Almost three years later, Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor still kicks unholy amounts of ass.
There’s a perennial question that every console gamer faces at one point or another: when is the right time to upgrade? For the current console generation, I purchased a Playstation 4 in order to play Infamous: Second Son, a game that I was hoping would sell me on the new system, but that game fell short. Sure, the graphics were better, the city was bigger, and the powers were more impressive than ever, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had purchased my PS4 a little too soon. I experienced a similar feeling while playing Wolfenstein: The New Order. By the time Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor released, my PS4 was mostly gathering dust. Within hours of playing it, I knew that I had finally found the experience that I was looking for: an experience that wasn’t possible with previous console technology.
Shadow of Mordor features a vast open world, a fluid combat system, and impressive graphics, but the best feature of the game has to be the Nemesis system. The Nemesis system creates a hierarchy of a few dozen procedurally generated orcs, each with a particular strength, weakness, special ability, and sometimes fear. The player gathers intelligence on a particular orc by finding documents or interrogating other enemies in order to learn their strengths and weaknesses. As you might expect, the orc hierarchy is in constant flux as one orc dies and another takes its place. The player obviously has the most effect on this hierarchy, but orcs sometimes fight amongst themselves without player provocation. Death is the only constant in Shadow of Mordor, and it comes with a heavy price.
If an orc defeats the player in battle, they will rise in rank, gaining additional strength and powers. If the player encounters this same enemy again, they’ll remember you and usually offer an insult or two. In a similar fashion, some defeated orcs can reappear multiple times, sporting fresh wounds from your last encounter and bearing a serious grudge. While fighting the same enemies repeatedly might sound tedious, you sometimes want to spare an orc, especially when you unlock the ability to possess them. Toward the end of the game, you’re required to place five warchiefs in power; how you accomplish this task is up to you. Perhaps you’ll take the direct approach and attempt to possess all five existing warchiefs. Alternately, you could create a few captains who can attack an existing warchief and weaken them, allowing the player to finish them off. Finally, you might possess the warchief’s bodyguards so they can perform the kill for you. In short, the gameplay opportunities are endless.
Over the course of the game, I became completely immersed in the world of Shadow of Mordor. I had my own set of rivals, some of whom had fought me on multiple occasions. With each encounter, the stakes would raise and with each defeat I’d grow even more incensed. Taking revenge on an orc chieftain that had killed me on four separate occasions brought me a satisfaction that I rarely feel playing video games. On a broader level, I plotted the downfall of dozens of orcs, murdering my way to the top and clearing the complete orc hierarchy for the first part of the game. For the second part of the game, I watched with pride as my orcs rose through the ranks and watched with sadness as some fell in battle. At some points in the game, I even sympathized with the orcs after witnessing how violent and short-lived their lives were. In many ways, the Nemesis system not only created endless gameplay opportunities; it also created endless narrative opportunities.
While the game did eventually release on PS3 and Xbox 360, the Nemesis system was seriously reduced and a pale imitation of the PS4 and Xbox One version. Had the improvements between platforms been merely cosmetic, Shadow of Mordor would have fallen in the same category as Infamous: Second Son and Wolfenstein: great looking games, but nothing I hadn’t played before. I think it just takes time for game developers to realize the full potential of a new console like the developers of Shadow of Mordor did, and as gamers, we have to be patient if we want a next-generation experience. Since Shadow of Mordor was the third game for the PS4 that I purchased, I’ve developed what I call the rule of three: I won’t purchase a new console until there are three must-have games (AAA titles or exclusives).
Your rule might be different, but for me, the rule of three absolutely works. In fact, it’s the only thing keeping me from hopping on Amazon and buying a Switch this instant.
Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Allen Brasch is an aspiring writer who loves good science fiction, fantasy, and horror. When Allen's not writing or gaming, he's talking about all things geeky on his podcast, Devil May Play.