Shadow of Mordor Gameplay: 10 Things You'll Love
Do you have what it takes to simply walk into Mordor?
It can often be disappointing to step into the worlds of your favorite movies and books through video games. As a long-time fan of the Lord of the Rings series, I was cautiously optimistic when I heard about Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.
Of course, I pre-ordered it anyway. After all, I loved The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age and love LotR, on the whole, to the point of being really annoying about it.
Are you the kind of person who would refresh LordoftheRings.net just so you could hear the actors welcoming you to the site? Does your family refuse to play Trivial Pursuit: The Lord of the Rings Movie Trilogy, Collector’s Edition, with you? Do you wish you could go slice up a bunch of Orcs in a good ol’ hack-and-slash?
If you said “yes” to any of those questions, then Shadow of Mordor may be the game for you.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 reasons you should check it out...
(Note: This is an incredibly violent and bloody game and has been rated M (for Mature) by the ESRB. Some images and videos in this article reflect this rating.)
1. Its Cool Character Designs—As Unique and Vivid as the Peter Jackson Movies
Yes, the NPCs are judging you.
Seriously. Remember how the Orcs and Uruk-hai each had individualized armor and design in Peter Jackson’s version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy?
Shadow of Mordor doesn’t fail to impress in the same regard. Most Uruk-hai have names and their own agendas—but more on that in a bit.
In some games and movies, it’s easy to say that there are multiple characters who look similar to each other. Not so in this game. Each character is completely distinct from each other, and as the story progresses, they become even more so.
Peek into the plot and stunning character designs.
It’s easy to look at an Uruk-hai captain and say, “Oh, that’s Mâku the Torturous.”
And that leads me to one of my other favorite things...
2. The Uruk-hai Chain of Command
One surefire way to get my interest in a game is to make what I do actually matter. Of course, we have our own personal story as Talion, and all of that is good, but what I like is what happens when you die.
Because you aren’t mortal, dying and coming back to life makes a lot more sense than, say, Mario having additional lives. In Shadow of Mordor, it’s not that you’re dying and have additional lives saved up. You’re just coming back as a wraith again—and they remember you.
What’s really cool about this is that the Uruk-hai are actually affected by your death. The Uruks look right into your eyes as a player and talk about how your death will help them in the ranks. And help them it does!
In many games, you get pulled back to your latest save point. But not here. The Uruk challenges an officer, and if it wins, then it will kill that officer and take its place.
And if you keep dying to the same Uruk? It remembers you. It will sometimes even make snide remarks about your previous death.
If you love to feel your blood pumping and the nerd rage rising, then have fun taking on the Uruks who have killed you a hundred times over because they’re directly blocking your pathway to wherever you’re going and you can’t go around them.
I was curious about one of the Uruk captains, so I looked him up. There were several results, but they didn’t match the name exactly. There was someone who had him labeled as “Beastmaster,” while someone else saw him as “Blood-Hunter”—and neither of those matched mine!
This game is highly customizable in that your actions directly affect all of your enemies.
Meet Sauron’s army. They’re DYING to see you...
3. NPC Interactions
Many games have a lot of silent bystanders or people who will occasionally say something every 15 minutes or whatever.
No, in Shadow of Mordor, every living thing has a unique experience of its own. You can sit on a ledge and watch Caragors devour the enemies you’re avoiding.
And you can listen in on the trash talk, such as “I was going to test out my new bow, but Ratbag was nowhere near me.”
They’re probably going to talk about you behind your back.
There’s all sorts of glorious gossip and vaguely high-school infighting. It’s honestly pretty funny but rather enlightening. Listening in on conversations lets you get an idea of what the Orcs and Uruks think of each other, and you can expect it to be relevant in some way later on.
So how do you listen in on all of this without getting brutally murdered?
Funny you should ask, because that’s the next reason...
4. Wraith World
No, that’s not a new theme park where you can meet someone dressed up as the Witch King.
A mysterious wraith brings a Ranger named Talion back from the dead, and your new friend makes himself at home—in your body. Bonded together, you team up to figure out why people are being stuck between the world of the living and the dead.
You’re able to easily switch back and forth between being a flesh incarnation of Talion that’s in what we would call the “real world” of the game and being the wraith in a separate level of reality.
Remember when Frodo and Bilbo put on the One Ring in the movies? They enter this shadowy plane where they are significantly less visible but also inhabit the same realm as the Ring Wraiths.
That’s where you are. Wraith World! Coming soon to a town near you!
The world of the wraiths also comes with several unique skills, and one of those is the ability to use the Vulcan Mind Meld—oh, that’s copyrighted? Ummm... “Interrogation” to reach into your enemy’s mind and see what he (this game is a real sausage fest, honestly) has seen.
You can learn a lot from this, but it’s also really difficult to do it, because there are usually a bunch of other Orcs getting in the way. I’ve definitely accidentally killed a few good sources of info because they kept coming up in front of me when I was offing someone else.
Our wraith friend sometimes points out that we have the ability to be as brutal as our enemies and that this is the way to victory. But honestly, the wraith plane does so much more.
You've got a friend in you...
When I first started playing, I got increasingly frustrated because I couldn’t get anywhere. Every time I left my little tower, I’d attack the nearby Orcs to get them out of the way. But they killed me.
Then I tried entering the wraith plane. You wouldn’t believe just how much of a difference that makes. Use your wraith capabilities as often as you can—that is the true key to making a difference in this game.
Frodo, Sam, and Gollum had to be sneaky when slinking around Mordor, and the same is true for us. If you have a hero complex and try to go in and kill every Orc you find, then you’re mostly just going to end up dying a lot.
Sneak around as much as possible—that’s the one thing that your enemies can’t do. Instead of the one-man army you can be in games like the Dynasty Warriors series, you have to be aware that you are still just one person (kind of) fighting against the endless ranks of the Dark Lord’s forces.
This video explains the wraith abilities in more detail.
5. The Immersive Setting
Everything the light touches... is Mordor. It’s ALL the dark, shadowy place, even when it isn’t.
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering if the game does justice to the land of Middle-earth.
The answer? It does. I promise.
The glorious variety of characters and landscapes are more than enough to bring you to the land of Mordor.
While a couple of things look a bit weird (the bushes you can hide in), it is otherwise as faithful of an attempt to create this world.
But if you don’t like the armies of Sauron, then you may find yourself frustrated with the environment. You’re a neutral agent who just wants some answers. And in doing so, you are trying to take on the Dark Lord’s forces on your own.
6. The Postmodern Plot Progression—the Future and Past Intertwined
Talion once had a family.
Speaking of the plot, let’s take a look at how it’s presented—no spoilers here, though. From the very beginning of the game, the story is as fragmented as you feel.
Your primary character, Talion, is confused and disturbed. He’s dead but somehow alive.
And this is shown by pulling you between the past and the present so you can learn more about where you came from and where you’re going.
Your ability to see into the past through your enemies’ minds and artifacts that reveal your wraith friend’s story brings the past into the present, creating new mysteries while occasionally answering questions.
Oh, a little forceful mind-reading never hurt anybody...
7. The World Goes On Without You
Despite all of this, the world around you is still doing its thing, whether you’re doing anything useful or not. If you die while trying to stop an Uruk’s feast, then that Uruk will still rise in power—and so will the ones who were planning an ambush all the way across the map.
You just plain can’t stop everything from happening. While the game adjusts for this by creating events as soon as other ones end, there’s a real sense of immediacy that comes with it.
As Seen on T.V.!
What will you spend your time on? Can you defeat a captain, or should you go free the slaves you passed by earlier?
Each and every thing you ignore will have an effect, just as much as when you do attend to something.
You’re so vain that you probably think this caption’s about you.
8. Its Impressive Difficulty Scaling
Because your actions and inactions allow Uruks to rise in power (or die), the game gets harder as it goes on.
Shadow of Mordor does a commendable effort in keeping you up-to-date with the happenings of the Uruk-hai. Each time an event ends, regardless of the result, the game shows you what has occurred because of it.
If you lose to an Uruk, then it will gain more power, and it will remember you the next time—after all, you’re already dead. It may even seek you out if he thinks you’re nearby. Typically, losing to a ranked Uruk-hai will allow that Uruk to challenge another officer and take its position.
Sometimes, that Uruk will die in this attempt. However, if an Uruk moves up in the ranks, then its power increases, making it more difficult to defeat later on in the game.
Instead of a traditional leveling system where you move areas based on how much you’ve done, the enemies level up around you as you do.
Oh, it’s 25 to 1? Seems about right.
If you keep dying, then the area becomes more difficult, so you have to get stronger or find a new way to get where you’re going.
Speaking of which...
9. The Open World
I know a lot of games are doing open worlds these days, but that doesn’t make this one any less cool. Because it really makes you feel like you’re in Mordor, exploring the different areas feels much more rewarding than a game that tries to pin you down to a specific path.
Since the world does go on without you, each time you go somewhere, something will have changed in some way. This prevents it from feeling like you’re going nowhere if you keep dying.
If you love Tolkien’s books and/or the movie versions, then Shadow of Mordor doesn’t fail to impress. The LotR series takes place in such an expansive universe, and it’s honestly just plain fun to see it sprawling out like this in a way that hasn’t really been done before.
I love finding new ways to experience the LotR series, and if you do too, you’ll be thrilled about getting lurk around Mordor with an all-new story.
Do you even lift?
10. Its Glorious, Faithful Rendition of Gollum
This video gives you a glimpse into the game and how things work. Not enough Gollum, though.
Now, the majority of the things I talk about here are based around the different things you can do and see. But this final entry is just icing on the cake.
When I first saw the LotR movies, I was enthralled by their representation of Gollum/Sméagol and soon began to mimic his little cough of “Gollum, Gollum.” I actually became quite proud of my imitation.
My mom has never been able to get into the original trilogy, but she liked the Hobbit movies—and Gollum. She’s watched bits and pieces of the LotR movies, and for some reason, she decided she liked Gollum. This made my attachment to him grow stronger, since I’d have at least one thing from the series that I could talk about with her.
So you can only imagine my delight when I finished the first boss battle and saw Gollum peeking up over a rock at me!
While the movies use as many practical effects as possible, Gollum was a special case of CGI. In Shadow of Mordor, you’d almost think you were seeing the movie version of him! He’s rendered wonderfully, and every part of him—from his demeanor to movements—makes you feel like you’re right there with the real thing.
Where is the Preciousss?
I was excited to see him in the game, of course, but seeing such a faithful representation of him really allows the game to draw you into the universe and remind you of the first time you saw the movies on screen.
If you like Gollum, then you won’t be disappointed! He’s just as sneaky and paranoid as the Gollum you know and love.
And if you like the Lord of the Rings universe in any capacity and you like clever but violent games that will challenge you moment after moment, then Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is definitely worth checking out. It’s fun, difficult, and absolutely immersive. Venturing into the Dark Lord’s forces has never been so entertaining.