Shadow of Mordor - Gameplay Mechanics as the Hero
I'm a Tolkien fan.
I've read all of the books at least once, (some multiple times), and I'm not one of the elitists that hated the films. Was I excited that a video game blended some Tolkien lore with typical Assassin's Creed and Batman Arkham series gameplay? You bet your ass.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor has the player taking charge of Talion, a Ranger of Gondor, who is brutally murdered with his son and wife by a group of Sauron's elite guard. Upon death, Talion is possessed by a mysterious elven wraith, and the player begins a revenge quest. Shadow of Mordor's story did little to keep me interested. Often I would forget characters' names other than Talion or the Wraith's, whom I'll keep unnamed for spoilers-sake, but I find it hard to fault the game as a whole for this. Any video game based on Tolkien lore is handicapped from the beginning due to how the licenses work. Do some reading on the subject if you're interested. That said, the main draw here is the Nemesis system, and it is a big deal.
There are only a few enemies in the game that the player will encounter for 95% of the duration. The most obvious are the Uruks. Mordor's Nemesis system is an ever-evolving mechanic that creates multiple levels of Uruk captains that are all working under a higher set of Uruk War Chiefs. During the player's adventures through the land of Mordor, these captains will be accomplishing their own tasks, whether it be seeking revenge on the player or killing other Uruks in their quest to ascend the ranks. Each player's game generates unique Uruks from a rather deep pool of traits that include class, strengths and weaknesses, attitudes, and cosmetics. I spent about 20 hours in the game, and the only repeated trait I actually noticed between the staggering amount of Uruk captains was the structure of their faces. Otherwise, they all felt like individuals, and they all wanted me dead.
This goes back to how much the actual story of Mordor didn't matter. I had my own story, with my own enemies borne from the Nemesis system. The enjoyment I took from this game was wondering who I would attack next, how I would go about killing them, how my killing them would impact the overall Uruk captains, and how to play the game to my advantage. The first half of the story doesn't allow for too much freedom in how to tackle the war chiefs. But once the player makes their way to the second map (a stark contrast to the opening area, lush with green grass and trees), the Nemesis system gets completely reworked with the introduction of Branding. Branding allows the player to take control of Uruks, and command them to murder other captains. The possibilities of events within the Uruk army multiply.
Gameplay-wise, Mordor blends the attack/counter/dodge mechanic from the Batman Arkham series, with the exploration and stealth of Assassin's Creed. I personally loved the fighting in the Batman games. It always felt quick and fluid, and Mordor makes really great use with some added violence and gore. I felt like a lethal badass in this game. There are plenty of abilities between Talion and the Wraith himself that the player has at their disposal, based around a sword, bow and dagger. The stealth works fairly well and was always my first choice in encounters. My only complaint is that occasionally I was spotted by Uruks without any warning, and quickly had to take on an entire army single handed. Traversal felt great also, with jumping and climbing tied to a single button, though there were a few times where I became stuck on the geometry and all movement was halted.
There's plenty of side quests, collectibles and abilities to pad out Shadow of Mordor's experience. In between the story and disrupting the Uruk ranks, the player has the option to gain extra experience from side missions to open more rune slots on their weapons. Runes are randomly dropped from captains and war chiefs, and add another layer of character growth to the game.
Shadow of Mordor's main draw is without a doubt, the Nemesis system. This is something not seen before in games, and will almost certainly be riffed upon in future releases. Typically, video games induce unique experiences by character customization or loot, but here, the unique experience is created from the player's enemies. Mordor's story will hardly keep the player's attention, even with the nods towards deeper Tolkien lore for fans, and the conclusion left me scratching my head. But the gameplay speaks for itself, and outshines Talion or the Wraith as the front-runner for the player's attention. Add some really gorgeous graphics and set pieces, and the player will have an excellent time with Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.