Shadow of Mordor is a third person perspective action game set in JRR Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. You play as a human ranger who gains supernatural powers when he is melded with another character of great importance to the Tolkien lore. Most of the game is open world - split into 2 fairly reasonably sized areas, the second being unlocked roughly half way through the story missions. The maps aren’t too large, but they’re big enough to warrant a mount or quick travel system to cross. As seems to be the norm nowadays, the map is scattered with a variety of side quests, the main meat of the game is still in the main story missions.
The story part of this I found entertaining, but it is sometimes lacking in variety, with most missions being kill some dude or sneak to a place then kill some dudes. There is the occasional stand-outs such as fighting a giant cave troll whilst teaming up with a charismatic dwarf or following Gollum but thankfully the kill mister scary orc boss missions are highly enjoyable. Whilst you can run straight into a fight with an enemy lieutenant it pays off to interrogate his minions for information on how best to dispatch him. Their weaknesses can range from being terrified of a Caragor beast that you can unleash from a handily placed nearby cage to fire which you can cause to explode. Of course, they also have strengths, such as being immune to stealth attacks, or being enraged by the presence of said Caragor beast, so it pays off to do your research on your kills. There’s unlockable skills and powers and you pick your build including upgrading your bow, swords and dagger. I always find it a tad weird how the further you progress through a game the easier it can become, this is usually balanced with increasing challenge but you can often feel so mighty that at times towards the end of the game I felt so overpowered that I didn't need to worry about sneaking in to an enemy camp anymore and just dived into combat, taking on dozens of orcs easily. There are dozens of side missions available, I believe I tried at least one of each category of these but they are the usual fare as with most open world games, filler.
My favourite aspect of Shadow of Mordor is the combat, it is so empowering and fun. It is the same combat system as used in the Arkham Asylum games, using key/button pushes at the correct time to execute attacks and parry incoming blows. It all sounds very quick time event-y, I suppose it might be seen like that, I personally find it a joy to play, battles become a dance with swords and part of the tactics is knowing what move to execute and when to pull off a special move, be it draining power from an enemy to refill your ghostly powers (more to come on that) or pulling off an brutal devastating finishing move.
Much has been made of the nemesis system in Shadow of Mordor. Admittedly it is pretty awesome, if you are killed in battle you respawn but your slayer levels up as a result of his victory. I guess it is a clever way of adding a basic rpg system into an action game. Its biggest success is your nemesis “remembers” you and taunts you, providing an emotional tie-in. There’s no denying the effectiveness of being given smack talk from a uruk. Unless you decapitate the lieutenants they also respawn and hold their own grudges against you too, sometimes turning up whilst you are engaged in another fight, throwing the odds out of your favour.
Graphics wise the visuals are pretty, I have tried my best to capture the detail in the screenshots - the murky colour palette fits the setting of Mordor, and this is sometimes variety in scenery but the majority of your time is spent in orc strongholds and ruins. I played this game on 3 different nvidia cards with all the bells and whistles turned on and it didn’t struggle at all. I played it with an Xbox 360 gamepad but it is just as fun if not better with a mouse and keyboard (sometimes I reverted to M&K for archery).
Shadow of Mordor was a pleasure to play - it’s easy to jump into and hunt down a nemesis target in a quick fifteen to thirty minute session. The stealth ‘missions’ are rubbish as in most non-primary stealth games but you can quickly power through most of them. If you are looking for a fun, empowering game with a great well-loved setting that is true to Tolkien lore (as far as I know!) then I fully recommend you pick this up.