Middle-earth review: Shadow of Mordor

The Morannon Gates await us.

PlayStation 4 tested version.

Randall was not completely wrong: the first impact with the gameplay of Middle-earth: the shadow of Mordor it is at least disconcerting. You find yourself there, running like an assassin and fighting like Batman, wondering how it's possible Ubisoft didn't sue Monolith for such shameless use of their assets. But, before you stamp it all with a nice label of plagiarism, you find yourself in the middle of a horde of orcs (Uruk, to be precise) and you immediately understand that you are in trouble. The number of enemies is about to overwhelm you and an arrow shot from afar poisons you: Amug of the Spiders appears, taunting you before inflicting the coup de grace. This is your first encounter with the system Nemesis… And it will change your every perspective.

Prisoners of revenge

And to say that everything seemed to proceed on tracks of total mediocrity. A start in the middle of a scenario of death, with sudden flashbacks that introduce you to an unhappy past, but at least surrounded by the affection of your loved ones. A ranger, Talion, once forced by circumstances to live on the edge of Gondor, stands guard at the black gate. An undead ranger is now surrounded by blood and violence. Accompanied by a mysterious specter, who has all the appearance of having been an elf when he still remembered his name and origins, you find yourself in the present, trapped inside Mordor, thirsty for revenge, drunk with the supernatural power of that elf, and you are ready to do anything to find peace and make the person responsible for all this abandon his life, your executioner and your family. Of your wife and son, slaughtered in front of your eyes by a black hand. The Black Hand of Sauron.

In short, it is a less epic opening than it may seem, full of clichés that also bring to mind stories set in the time of “the false and lying gods”. Revenge, on the other hand, is a bit of the engine of all action stories, but it is certainly not what can move a true protagonist of a Tolkien story. And then that gameplay. Come on, you can see from a distance a kilometer that that is a mix between Ezio and the Dark Knight! 

Yet, never as in this case appearances have deceived you: the story, even without ever really taking off during the main missions, fits with coherence and delicacy between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, almost as if it were afraid of daring too much, going to break the porcelain of the Baggins family. But it is precisely this discretion that allows Middle-earth to come to life, creating many small stories that are only partially predetermined. It truly feels like breathing the heavy air of Mordor, the stink of ogre and the acrid smell of Grog. In ten hours it could all be over. However, you get lost exploring that rugged land and at the same time rich in beneficial plants, attacking the Uruk captains and cutting off their heads. You often die if your courage, or perhaps your recklessness, does not contemplate escape. But death itself repudiates you and in the meantime the ogre who thought he killed you has made a name for himself and become stronger. He became captain, Captain Zathra Crushers. And, as you float towards the forge tower to come back to life, you repeat the names of your killers to yourself, because you will soon have your revenge and consecrate it to Nemesis.

Zathra ... Amug ... the Black Hand ...

Runes of power

In spite of you you find yourself so embroiled in the struggles for dominance between the orc encampments, you exploit the weaknesses and fears of their leaders, you decide to subjugate them to your will. Over time you will acquire enough power to increase your health, tame the cruelest beasts and bend even the strongest captains to carry out the tasks assigned to you. And these are just some of the skills that you, Talion, will be able to acquire throughout the adventure. Your growth is so constant that you feel like a god in some fights, but then, suddenly, someone manages to overwhelm you again. You withdraw hastily and look for opponents closer to your reach to prepare for the new confrontation: challenges, collection of artifacts from the elf's past, side missions. Everything contributes to the collection of Mirian and the acquisition of power. But that's not enough, the enemy is still too powerful, you need more lethal weapons. So here you are, killing some cheap captainunculus to get new runes for your sword, spectrum bow and dagger. You equip them, you mix them, but they don't satisfy you so you decide to convert the useless ones into Mirian, which are never too many. And when you think you've found the perfect combination, a new rune or a new opponent makes you question everything again.

Meanwhile, your retreat has given courage to your target, who attacked and defeated his former captain, gaining a new rank. But it is not yet time for him. You ride a Caragor in search of easy prey for your blade, kill some spiders and some birds to glean more experience and hone your aim in ranged attacks, with or without the concentration of your now inseparable companion. You scan enemies with the eyes of the ghost that lives inside you, even through walls, to understand who your next opponent will be. It doesn't look very strong. You attack him by surprise by jumping on him from a height, but your blow has no effect: in a moment his henchmen rush, the Caragor is knocked down and for a couple of times it's just your reflexes ready to avoid the coup de grace, during the quick time events that are activated when you are dying. However, your opponent is also at the end of his strength and you finally manage to finish him off with a combo, earning a new rune. Step by step you approach the five Claws and the Black Hand. But the new elite captain, Muzglob of the pit, defeats you again and this time he enters your list by right.

Muzglob ... Zathra ... Amug ... the Black Hand ...

A world in ruins

There you are again at the top of one of the mysterious towers of light that, for convenience, you call the forge. These are the points through which you can move quickly on the map or rest after a strenuous fight, advancing time and giving Nemesis a way to work in peace. You lean out and admire the landscape that surrounds you: there are only ruins, a reminder of a time and a civilization that is no longer, at least in this corner of the world. You spot fires in the distance, probably an orc camp. You imagine their faces, so repulsive yet endowed with their own expressiveness, and you realize with disgust that by now you can easily distinguish the features of those monsters, all different yet so equal in their green ugliness. Immortalize the moment in your mind by activating photo mode. Incredible to think that such a majestic nature can be subjugated to the power of Sauron.

You remove this thought from yourself and throw yourself back into the fray: you dodge, attack, your movements are fluid, even if, in the role of Lithariel, one of the forms that your revived body can take, sometimes you feel like you miss a beat. , as if your eyes cannot perceive some frames of the action around you. Most of the time, however, you move with agility and only rarely do you happen to find yourself with one foot inside the rock. It will be one of the side effects of being (not) dead, as well as that slight blurry outline that appears when you move too abruptly. Continue on your way and collect herbs, to heal wounds alone they would take a long time to heal. You meet a giant Graug and avoid it, last time it squashed you like a gnat and the pain was real. You think what happened to that strange repulsive being, Gollum, you seem to remember, that was his name, but you don't really care much, even though you know his fate is probably tied to yours.

You listen to the crystalline voice of your ghost warning you of imminent danger, you hear yours ringing in response and you think it's not that bad, it could hardly have been done better. But you have little time to think about it: in your mind there are epic music, typical of Middle-earth, and your sword crosses with a new enemy. The steel resonates near you, you feel it go through your hands thanks to your real-world weapon, the Dualshock 4. Stun the enemy and prepare for a kill on the ground - this time you won't have a new name for your list.

Muzglob… Zathra… Amug… the Black Hand… Get ready: the ranger's revenge will soon befall you!

Final comment

Middle-earth - The shadow of Mordor to our surprise, it turned out to be one of the best open-world titles of recent years. Monolith has in fact managed to effectively mix some of the most engaging mechanics of the genre, creating a winning mix, able to entertain and satisfy the player also through a well-balanced skill growth system. The Nemesis system is then the flagship of the production, even if it is still a bit limited, since, if you exaggerate in the casual clashes, it ends up giving some signs of repetition. Nonetheless, it is rare to see such a fluid and dynamic world marrying with a material as vast as the Tolkenian universe without imploding due to its own size.

The lack of courage in drafting a still discreet script is the only really relevant flaw of The Shadow of Mordor, a game that in our opinion cannot be missing as much in the library of the followers of the one ring as in that of any other gamer.

For Cons 
- Nemesis gives life to Middle-earth
- Full coherence and likelihood with the Tolkenian material
- Very satisfying combat system
- Exceptional sound sector
- The story lacks a shred of personality
- A few small technical flaws 
  Overall rating: 90
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