Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, the latest video game based on J.R.R. Tolkien's timeless Lord of the Rings saga, is just around the corner, and the reviews are starting to trickle in. In the months leading up to the game's release, the game's innovative gameplay intrigued some fans and critics, while its fast-and-loose approach to the Tolkien canon gave others pause.
For those who haven't followed the game's development, Shadow of Mordor is an open-world fantasy action game that focuses on Talion, a Ranger who gains the powers of an undead Wraith. The game will be released Tuesday, Sept. 30 for $60 on PS4, Xbox One and PC, with last-gen releases to follow later in 2014. While the Tom's Guide review is still underway, check out what some of the other major gaming sites had to say about the title.
Dan Stapleton took charge of IGN's Shadow of Mordor review, and adored the game, awarding it a 9.3 out of 10. The story and world felt satisfying, he wrote, but the dynamic enemy interactions made the title something special.
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"Whether you win or lose a fight, something interesting happens," Stapleton wrote. "I was surprised at how well it integrates its excellent combat with rewarding feedback and progression not just for me, but also for my enemies."
Stapleton's quibbles included ho-hum campaign missions, combat that's not as balanced as it could have been and a few graphical hiccups.
At Gamespot, Kevin VanOrd came down very firmly in the game's favor. Like other reviewers, VanOrd praised the Nemesis system, which provides unique enemies and relationships with those enemies at each stage of the game, as well as the overall combat system.
"Shadow of Mordor is a raucous adventure," VanOrd asserted. "This is a great game in its own right, narratively disjointed but mechanically sound, made up of excellent parts pieced together in excellent ways."
Although he did not feel they compromised the overall experience, VanOrd did have some fairly strong criticisms about the storyline and the game's pacing, its adherence to Tolkien lore notwithstanding.
At Polygon, reviewer Philip Kollar's praise for Shadow of Mordor was effusive to the tune of 9.5/10. Kollar suggested that other big-budget games for next-gen consoles could learn a lot from the title, especially the way it handles enemy AI.
"It's a surprising effort that successfully blends a strong plot and clear goals with the delightfully unpredictable elements of dynamically generated content," Kollar wrote. "It also provides all of the tools to ensure that the most interesting tales to come out of the game will be the ones that were not scripted."
Kollar's only complaint seems to be that the game's narrative started off in a clichéd manner and never quite reached the heights of the dynamically generated content.
The Escapist (4.5/5)
Greg Tito wrote The Escapist's 4.5/5-star review for Shadow of Mordor, and even as an avowed Tolkien fan, was very impressed with what he saw. For him, the setting and unpredictable enemy encounters were enough to catapult the game into greatness.
"Shadow of Mordor is the first game set in Middle-earth that explores new themes and executes mechanics that allow you to interact with Tolkien-esque characters in a truly emergent way," Tito explained. "The absolute best part of the game is the open-ended sections in which you interact with Sauron's army — that's where every component feels unique and wonderful."
Like other reviewers, Tito felt that the campaign fell somewhat short of the more open-ended Nemesis system, and that hardcore Tolkien fans might object to some of the thematic issues.
For Eurogamer, Aoife Wilson wrote in Shadow of Mordor's favor, giving it an 8/10. The Nemesis system, she said, was the game's best feature, combining intuitive stealth and action gameplay with lasting consequences.
"There's a lot of flexibility to enjoy here," Wilson wrote. "It's in this attention to detail that Shadow of Mordor reveals itself to be concerned with more than just lopping heads off overconfident orcs."
Even so, she felt that some of the controls (especially for mounted combat) were unintuitive, and even the excellent Nemesis system started to churn out orcs that felt very similar after a while.
Alexander Sliwinski at Joystiq was by far the most wowed with Shadow of Mordor, awarding it 5/5 stars. The combat system, he said, was a joy to behold. When coupled with the game's Nemesis mechanics and its story that turns Tolkien lore on its head, Shadow of Mordor added up to a game for the ages.
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"The game would be strong on the merits of its combat system alone, but what really makes Shadow of Mordor stand apart from similar action games is the Nemesis System," he wrote. "Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a well-paced sandbox game with a revolutionary new game mechanic."
Sliwinski nitpicked about the game's anticlimactic boss fights, but had few other complaints worth noting, and suggested that the game would please both casual fans and Tolkien diehards.
At the time of writing, Metacritic ranks Shadow of Mordor (PS4 version) at 85/100. This number will likely change as more reviews filter in. For the moment, the reviews on the higher end of the scale adore the Nemesis system and the setting's attention to detail, while those on the lower end believe that the game's scope is more ambitious than its delivery, or the storyline doesn't quite carry enough weight.
The bottom line from the first round of Shadow of Mordor reviews seems to be that if you want great combat and a glance at true next-gen enemy AI, this game is worth a look. However, Tolkien buffs seem split on whether the story is a celebration or a deconstruction of what the author intended.
Marshall Honorof is a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @marshallhonorof and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.http://www.tomsguide.com/us/shadow-of-mordor-primer,news-19620.html