When Shadow of Mordor was first teased, all of those months ago, there was a lot of talk about how it resembled Assassin’s Creed. I must admit, when I first watched the gameplay demo, I too saw Assassin’s Creed shining through. Since playing it, however, that Assassin’s Creed Deja Vu hasn’t made an appearance… well, not to such an extent that I’d call Shadow of Mordor a clone of the game. Sure, it’s similar in places. But, in the most part, Shadow of Mordor outdoes Assassin’s Creed in almost every aspect. I know that there will be a good few die hard Assassin’s Creed fans that would want my head for that statement. But still, for me at least, Shadow of Mordor is the better game. Alright, so Assassin’s Creed is a franchise now, more than it is a game, per se. It’s just that Shadow of Mordor has so much going for it – it’s the game that every Assassin’s Creed title should have been. Another bold statement, I know. But I’m going to try and back it up, nonetheless.
The most noticeable triumph of Shadow of Mordor is its combat and the combat mechanics. Warner Bros have clearly learnt a lot from their Batman games, and this really shines through in the combat for SoM. The combat for the game isn’t just fun, responsive and addictive; it’s Lord of the Rings to a T. How many times have we watched or read about our beloved Lord of the Rings characters dispatching groups of Orcs? How often has one character sliced, slashed, crushed, bashed and decapitated their way through their enemies? That style of combat is what Lord of the Rings is all about. The few against the many and the might of the righteous against the forces of evil. When you play as Talion, it feels as though you’re fighting just like the heroes of Middle Earth, swinging a sword like Aragorn or firing arrows akin to Legolas. Not only that, but you can slice off arms, legs and heads whilst fighting, with a real variety of execution style finishers. Throw in the Wraith powers that Talion has been graced with and you have one of the most satisfying combat experiences that I have ever had the pleasure of playing. It’s like the combat of Batman and Assassin’s Creed had a lovechild, and that lovechild was then wrapped in a LOTR skin. It really is combat bliss.
The Enemy Hierarchy (Nemesis System)
Shadow of Mordor hasn’t done a huge amount to change the action role playing genre, but something it has really evolved is the way in which you challenge and manipulate the enemies. It’s not easy to explain exactly how it works, but the game relies heavily on a hierarchy. At the bottom of the hierarchy are low level Uruks, your basic grunts that make up the majority of your enemies. Above them are a few layers of low level and middle level captains who can prove difficult in combat. Above them are the high ranking captains who often prove challenging to best in battle. Then, at the top of the hierarchy, are the Warchiefs, with five of whom making up the top layer. There are two different areas in the game and each area has its own hierarchy. These two areas are unaffected by each other, but their hierarchies will change and evolve over time whilst you’re away. In essence, any Uruk can become a Warchief. When you’re killed by an Uruk, their power levels will increase. The more power they have, the higher up the hierarchy they can move. Potentially, a low level randomly generated Uruk could become a Warchief, in the right circumstances. That’s what I love about this game. It’s an ever evolving, ever changing network of enemies – and each of them can be manipulated to your will (provided you have the right tools to do so).
The Evolving World
Much along the lines of the enemy hierarchy, the evolving world really sets this game apart. It goes hand in hand with the hierarchy, really, as what you’re faced with in Shadow of Mordor is a world which is truly alive. The enemies feud between themselves and, depending on how the feuds resolve, those enemies will either die or grow in power. An Uruk that killed you at a measly power level of 5 could end up being one of the most powerful Warchiefs you’ll face during the game. This is because the captains will battle and bicker between each other, and if you so choose you can get involved in the events to ensure that the captains either succeed or fail. The more often you’re killed by the same character, the more powerful they will become. Not only this, but they’ll also remember previous encounters and their appreance will even be changed by burns during combat or scars from battles with you (assuming that they’ve either won or fled from previouss encounters). The evolving world helps bring a completely new level of immersion and tactical planning to the genre. You’ve got a set path with the main missions, but when it comes to the open world of Mordor, anything can happen. What’s more, you can pick and choose who you fight and how you fight them. I intentionally rose an Uruk in power to Warchief, just because I could. Then, when I was bored of manipulating him and using him to help me take down the other Warchiefs, I just left him to his own devices. It’s a world that will be shaped by your actions, but it will change and shift without your influence too. It really is a unique playing experience.
The story really helps bind this game together. Personally, whilst I did enjoy the story missions, I found that I preferred exploring the world and taking on the Warchiefs in my own time. Some of the main missions left a little to be desired, but you could tell that they were necessary to, first off, tell the story and secondly to help you understand how this vast world actually works. To make the most of the game you need to tackle the main story missions, and they’re not so bad once you get in to them. The fact that the main missions weren’t the focus of my attention is a real testament to the game. I often find, especially with Assassin’s Creed, that there isn’t much to hold my attention outside of the story, so the fact that an action adventure game can grab my attention outside of the main story is quite an achievement. Whilst the main missions can be a little lacklustre, the story itself is executed to perfection. It’s engaging and exciting, and it places itself perfectly into the Lord of the Rings lore and the main narrative of the books/movies.
For me, this is how I would have loved Assassin’s Creed to be. The hierarchy system (Nemesis System), makes perfect sense for a game based on assassination – even though Shadow is heavily swung towards revenge killing. The intelligent, evolving enemies would be perfect for a game like Assassin’s Creed, giving you the opportunity to kill your enemies how you would want, rather than on a set linear story. When Shadow was first teased, a lot of people were saying that it looked like an Assassin’s Creed rip-off (myself included), but after playing the game I can see how it is its own beast. If anything, I’d say that Ubisoft need to look at Shadow of Mordor for inspiration. This is a game that has really brought something new to the table, which is incredibly difficult to do these days, and even harder to do with a well established and much loved franchise like The Lord of the Rings.