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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor's first reviews have gone live and they're a bit of shock. They suggest that this game deserved a whole lot more buzz this summer than it received.
Shadow of Mordor is currently sitting at an 84 average on Metacritic. That's surprising because I'm sure the game wasn't on a lot of players' radars. The pre-order numbers from June suggested it was tracking well below games like Destiny, Far Cry 4, and Assassin's Creed Unity. Most of the attention it did get was probably due to the Lord of the Rings license.
Anyway, reviewers are enjoying this open-world prequel to the LOTR trilogy. There were plenty of favorable comparisons to Batman: Arkham City or Assassin's Creed and those franchises' mixtures of combat and stealth. Critics enjoyed stepping into the shoes of undead ranger Talion and wielding his sword, bow and dagger. The combat's said to get even better in the second half when Talion has a range of magical abilities at his disposal as well.
The feature that reviewers really loved, though, was the Nemesis system. Each of the Uruk captains and warchiefs have different names, personalities and capabilities. You can encounter them in missions or out in the open world. They can grow in power over time if they kill you in battle. You can also help them advance by killing their rivals. Reviewers enjoyed the personal connection that the game created between the player and these enemies. The Nemesis system allows the player to live their own unique story through their encounters with these evolving foes.
There were some weak parts in Shadow of Mordor, though. The central plot of Talion's quest for revenge didn't impress many. Some critics also mentioned underwhelming boss battles, frustrating stealth missions and a bland game world.
One important thing to note about Mordor's first reviews is that they're for PS4 and Xbox One. Warner Bros. isn't supplying review copies for the PC version for whatever reason. The PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, meanwhile, won't be out until November.
For further reading, here's a range of positive and negative excerpts from reviews throughout the web.
"Basically, all of the Nemesis encounters are going to go like this: You walk up to a captain that generally can't be killed by a stealth attack, engage in combat, and watch as a small cutscene plays where the enemy exclaims a generic phrase like 'Sauron rules all!' Then 20 additional enemies appear, the player stuns the boss, combos him, and uses an execution attack while avoiding the newly spawned enemies. Repeat the process until he dies. Warchief fights are the exact same, except they also require some tedious basic quest to "lure them out" like "kill five archers." After a few hours of doing this, I became far too bored with the system to even bother hunting down enemies for a chance at a minor upgrade." - Destructoid
"But this invigorating combat and intriguing enemy hierarchy system exist in an empty-feeling world, and not even the lovingly written lore in the game’s appendices can inject much personality into Mordor. Some other missteps don’t help, such as a handful of frustrating checkpoint-free stealth missions or the fact that the final battle with a legendary foe is resolved through a short series of button presses. Boromir would not approve." - Toronto Sun
"Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is the rare Arkham clone that transcends its status. It borrows heavily from Batman: Arkham Asylum but does enough new, interesting and distinctive things that it doesn't feel derivative. The core gameplay mechanics are some of the most enjoyable I've encountered this year, and the game is fun from start to finish. A lackluster plot and odd use of the source material holds the game back slightly but not enough to interfere with the unadulterated fun of the core concept. Shadow of Mordor may not be the deepest or most meaningful game released this year, but it sure is one of the most fun." - Worth Playing
"My advice to anyone intent on picking up Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is simply to keep your expectations in check. It may be an open-world adventure, but it’s a fraction the size of, say, an Elder Scrolls game. Think 25 hours as opposed to 250 with a good deal of repetitive play. It delivers a new and original chapter in Tolkien’s – or, more accurately, Peter Jackson’s – beloved fantasy epic, but it doesn’t match the drama, memorable characters, or emotional resonance of the films. It simply fills in a couple of small holes in a much grander story." - Financial Post
"I particularly like the way enemies interact with each other and no matter where you go it seems like you’re doing a hero’s duty given that slaves litter the landscape and the Uruk have no business with them. So why not free some people while you’re climbing from building to cliffside? The map itself is divided into larger portions of land though each remains impressive in the sense that it will take players 20 minutes of even slightly distracted time to get from one end to the other. More often than not, you’ll run across a rune to pick up or even an incredible opportunity to tear into a stealth mission with precision." - GameRevolution
"The best part of the Nemesis system is how it dynamically creates stories all your own. At one point, after taking down an Uruk Warchief, one of his bodyguards ran away. Not content to let him survive the encounter, I chased him down. I referenced his weaknesses, as obtained by interrogating a lower-level thug, and found that he was invulnerable to ranged attacks. That ruled out striking him with an arrow to slow him down. Instead, I had to give chase, looking for rocks to leap over to trigger a special dash. Just as I almost caught up, a roaming pack of Caragors (large, carnivorious beasts) attacked him. I could have left them to finish him off, but by that point I was insistent that the kill was mine. I helped take down the beasts, ostensibly saving his life so I could be the one to take it. That's the kind of story that didn't come from any author. The game gave me the tools to write it myself." - Shacknews