By Clint Mize
Though "Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor" doesn't hit stores until September 30, MTV has been hands on with the ambitious game - which takes place after the events of the upcoming "The Hobbit: The Battle Of Five Armies," and before "The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Rings" - for the past week.
It's a deep gaming experience that's steeped in the movies, heavy on action and an easy to jump into whether you're a Tolkien fan, a movie fan, or just want something new and exciting for your game system.
Here's everything you need to know... Because one does not simply walk into "Shadow Of Mordor":
Lore of the Rings
"Shadow" -- as its name suggests -- is somewhat set behind the scenes of the immense world created by J.R.R. Tolkien's mind. The story takes place after the events of "The Hobbit," and leads up to "Fellowship of the Ring." Thus, you'll have a cameo from some mainline characters within the plot, and in flavor text for collectible extras.
The plot itself boils down to a revenge story. You're Talion, an elf who is part of an elite ranger outfit guarding the gateway to Mordor. A massive attack on your outpost -- lead by the fearsome Uruk-hai -- devastates your base and the agents of Sauron perform an insidious ritual taking your life, as well as those of your wife and son. However, the spell has a secondary effect of binding your spirit with a mysterious Elven wraith which allows you to traverse a ghostly reality and seek retribution.
Know Thy Enemy
Mechanically, there are a bunch of systems at play. So, without getting too overbearing, we'll just get to the meat of it.
If you're familiar with the "Assassin's Creed" games, then you'll be right at home here. We're imagining it went down like this: "Hey guys, how about 'Assassin's Creed' but, like, 'Lord of the Rings'."
Weirdly, it wonderfully pays off.
You're tasked to hunt down the various captains of the orc army, gut them, and methodically move up the chain of command with the intent of bringing your murderers to justice. The brilliant thing is that each captain has their own strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, every orc leader is a randomly customized enemy. It's up to you to track, recover intel, and discover how best to eliminate them. It's quite thrilling to become the thing that monsters fear. When you learn your target's weakness and finally take them out, you feel like a real champion!
To keep things even more interesting, when you defeat higher commanders a power vacuum emerges, in which other baddies compete to become leader. Furthermore, if you fail a mission and are killed, the orc who bested you becomes a captain.
Talion has been an elite ranger keeping a watchful eye over the inner workings of Mordor for years. His experience has been honed after battling brooding orcs and thus he's become a complete bad-ass.
Combat consists of slashing sword attacks, which chained together grant devastating kill and area of effect moves. It apes a lot from the "Batman: Arkham" series, but mostly, it works well enough, though Talion is pretty fragile and you'll need some deft fingers to get him out of sticky situations.
Quest to Be the Best
There are also tons of side-quests and ambient objectives which unlock powerful upgrades for your weapons - as well as Talion himself. There's a simple skill tree that opens as you progress through the story missions. You'll also gain experience by taking down orcs, rescuing people, and discovering hidden objects. Some of these seem like busy work, but others can lead to gaining intel over the orcs. Other collectibles will even enrich the lore behind the game - and movies.
Lord of the Scene
Is it weird to the say that the dead realm of Mordor is... kind of beautiful? Indeed, the visuals for "Shadow" are quite excellent, transporting you right into the fantasy world of "LOTR." Talion moves realistically as he runs, sneaks, climbs and kills. Each sword swing sends a spine-shuddering thrill as you see the evil orcs beheaded. Over all, animations are fluid and ground the high fantasy title in reality.
Additionally, the game just plain looks great. We played on the PS4 version in awe of the gorgeous visuals.
Being a "LOTR" product, you would expect a great soundtrack. And Monolith does their job well, with sweeping scores reminiscent of the movies. The voice work is pretty good, too, and brings life to the characters and story.
'Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor' certainly won us over. The idea that you could combine "Batman" and "Assassin's Creed" into a fun and engaging "Lord of the Rings" game seems odd... But it works. This game truly is the lord... Of video games.
"Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor" hits stores everywhere on September 30, from Warner Bros. and Monolith Productions.