'The Lord of the Rings' was written by JRR Tolkien in 1937. Despite having been published more than 80 years ago, it is an excellent work of epic fiction that continues to inspire entire generations of admirers of the fantasy genre. It’s also inspired the creative minds at Monolith Productions to bring out a Lord of the Rings game, the likes of which have never been produced before. EA brought out several fantastic versions of LOTR-centric videogames, including the three action-adventure editions named after their movie counterparts, and the cult classic The Battle For Middle Earth, but Monolith have attempted to plumb the depths of the unknown and have brought out a game that is sure to give its older counterparts a run for their money.
Set in between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, this RPG sees you don the mantle of Talion, a Ranger of Gondor, based on the character of Boromir from the books, and is sent behind enemy lines to gather intel on the orcs of Mordor.
He’s soon found out and put to death, though, and his body is revived by the spirit of Celebrimbor, the greatest of the Elven smiths of old, who plays a hugely significant role throughout the game: It was he who forged the three Elven Rings of Power, and after he’d been captured and tortured by the Dark Lord Sauron centuries ago, he’d been left to wander the realm of Middle Earth as a spirit.
It turns out that not only has the Sauron captured Talion, but he’s also imprisoned the Ranger’s wife and son, in order to put an end to Celebrimbor once and for all. While he does sacrifice Talion’s family to goad Celebrimbor into attacking him, the spirit instead merges with Talion’s body.
With both the Human and the Elf now seeking revenge, their corporeal form is now a hybrid of Talion’s incredible combat abilities and Celebrimbor’s immense magical prowess that is bent on seeking revenge for the injustices carried out by Sauron’s forces.
The game borrows heavily from Tolkien’s books, and serves as yet another testament to the depth and imagination of the great author, allowing the player to delve into Celebrimbor’s memories as you progress through the campaign.
Talion’s objective is simple: he wants to cause enough havoc inside Mordor for Sauron to take notice, and realises that in order to do that, he’ll need to eliminate the commanders of his army one by one, until he draws out Sauron’s elite guards, and ultimately, faces Talion in single combat himself.
It – as always – is a task that is easier said than done. Monolith have upped the ante when it comes to fighting foes in this game: gone are the mindless sword, shield and arrow-fodder that are standard in most RPGs. They’ve instead been replaced by a far more deadly and cunning brand of opponent.
Should you encounter an enemy and then retreat, you will be recognised the next time you engage him. Not only will the enemy now be tougher to kill – a ‘reward’ for your tactics, if you like – but he will remember the way you fought the last time and develop a fighting style that effectively nullifies your own, requiring you to constantly evolve your own combat skills.
Fortunately, though, there’s more than one way to dispatch a foe in Shadow of Mordor. There are many humans who operate in secret outside of the ears of Sauron’s minions, while there are – incredibly – some orcs who do not agree with their Dark Lord’s desire to dominate all of Middle Earth. Bear in mind that this is a game that is set during a time when Sauron’s power is not yet absolute.
In addition to the finest military training imparted to him in Gondor, Talion also has access to an arsenal of magical incantations provided to him by Celebrimbor, which allows players to either play in the template of a warrior, wizard or an amazing combo of these two signature RPG fighting styles.
While players might favour one style and neglect the other, the tougher enemies cannot be defeated by sword and shield or staff alone, and require a clever amalgamation of these two tactics in order to progress in the game.
This game is also the first to feature a Mordor that is not completely devoid of life. With Sauron yet to establish himself here, plenty of animals inhabit the grasslands (yes, grasslands) of his realm, though not all of them will be friendly to Talion.
While his sword and shield do provide a short-term quick fix, the use of magic to tame these beasts is recommended, as they can be used as mounts to traverse the length and breadth of the truly vast open world landscape that has been lovingly crafted by Monolith.
With an engrossing storyline, amazing plot, incredible graphics and superbly immersive characters – Gollum’s in there as well – Shadow of Mordor is a worthy addition to Tolkien’s already superb legendarium. And one that you must definitely play this weekend. — [email protected]
The Short and Skinny
Name: Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Producers: Monolith Productions
What’s it about: Bear your blade, and avenge your family as you bring justice to Middle Earth in yet another brilliant video game adaptation of the Lord of the Rings
Platform(s): Windows, Linux, OSX, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Where to buy: Steam, PlayStation Store, Xbox Marketplace
IGN Rating: 9.3/10