There are at least 40 hours of gameplay in Shadow of Mordor across its many side quests, challenges, and achievements, but if you’re just interested in completing the main campaign, you can finish it in less than 20 hours. I personally plan on going back and building up Talion’s skills more, and will certainly be picking up the DLC as it comes. The ending to the campaign definitely leaves the story open for more fights, while wrapping up the main reason Talion and Celebrimbor came together in the first place.
Speaking of skills, there’s a nice sense of progression to Talion as you play too. You’re definitely not weak in the early hours, as you can easily dispatch dozens of orcs at a time, but by the end of the campaign you have some truly wicked skills at your disposal. Caragors can be mounted with a single shadow strike, you can chain stealth kills together by turning invisible, and the epically brutal finishers you unleash when your sword becomes wraith-charged come fast and furious. By the end of the campaign, I felt seriously overpowered… and that’s a good thing in a single-player RPG.
There are two skill-trees to progress down as you gain power, one that focuses on wraith abilities and one that focuses on Talion’s fighting prowess. It’s entirely possible to unlock all of each, so don’t worry too much about choices. Just focus on what you like to do first. The one area of the game’s progression systems that could use a little more work is the Rune System. As you play you’ll pick up Runes off of captains and warchiefs you kill, essentially Mordor’s “phat lewts”. The problem is, their actual upgrades are often minimal or obtuse, and I wound up not caring one bit which ones I had equipped. The actual skill trees of Talion are far more important.
Shadow of Mordor is a visually stunning, narratively compelling action RPG that had me enthralled from start to finish. This is how you make a non-canon story in Middle-earth feel like it belongs, like it could be its own book or film in the world Tolkien created. It’s violent, it’s addictive, and it controls like a dream. The camera oftentimes gets lost in the terrain, and sometimes Talion’s free running gets stuck on random objects, but minor quibbles aside… Shadow of Mordor is one polished experience. Everything about it is a loving homage to Tolkien and Assassin’s Creed, and I can’t wait to see where they take Talion and Celebrimbor next. There are few fights more memorable in games than your battle with the Great White Graug or The Hammer. While the final fights against the Blackhand and the Tower are less memorable due in part to their overreliance on quick-time events, the whole package more than makes up for the late-game shortcomings.
If you’re a fan of open world RPGs, love the idea of killing and enslaving orcs, and aren’t too worried about tweaking Tolkien to serve the purpose of fun, you owe it to yourself to buy and play Shadow of Mordor. Talion’s quest right up there as one of this year’s best and Monolith should be very proud of their work.
- Gameplay: 9 – Some of the best combat around, and the Nemesis system is awesome. Can get repetitive later on in the campaign though.
- Visuals & Sound: 9 – It’s hard to make ugly Uruks look pretty, but Monolith did it. Mordor and Nurn are rendered in gorgeous detail. Voice over work by Troy Baker is fantastic, and whovever wrote and recorded the orcs deserves a special sort of award. Only some minor awkward animations and lack of memorable music and clipping keep this from a 10.
- Longevity: 7 – While getting 100% could take 40 hours or more, the story alone is only about 15 hours long. YMMV. Definitely replayable with the procedurally generated nature of the Nemesis System.
- Value: 8 – With the time to complete in mind, I’d say Shadow of Mordor is well worth the price of admission. If you only play the campaign and don’t tackle the side missions, perhaps a little less so. We’ll see how worth it the DLC are down the road.
- Polish: 8 – Very few bugs are present in Shadow of Mordor, but the camera and free-running of Talion could have used a little more baking in the oven. The former gets lost on terrain and can cause some deaths, while the latter makes Talion a sitting duck at times. The UI and overall usability of the game is near perfect.
Editor’s Note: This is the first review we’re doing without the Innovation score. It’s been decided that innovation should be a part of the overall Gameplay category, and that a game’s innovation shouldn’t factor too largely in a game’s score. A really solid MMO or RPG can still be a great game, even if it borrows heavily from those games which came before it. In the future, Innovation will be gone from both MMO and RPG reviews. Additionally, the “Aesthetics” category has been changed to “Visuals & Sound”, with the UI factoring now into the Polish category. The Social score for MMOs will remain the same, giving us 6 categories on MMO reviews, and 5 for RPGs.