I don't really know what to say about this game. I played for nearly 20 hours, and it certainly didn't feel like 20 hours, but I'm not sure whether that's because I was having so much fun, or because there's not actually that much to do before you find yourself rinsing, repeating, and killing killing killing your way to the end.
There's really 2 halves to the game - the half where you grasp the controls and prance around a rocky, muddy wasteland slaying anything that moves and indulging 2 or 3 types of missions; and the half where you prance around a rocky, verdant meadow slaying or brainwashing anything that moves and indulging 2 or 3 different types of missions.
To be fair, I did enjoy myself for a large part. But it was upon staring slackjawed at the screen as the woefully anticlimactic boss fights came and went in about 15 seconds (no, I am not exaggerating) that I realised that this game introduced one interesting game mechanic, rehashed a number of established mechanics (albeit well enough to make them functional and fun) and then offered nothing else other than a sandbox with which to exercise these abilities for as long as it took you to turn yourself to the main story. Which would be FINE if the story had a satisfying conclusion, or the sandbox didn't feel so much like a literal pit within which the developers had simply thrown some enemies leaving a lot of empty space with little else filling the gaps.
I sound confused because I am. Monolith make well-designed and fun games, and Shadow of Mordor is both those things. But given that the review that convinced me to buy it stated that 'no-one could feel short-changed with the amount of content on offer', I felt remarkably short-changed. The Nemesis system is fantastic, there is no denying that, and it offers some of the most genuinely intelligent and dynamic enemies in gaming history. It truly is a gaming milestone. However, nearly everything else about the game comes from somewhere else - the parkour was better used in Assassin's Creed, the combat is straight from the Arkham series, the mission structures are ripped from nearly every open-world game in existence, the skill trees are old, the XP system is old, and on top of all that the enemies are practically deaf and blind...And it's this lack of true depth that left me feeling like the purchase wasn't worth my money. By the time I had finished playing, I felt like I had explored everything this game had to offer, and there was no reason for me to return. I didn't DISLIKE my time, but I didn't feel compelled to play again.
I suppose I have been spoiled, because I bought Alien: Isolation at around the same time, and that's a game that left me feeling like I could play again and have an entirely different experience a second time around. I paid almost the same amount of money for this as I did that, and I don't think I'll go back again, which feels like a waste - like buying an $80 meal to find that you've eaten it before elsewhere, and cheaper.
To make a comparison, I feel that Shadow of Mordor is like the first Assassin's Creed, in that it introduces a fantastic concept (in this case, the Nemesis system), but the game itself exists only as a framework for that concept, and offers little else that the player can't get elsewhere. To make another comparison, the issues I have are the same as with Infamous: Second Son, for those of you that have played: The MEAT, the things that you are actually given to do, all fall within 2 or 3 different categories, and all those categories involve killing a bunch of enemies that are fundamentally the same, and as such the environment becomes little more than a set of boundaries within which you can kill these nameless creatures, and your character becomes little more than a tool with which to kill.
There are open-world games, and there are open world games. Games like GTA IV keep me coming back because every time I play I can turn a corner and find something new. The beauty of the first two Arkham games was that the city itself had such personality that there was always something to see for those who cared to look. Unfortunately, I feel that Shadow of Mordor falls into an increasingly large pile of games that have a lot of style and little substance. Which is a shame because there is so much right about the game - the characters are great, the animations are wonderful, the voice acting is excellent, the action is gory and adult, the Nemesis system is truly a step forward, and the LOTR lore is explored in a really engaging way. However, after a short time the game feels repetitious, the environments feel big and empty, and the story ends as if the writer fell off a cliff mid-sentence and someone had to smash together what they thought the ending was supposed to be.
I'd love to recommend this game, especially as it is evident a lot of money and hard work went into its creation, and for a cheaper price I absolutely would. But for the good of the consumer, I can't recommend it for full price - if this game were a bag of chips, the product would be delicious, but the bag would be mostly air.