With the much-anticipated release of Middle-Earth: Shadow of War getting everyone excited to return to Middle-Earth, we decided to go back a few years in time and played the franchise’s first installment – Shadow of Mordor. The first trip into Mordor was met with much praise and acclaim when it was originally released back in 2014 and this still holds up well to this day. Also, if you want our opinion on Shadow of War we’re hard at work getting the review ready, so check back soon, but in the meantime, let’s take a moment to look back as to where the adventure into Mordor all began with Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor.

This take on the classic J.R.R Tolkien novels presents a much more somber and darker atmosphere than many of us are used to from the Lord of the Rings novels and films Our hero, Talion, a Gondor ranger is executed by Sauron’s forces along with his family but is brought back to life by an Elven wraith known as Celebrimbor to take vengeance on the Dark Lord and his minions who inhabit the lands of Middle-Earth. Overall, this isn’t the same level of quality from what we received from the classic novels, but it does hold up rather well and gives us an expanded view of what could be happening in the world of Middle-Earth. The characters are well portrayed with some familiar faces returning as well as new ones who are introduced throughout the campaign. It all makes it seem as though this tale could co-exist side by side with the canon story, but with all the creative liberties taken, it’s probably much better viewed as a standalone story.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor’s combat takes its inspiration from other action-adventure games like Batman’s Arkham titles and the Assassin’s Creed franchise and rightfully so. The swordplay against uruks does play much like the aforementioned titles but does far more than simply copy the formula of those franchises. With abilities to tackle any situation and different tactics to choose from makes it far more diverse and combat far less repetitive than what we’ve seen so far from the Arkham games or Assassin’s Creed.

As I mentioned, the game offers a ton of great tactical approaches to different situations and fluid combat, but it is easy for plans to go awry forcing you to go to battle through less than desirable means. The odds of taking on a swarm of uruks, especially early on can feel daunting and will usually end up with you failing at defeating the horde of mobs chasing you down and can be quite frustrating when you need to restart, but the game does at least make dying to feel a bit more satisfactory than other titles. When a uruk ends up delivering the final blow to Talion, you aren’t just simply greeted with a Game Over screen but will be “reborn” of sorts and that same uruk who slaughtered you will be promoted higher in Sauron’s army. Dressed in flashy new gear and abilities, these new, higher ranked uruks will pose a far greater threat next time around and will be integrated into the story, adding new characters and depth to go along on your journey.

This only makes it far more appealing going back and taking on the same pestering uruks who got the better of you, but there is much more you can do than simply face off against the same mob of foes. As you progress, you’ll be given the ability to take over the minds of these higher ranked captains and while it is far less challenging, the reward of having a high-ranking uruk in Sauron’s army onto your side makes it much more rewarding than the latter.

Shadow of Mordor offers a variety of side missions and challenges throughout the land of Middle-Earth and should be tackled by anyone to get away from the more simple slaughter of uruks found throughout Middle-Earth. These challenges range in both difficulty and task, offering players who are looking for a much more simpler game the option to skip over these or if you are the completionist type, taking on the harder missions will offer a far greater reward. While going back and tackling these missions and side-quests was fun, they do tend to vary in difficulty far too often. One mission can be as simple as taking down a band of enemies, while others are more escort based which can prove troublesome since the person in question may decide to go in his own route rather than being escorted like the mission said. Still, going through these missions, even the less thought out ones will prove to be rewarding and satisfactory once completed.

The dim lands of Middle-Earth are fantastically well crafted and recreate the sense of roaming the mythical world that we read in J.R.R Tolkien’s fantasy series of novels. It is heavily inspired by the fantasy tales, but also takes many creative liberties to better fit the darker, more somber tone of Shadow of Mordor and does a great job in being its own story that departs from the more traditional Lord of the Rings and Hobbit stories that we know and love. What is even more visually impressive is the character models and how the variety between the uruks help add to the lands of Middle-Earth. Each enemy is unique to themselves and falling into battle at the hands at one of Sauron’s minions will make one simple uruk into a higher ranked villain with much more personal backstory, furthering both the games creative liberties and ever-evolving lore.

While Shadow of Mordor is still as stunning as it was in 2014, the game does suffer from a few glitches and framerate drops that hinder the overall experience, albeit, only marginally. There we on an occasion that Talion or a uruk had got stuck against a wall or some other characters had stuttering animations which needed a full reboot when these issued occurred. Again, nothing all too deterring, but more of a nuisance when in thick of combat.

We all know the game’s everlasting legacy as it was considered as one of the year’s best titles in 2014, winning many awards and approval by gamers and critics alike. Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor doesn’t do anything all too groundbreaking for the action-adventure genre, but what it does it does it exceptionally well. Its combat is fluid and rewarding, characters are personal and diverse, and a beautiful, familiar world to roam freely in, the game’s basic elements are the highlights of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor.

Now, if you haven’t had the chance to play Shadow of Mordor over the last three year’s, you can pick it up through various stores or on Steam from prices that range from $19.99 CAN to $29.99 CAN which is great value for a title that delivers so much in just roughly 20 hours. Your experience won’t waver too much if you choose to skip the first title and go straight to the newest installment in Shadow of War, but it is highly recommended in going back to Middle-Earth’s first take to get the full experience of what the franchise has to offer.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor was one of 2014’s biggest hits and still delivers on that exciting experience year’s later. The different ways and freedom to roam and tackle any situation through the lands of Mordor bring this fascinating take on the classic Tolkien series together with true excellence. Middle-Earth: Shadow of War will certainly make its own legacy, but the franchise’s first installment in Shadow of Mordor is still one of greatest titles of the last few year’s.