Thursday, August 25, 2016

Enemies Around Every Corner: Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor Sinks On Playability!

The Good: Good graphics, Some of the gameplay
The Bad: Unclear objectives, Narrative is not linear, AI cheats (seriously), Basic visibility
The Basics: Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor is a good idea for a game, but it is poorly constructed for those who want a straightforward, fair game that makes sense.

I never expected to be a gamer. The truth is, I am not a gamer of any real caliber. I love playing Star Wars Battlefront, but I loathe playing it against stoner teenagers who send hate messages because, well, I'm not great at the game. My brother-in-law thought it might be a good idea for me to branch out from Star Wars Battlefront and based on the type of game and my appreciation for science fiction and fantasy, he recommended Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor. So, I started playing Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor.

I played Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor for one hundred fifty hours and it is worth noting up front that I did not complete any of the stories. Usually, I wait until I complete a game as close to 100% before I review it. However, I came to find Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor unplayable, so I gave up on it. If one hundred fifty hours of gameplay is not enough to sell me on a game, though, I think it's fair to review it without finishing it.


Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor is a role playing video game set in the universe of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy novels and the Peter Jackson cinematic adaptations. The video game is split into two basic parts: story points for the linear narratives and free-play. Both styles of game are accessed through maps of Mordor with towers that act as safe points for the player. Free-play allows the player to wander Middle-Earth collecting herbs, pounding spiders, finding runes, upgrading weapons and killing Orcs.

There are also map points that indicate story points. One of the fundamental problems with Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor is that there are three stories going on at the same time and not a single linear narrative one follows. One can begin pursuing the story of Talion and unlocking his memories or figuring out the mystery of Celebrimbor or escalating attempts to liberate the enslaved humans trapped in Mordor. As a result, one story point has the protagonist following Gollum and another has the protagonist aiding the Orc Ratbag in ascending the ranks of Sauron's army. Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor is absolutely jumbled on the story front and it undermines the gameplay.


Set in Middle Earth, Talion is a human ranger when the forces of Sauron sacrifice him and his family to bring forth the spirit of the Elf Blacksmith Celebrimbor. Rather than work with the forces of darkness, Celebrimbor bonds with Talion. Talion seeks to avenge the death of his wife and child, while Celebrimbor wants to uncover the clues to his existence, as his wraith form is suffering from amnesia. To do that, Talion roams Mordor attempting to overthrow Orcs and Warlords in Sauron's growing army while his wraith counterpart gives him access to supernatural powers. To cause chaos in Sauron's army and get clues to the Elf/Wraith's past, Talion enlists Gollum, freed human slaves and ambitious Orcs.

Game Progression

Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor has Talion unlocking new map points for towers that open up new territory for the player in Mordor. Talion is able to wander around Mordor where he encounters squadrons of Orcs and individual beasts. The player is armed with a sword, a dagger (which may be thrown at medium range) and a bow. By transitioning to the wraith form, the player can climb in an inhuman way and survive impossible falls.

The player basically goes through the free play to visit points to collect runes, weapons upgrades (by completing self-contained missions, like shoot 10 Orcs with headshots to upgrade a bow) and kill Orcs. One of the key elements of the game that I came to loathe was that the AI flat-out cheats. The map offers a comprehensive view of a given area, marking the Orc leaders. I cannot count the number of times I would clear a stronghold of all of the Orcs before getting into a combat with the Orc Captain in an area. I would look at the map, kill everything within a 200 foot radius and then go after the Orc Captain. Once combat with an Orc Captain is begun, it either needs to be completed or one must run away, which causes the player to suffer the consequence of the Captain becoming more powerful. The b.s. aspect of the game was that I would kill everyone around a Captain, then initiate combat with the Captain. Within two or three attacks, I would suddenly find more Orcs attacking me. Where the hell did they come from?! It made no sense.

The other severely problematic aspect of Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor involved various forms of combat unique to the Orc Captain. There are event combats like Feasts and Executions, but the goal of those combats is not made explicit right off the bat. Eventually, the player gets to a high enough level where they learn that to succeed at a Feast, one must poison the Orc's beverages. The problem with that is that each time a player is killed after initiating any form of event combat, all of the Orc Captains level up. In other words, long before one learns how to succeed in a Feast, innumerable Orcs may become far more powerful by "winning" feasts. But the game is not clear. Instead, it gives the player vague directions - i.e. "humiliate" an Orc Captain at an execution. Basic logic made it seem to me like if an Orc Captain is making a big show out of tormenting and killing his political enemy, that he would be humiliated by his captives all being killed at a distance before he even steps close to them.

The game does not progress in any organic way on the story front, either. Instead, there are three types of game points - slave story points, Celebrimbor's story points and Orc army story points. Unfortunately, though, there is no natural progression for the stories. I played to the end of the slave story, while only getting to killing my first Warlord in the Orc army story before I got tired of the game. The elements for Celebrimbor's story seemed to be revealed with no clear order or narrative; the story unfolds randomly based on completing randomly-located mission points.


Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor was designed for high definition systems, like the Playstation 4, Wii, and similar systems. We played it on the Playstation 4 (reviewed here!) connected to our Sony Bravia HD TV (reviewed here!) and it looked and sounded great. The point of view follows Talion and one of the aspects I truly enjoyed was the mechanism involved with shooting arrows. To represent the skill of the archer aspect of the Elf Wraith, when one focuses in the wraith world, everything slows down, which allows the player to shoot the weapons very fast.

Unfortunately, the effects are one of the severe problems with Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor. Mordor is a dark and dirty place and the Orcs are dark and earth-toned. To play Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor, I had to constantly switch between normal view and wraith view. The wraith view allows the player to actually see all of the enemies and hidden objects. This is great . . . except that then one cannot see real-world impediments like walls. Seriously, it's a pretty crap game where the player cannot see all they actually need to. So, one moment, I'd be hidden behind a cart and in the time it took to switch into wraith vision to see that there were actually Orcs all around me was the exact amount of time the Orcs needed to see me and start attacking me.

The problem with visibility was one of the two key reasons I stopped playing Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor.


I could not stand to finish Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor, so I have no idea how replayable the game actually is. That said, I enjoyed a lot of the aspects of the free-play in Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor. Going around killing random Orcs was a lot of fun and some of the self-contained missions to try to get runes for bows and my daggers were actually enjoyable. I really enjoyed doing stealth kills and sneaking around to gruesomely shank Orcs, but it was equally frustrating to quietly kill one adversary only to turn a corner and find a ton of Orc Captains who were able to easily slay me and end the mission I was on.


As a casual gamer, Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor was far too frustrating to continue with, making it a disappointment.

For other video games, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Injustice - Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition
Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham
Angry Birds Star Wars


For other video game reviews, please check out my Software Review Index Page!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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