-Stephen Collier, contributing writer
One thing I have learned about my fellow MC students is that many of them share my love for the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, specifically “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.” Both the movies and books are held in high regard, but a branch of entertainment that Middle Earth doesn’t shine so bright in is video games. For years, it’s seemed like all “Lord of the Rings” console-based video games have been doomed to fail or be considered lackluster at best. However, the most recent Middle Earth video game, “Shadow of Mordor,” sought to break the curse and be the first successful console-based Tolkien game, both in sales and reviews.
I will go ahead and get this out of the way: “Shadow of Mordor” is an excellent action game. With combat reminiscent of the “Assassin’s Creed” and “Arkham” games, each battle is very open to choice while maintaining a dynamic feel. A well-balanced blend of stealth, ranged, and melee combat can be found at the core of the game. No matter what your preferred play style is, each outcome feels almost like a scripted outcome, making the conquering of Orc armies and captains feel very cinematic.
I do not want to focus on the action though. One look at the scores that the game has been receiving will tell you that it has achieved success as an action title. Though the story is not directly canonical with the Lord of the Rings series, it still follows the Middle Earth lore, so the need for a good story was relatively high.
The narrative takes place between “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” and follows a ranger of Gondor name Talion. Talion’s family is murdered in front of him right before his own death. However, he is revived and bound to the wraith of an elf named Celebrimbor. The two seek out their revenge on the forces of Mordor, challenging the leaders of the Orc armies along the way. The narrative is very different from a typical Tolkien story, being a story of revenge rather than adventure. Though I wouldn’t consider the narrative itself to be on par with Tolkien’s original work, it does tell a good story that remains grounded to its roots.
Where I believe the game truly shines is in its less-praised features and subtle connections to the original lore. The sounds and visuals used to portray the wraith realm feel like they were taken straight from the films. For those who are more interested in story, relics from the past are hidden throughout the world map to encourage exploration. These relics can be further examined to reveal their own brief narrative.
While “Shadow of Mordor” isn’t perfect, it managed to be the first critically praised Middle Earth game, giving fans like myself hope for the future. “Shadow of Mordor” doesn’t retell the story that we already know. Instead, it respectfully reimagines Tolkien’s lore to tell a story that has been somewhat of a gray area until now.