Backlog Project: Middle-Earth – Shadow of Mordor

Don’t you just love the feeling of having your expectations blown out of the water? When you experience something that completely blindsides you, and surprises you with how enjoyable it is? It makes something that’s just “good” feel so much better, and that essentially increases the entertainment value of the product. Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor surprised me with how fun it was, and I know I wasn’t the only one – this game was certainly what I’d call a “sleeper hit”.

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  • Name: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
  • Genre: Action-Adventure | Open World | Role-Playing Game
  • Released: 2014
  • Developer: Monolith Productions
  • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
  • Platforms: Microsoft Windows | PlayStation 3 | PlayStation 4 | Xbox 360 | Xbox One

Lord of the Rings is certainly one of those intellectual properties that has repeatedly been shoved to various game developers since the movies came out, with the intention of cramming out a number of games that no one but people caught up in the gravity of the films would even imagine to be worth playing. That obviously happens with a lot of franchises, and like commonly is the case, that causes the name to lose its value in the eyes of the gaming audience, to the point that no one expects there to ever be a worthwhile game with that name slapped on it.

For Monolith, it must’ve really been an uphill battle to make a game set in that universe and make it seem like it’s going to be an actual game that should be taken seriously. They certainly appear to have done their darndest to make sure this would be a good game. This is reflected by the very first moments of the game, where I noted that if nothing else, voice acting is superb even by today’s standards. Even if the actual plot failed to grab me, the general overlying theme of long-form vengeance was enough to care about progressing.

Traversal is intuitive and fun, and makes you forget how in most games you can never quite do the thing you want to do, parkour-wise. Screenshot credit: http://www.analogaddiction.org

Traversal is intuitive and fun, and makes you forget how in most games you can never quite do the thing you want to do, parkour-wise.
Screenshot credit: http://www.analogaddiction.org

One of the strengths that Shadow of Mordor has in terms of utilizing the source material is that while it takes place in the Lord of the Rings universe, it’s not tied in to the books or movies in any significant way. There’s references and even visiting characters every now and then, but the point of the game is not to recount the events of any of the existing stories. That allows the player some ownership of the protagonist and of the story, which in turn makes it feel like an actual game.

I played the game on PlayStation 3, and I must admit that this is definitely one of those games that shouldn’t have been brought to the previous generation. While the environments do look great in the “actual” versions of the game, the downgraded graphics fail to even meet the average of the last generation, instead looking like a budget game a lot of the time. Performance also takes a small hit every now and then, and load times are a nightmare, so it’s really a lose-lose situation for the PS3 and Xbox 360.

The actual gameplay is a sensible mix of Assassin’s Creed and Rocksteady‘s Batman games – parkour and unrestricted traversal paired up with smooth and reflexive combat and intuitive abilities. This combined with how fun it is to go around hunting Uruks and delivering violent death to their Captains and Warchiefs, this game really delivered, using a very simple recipe. There’s a number of side quests and additional activities, such as gathering plants or helping human slaves escape. They eventually become a grind, but for a good while there’s decent variety for whenever just progressing or killing orcs starts to get tedious.

Combat is one of the strong features of the game, although it becomes less fun as it eventually becomes ridiculously easy. Screenshot credit: http://www.gameinformer.com

Combat is one of the strong features of the game, although it becomes less fun as it eventually becomes ridiculously easy.
Screenshot credit: http://www.gameinformer.com

A fellow member of the Kinda Funny community put it best: “This game has two major flaws – how it begins, and how it ends.” As the game starts, you can easily feel overwhelmed as you’re dropped in the middle of the game world with little clue of how to actually play the game, in terms of strategy and mechanics alike. The game does get good after a brief moment of getting used to it, and that good part lasts for most of the game.

However, the latter portion becomes fairly tedious, as you become strong and skilled enough to just blast through hordes of orcs, and even most Captains and Warchiefs are little more than a playful challenge anymore. This all culminates in the so-called “final boss”, which – without spoiling specifics – is definitely among the most disappointing final bosses in any game I’ve played. But by the time I reached it, it was already a formality anyway – the actual experience is in that middle part, when you’re still working your way through what the game has to offer.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a great game – not by any stretch of the imagination in any of my top lists, but it deserves a honorary mention for being such an unexpected hit. As far as action games go, it’s definitely an example of how to do things right.

Trophy Hunt

The Platinum unlocked on April 8th, 2016, and I worked on it for a bit over two weeks. It probably took me about 20 hours of playing.

There are no missable Trophies, and the game allows you to traverse the two open worlds freely, so any Trophy can be achieved at any point, essentially. I personally focused on any side quests and activities before progressing on the main quest, earning me every other Trophy before unlocking the last few story related Trophies.

The most arduous Trophy was likely A Mighty Doom, for acquiring a level 25 Rune. This was tricky because there’s a certain rule to how the level or a Rune drop is calculated, and there’s a chance the “value” of the Rune gets too high, turning it into an Epic rune, eliminating the chance of getting the ordinary leveled Rune. It took me quite a while, but with careful planning and a bit of luck, I eventually got it.

The Trophy list was rather simple, but it rewarded most of the Trophies for being thorough with completion of the game, so it was satisfying. The aforementioned Rune Trophy was one of the few Trophies that threatened frustration, but it was mostly an enjoyable project.

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