Available on: PC, PS3/4, XBOX360/ONE
Shadow of Mordor is the game I wanted Assassin's Creed and Warhammer 40K: Space Marine to be. In terms of sheer Orc killing, the game has no equal (with the possible exception of the "Orcs Must Die" series), but the game is so much more than that. Read why after the break.
I don't like Tolkein. I think he's a longwinded writer who takes two pages to say a paragraph's worth of stuff. People talk about Middle Earth by saying that it's a world created by a linguist, and it shows. Both in terms of the weirdly complete languages and the general dullness of everything that's not directly related to the four main books. (I'm looking at you, Silmarillion.) The movies were fun because watching them wasn't work. I'm not saying this to flame anyone or draw controversy. I am wrong here. Not liking Tolkein is a flaw in my personality. I am saying this to avoid accusations of fanboyism, as there are a lot of people who will excuse anything Tolkein related from being actually criticized just because it has elves and a wizard and names with too many Ümlauts in them.
Spoiler for the end of this review: I love this goddamn game.
The combat has a similar flow to the Arkham games, while being a little bit more forgiving, which is nice, because it shows off the leap in console hardware by throwing a bunch of guys at you at once, which seems to be the default way of showing off your processing power each generation without having good graphics. Not that they're doing that here, because this game is beautiful. Light looks great, shadows, while still a little rough (as shadows in games tend to be), look pretty great. The draw distance on PC goes as high as I wanted it to, and the texture resolution is pretty solid. But none of that matters if the game sucks, and this game is great. countering feels intuitive, hitstreaks feel smooth, albeit a bit clumsy to initiate once you unlock a few of them. The stealth works well, even though I don't like having to use it. But the star of the show is, without a doubt, the Nemesis System.
See, there are big important Uruk-Hai called Captains. And above them are the five Warchiefs. And you can encounter the captains moving around the world. They all have unique strengths and weaknesses, and they all have their own "levels" that change when they beat you, or at least don't die. They have infighting, they'll attack each other, hold feasts, trials by combat, and all of these things will cause them to level up, which you will be informed of when you die. But these are not theoretical off screen events. You can break up the Orc feast, or poison the Grog to kill your target. You can release extra beasts into the wring during a trial by combat and overwhelm a captain. You can go to a place where a strong captain is executing a weak one and gang up on the strong captain before killing the weaker one yourself. And between all of these events, captains remember you. If they kill you, they get stronger and remark on it. If you kill them, they will often come back looking all scarred up and give you a piece of their mind (which is typically along the lines of "Hey dick, you threw me into a fire and stabbed me in the neck.")
Another neat thing the game does is promote regular Orc mooks to captain if they manage to kill you. This is cool because it constantly replenishes the captains and gives you a target to hate. I became most invested in the game after I was killed half a dozen times by an Orc named "Pug the Whisperer" who was immune to melee attacks and needed to be shot with arrows. Since I could only carry four, that wasn't enough. So any time I saw him, I had to bail immediately, especially since he started hanging with "Garak Dwarf Eater" who had this big ass sword he'd rock me with while I was trying to set up a shot. At first, I was just trying to kill them to get the rune drop for my sword, but after a couple hours, I found myself stalking them through the valleys of Mordor, trying to find a strategic angle. Hoping Pug would walk past something explosive I could torch him with, or waiting for them to get far enough apart I could focus on meleeing the hell out of Pug's big mean guard dog Garak Dwarf Eater, who, judging by his name, eats goddamn Dwarves. Somewhere along the line, I started getting really invested in this game, to the point that when I finally vanquished Pug, I felt something I hadn't felt from a game in a long time. There was a sense of accomplishment, yes, but the main feeling was vindication. I felt like I'd gotten revenge on an actual thing that had done me wrong, and that was weird. At the end of the day, that is why I am recommending this game. It gave me the emotional fulfillment I hear about from people who play Demon's Souls without making me want to drink bleach and eat razor blades.
It's the best game so far this year, and the finish line is in sight.