Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a well-paced sandbox game with a revolutionary new game mechanic in the Nemesis System, which I imagine we'll see iterated on in the years to come. The Nemesis System creates the opportunity for two players to have wildly different experiences fighting the Uruk-hai, while Talion collects trinkets and upgrades. Your nemesis (an Uruk who will find a way to kill you time and time again) will be completely different from your friend's, and you'll have plenty of unique experiences to share about different tactics you used to take out a certain warchief. Or, how you were chasing a captain who retreated in battle and ran right into the jaws of a wild caragor, robbing you of sweet victory.
What would have otherwise been a competent sandbox game with solid combat mechanics and an interesting twist on a known fantasy world is elevated by the Nemesis System. Shadow of Mordor is the strategic person's action game.
Shadow of Mordor is going to give other developers in this genre a lot to think about. This would be a perfectly competent open-world game even without the dynamic AI, but that one system works so well that it makes you feel like you're having a tailored game experience that's unique to you and your actions. That's a powerful feeling, and I hope it's one similar games make the same effort to replicate in the future.
The gameplay foundation of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is very strong, which makes it all the more incredible that it's also the least exciting thing about the game. Most video games choose to either tell you a story or give you a world in which you can create your own stories; very rarely are these two paths mixed, and even more rarely with any success.
Shadow of Mordor is that ultimate rarity. It tells a fun little story that would be enough to hold up most games on their own. But it also provides all of the tools to ensure that the most interesting tales to come out of the game will be the ones that were not scripted.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor stands out from other open-world action games by putting a great new layer on top of the trail that Batman blazed. I was surprised at how well it integrates its excellent combat with rewarding feedback and progression not just for me, but also for my enemies. I’ve had many more memorable and unpredictable battles with its randomized Warchiefs and captains than I did in the scripted campaign missions, and I expect those to keep on coming.
Gaming Age: A-
All in all, I really enjoyed Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. While the game had always been on my radar, I still find myself pretty surprised with how fantastic it ended up being. It provides an open-world experience that’s easily on-par with the best in the genre, while providing some of the most fun I’ve had with a combat system since Batman: Arkham Asylum. It really does a great job of blending a number of mechanics seamlessly, and again pays a suitable level of respect to the lore and universe that it plays in.
Playstation Lifestyle: 9
Overall, there is simply too much to cover in Shadow of Mordor and this is one of its greatest assets. As you progress through the game things expand exponentially, giving more room to play around in, but on a learning curve that is paced out perfectly. Fantasy fans will probably owe it to themselves to give Shadow of Mordor a shot, especially if they are fans of Tolkien’s work. If you are not overly familiar with the lore from the books and movies, you may find it difficult to appreciate most of the content available here, but you will still find a fantastically fun fantasy action title with a robust amount of content, with some familiar core gameplay.
Shadow of Mordor is influenced by other games, but not defined by them. Instead it takes pieces from some of the best games of the last few years, augments them with RPG mechanics and the new Nemesis system, and integrates them all so well together that it's sometimes hard to tell where one system begins and another ends. It's a remarkable achievement, and should justifiably establish Monolith as the torch-bearer for the Lord of the Rings series.
Shadow of Mordor may not hew exactly to Tolkien’s lore, but it’s certainly close enough for the vast majority of folks. More importantly, it’s a fun game that lets you experience The Lord of the Rings regardless of how much knowledge you have of the world coming in. Great combat and an amazing setting round out one of the best Lord of the Rings titles in years.
Hardcore Gamer: 4.5/5
Although it comes in the wake of dozens before it, Shadow of Mordor is the definitive Middle-earth experience. It smartly avoids trying to adapt already existing plot points, instead crafting its own unique story and overall experience. Combat is fluid, production values are sky high and the game is quite simply a blast to experience. Clocking in at around fifteen hours when focusing purely on the campaign, it’s a bit too short for an open-world game, and it cribs some of its best ideas from other popular franchises (although some will likely in turn swipe its impressive Nemesis System), but that doesn’t hold it back from being an enveloping adventure. More than just a great Lord of the Rings game, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor marks a new era for the franchise that can be enjoyed by fans and the uninitiated alike.
The Escapist 4.5/5
Bottom Line: As an open world game set in Middle-earth, Shadow of Mordor delivers unique emergent gameplay, finely-tuned combat mechanics and a story which avoids typical fantasy fare. While the main storyline can be finished relatively quickly, there is a lot of content in Mordor for you to pursue however you like.
Recommendation: Even if hardcore Tolkien fans could be split on the themes of the game, interacting with the emergent system of the orc army of Mordor is a joy most gamers will appreciate as a step forward in design.
Shadow of Mordor isn't just the greatest Lord of the Rings game to date--it's also one of the most entertaining open-world adventures around. By the time you've concluded Talion's journey, you'll feel like you've experienced your own personal odyssey through Middle-earth, locked in a struggle against adversaries that only you truly know. The thrill of undermining the Uruks' hierarchy doesn't last forever, but the memories of the villains it generates will stay with you for a long time.
In a sense, then, Shadow of Mordor comes at a crucial time for Middle-earth in the public consciousness, and it looks primed to carry the torch of Tolkien for the foreseeable future. Monolith seems more than capable of doing for Sauron and company what Rocksteady did for the Dark Knight: finally delivering a gaming franchise worthy of the iconic fiction. We’ve seen competent games based on Tolkien’s works here and there, but this may well become the first series that has the chance to finally live up to the source material. Considering the important place Tolkien holds in fantasy and storytelling, that’s a welcome sight for games—and one long overdue.
Game Informer: 8.25
Shadow of Mordor is an unabashedly challenging and complex experience, sometimes at the expense of accessibility. I’m thrilled that we’ve got a new franchise in the fertile ground of Tolkien’s fiction. Add in a borderline revolutionary approach to mission design, and this is a firm foundation for a stellar new series.
Cheat Code Central: 88/100
But is this anything more than a cheap Assassin’s Creed clone, cashing in on the Lord of the Rings name? At first, I would have said no. In the beginning Shadow of Mordor absolutely screams Assassin’s Creed, but shortly thereafter becomes something else entirely. Through the Nemesis System, a dichotomous protagonist, and a heaping helping of Orc guts to remove, Shadow of Mordor definitely has enough meat on the bone for any action adventure gamer. What starts out as something familiar, ends up completely foreign and unique, something most games dare not accomplish.
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. But like any complex system, it’s easier to notice the effects of one misplaced component. The resurrecting bosses undo some of Shadow of Mordor’s magic, and the story and characters don’t do a ton to help.
I don’t want to turn everyone off of it. I think Shadow of Mordor deserves a huge audience. I like it bordering on loving it. Had Monolith tightened up a few things, I’d probably love it bordering on considering it one of the best games of the year.
Shadow of Mordor's second half introduces even more ways to mess with Uruks' minds. Ultimately, you are able to command individual captains and assist them in battle as they fight their way up the pecking order. The story gives this system a purpose so that your political shenanigans don't come across as neverending busywork, though even without narrative context, the nemesis system is remarkably absorbing. It is the orcish congress, and I am a muscled version of Kevin Spacey's character in House of Cards. I am the puppetmaster, and the Uruk-hai are my puppets.
All of these tasks are dotted across the game's two expansive maps, which invite you to chase one waypoint after another, murdering captains, infiltrating Uruk feasts, and collecting artifacts that unveil truths about the wraith's past misdeeds. This structure (of course) recalls Assassin's Creed, but it is now imperative that the Assassin's Creed series learn from Shadow of Mordor. Easy comparisons aside, this is a great game in its own right, narratively disjointed but mechanically sound, made up of excellent parts pieced together in excellent ways. I already knew what future lay in store for Middle-earth as I played Shadow of Mordor; I'm hoping that my own future might one day bring another Lord of the Rings adventure as stirring as this one.
One of the most enduring themes of Tolkien's universe has been the corrupting influence of power, but this has almost always been explored through the eyes of individuals that refuse to abuse that power. In death, Talion is free to do what those characters were never able to, and you experience first-hand what an intoxicating high that can be. At the start of the game you're not much more than a lowly Ranger, sneaking through camps and silently slitting Orcish throats in the night. By the end of the game you're boldly strolling through those same camps, as terrified uruks whisper tales of the Ranger-turned-Gravewalker over fortifying gulps of grog. There's plenty to see and do in Mordor when you're dead; all that's left, in the words of a wise old wandering wizard, is to decide what to do with the time that is given to you.
It’s disappointing that Shadow of Mordor couldn’t match the originality of its superb Nemesis system with a more engaging world, but the characters which populate it are more than enough to spur you through the campaign. Shadow of Mordor might owe something of a debt to numerous games that have come before it, but by adding its own flavour to the mixture the result is a surprisingly expansive and hearty experience that is more compelling than plenty that have come before it. A hugely entertaining, tongue-in-cheek and fulsome experience, it’s a worthy expedition whether you’re a Rings fan or not.
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 stuido 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.