Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is not a Lord of the Rings game. There are no epic battles between a wizard and a balrog, there are no disguised female noblewomen slaying wraiths, and there are no hobbits singing jigs and jumping on top of cave trolls. However, having demoed Shadow of Mordor at Monolith Productions, I had not wanted any of that in the finished product.

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Sure, Peter Jackson’s films have translated well to a couple of titles, and some of our readers may have been satisfied by the more recent War in the North or Lord of the Rings Online, but there’s more to be had. What the Tolkien universe has needed to keep us inspired and excited is a logical, original interpretation of Middle-earth. Shadow of Mordor offers this originality by stripping the Tolkien world down to brains and blood, and the game is better off because of it.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor—not Destiny—is my most anticipated game of September. I’m taking the road less traveled in games media by honing in on a game that, rather than offering me a horizontally-expanded refresh of its series, integrates a gameplay-enhancing system for a fresh take. Monolith Productions has prioritized the preservation of hack-and-slash combat with a Nemesis interface and engine that gives more weight to players’ battle decisions and encourages them to keep mixing up how they take control of a territory.

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I visited Monolith at their Kirkland, Washington studios and spent the afternoon previewing Shadow of Mordor's gameplay and story.

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