristwatches compared to the complex moving parts of Shadow of Mordor's intricate cuckoo clock.