It’s a bit early to call it in October, but Shadow of Mordor just might be the game of the year. Set between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, you play Talion, a ranger killed by the Black Hand of Sauron in a botched attempt to summon an elf wraith. The wraith instead becomes bound to Talion, who, as a result, cannot die. With his new powers, Talion travels across a gorgeously-depicted Mordor in search of revenge.
Although the initial plot seems clichéd, Shadow of Mordor honors Tolkien’s lore and considerably fleshes out Sauron’s rise to power. As an open-world game, Talion can collect unique artefacts (which uncover more Middle-earth lore), free slaves, ride catlike caragors or fight roving bands of uruks to gain intel on their leaders.
Although the game design echoes both Assasin’s Creed and Batman, it’s the Nemesis System that makes Shadow of Mordor stand out. Each uruk has a unique name, appearance and personality, and their dialog and immunities are tailored to their previous interactions with Talion, so it gets personal. When Talion dies, the uruk who killed him gains power. The uruks also squabble within their own hierarchy, with considerable turnover, and Talion can influence these power plays. Later, he can brand uruk leaders to make them sleeper agents. This keeps the game pace brisk, changes player gameplay strategy and makes getting revenge on an offending uruk all the more satisfying.
Side quests are important for developing Talion’s skills to take on increasingly difficult enemies. However, the sheer number of uruks can be overwhelming, and you don’t feel over-powerful. Aside from the Last Chance minigame, combat mechanics are finely-tuned. Talion’s range of methods to dispatch uruks makes the fight sequences look elegantly—albeit gorily—choreographed.
Coupling side quest diversity with the Nemesis System means that Shadow of Mordor offers players a unique way to play the game and develop Talion’s skills. Even though the main storyline is about 15 hours long, there’s still plenty of content to dive straight back in and continue playing. Shadow of Mordor truly demonstrates how games in its genre should develop in the future.