Shadow of Mordor is an excellent third person action game that takes the best parts of the Batman Arkham games, places it in Mordor, throws in a little (of the best of) Assassin's Creed and some outstanding voice work and out comes an excellent game.
Here's the tl;dr Pros/Cons:
+ Looks great. Sounds great.
+ Exceptionally optimized. Don't be fearful of the requirements. I came across no bugs whatsoever.
+ Takes one of the best combat systems in recent gaming history and applies it to a world that it really excels in. Combat animations are brutal (in a good way). Sneaking up on orcs and/or mauling a large pack of orcs is fun throughout the entire game. Some awesome "orc death" animations. The sight of an orc head flying away never gets old.
+ Strong story in a world that is teeming with stories.
+ A TON of stuff to do. Sidequests, hunting, collectibles, challenge modes. Nemesis system essentially creates a neverending enemy hierarchy.
+ Encourages further reading of Tolkien.
+ Stealth is fun and easy to get the hang of.
+ Fun with Carigors! When you hear an orc say "It's a carigor!" Climb up high, and have fun siccing them on orcs.
- Story can be finished quickly unless you take your time.
- An absolute fart of a final boss fight. Total copout in terms of design.
- A smattering of quicktime events that are annoying and take you out of the immersion.
- Some forgettable supporting characters. Lack of Middle Earth races represented. Mostly just men and orcs.
- Respawning of enemies in areas cleared prior happen almost immediately and is another immersion killer.
- Game map (there are two sections, one opens later in the game) seems small for a game that is a 35 gigabyte download.
- A bit easy. Lack of a choice of skill level hurts replayability.
I'm writing this review shortly after completing the story. According to Steam, I have 20.3 hours invested into it. I did not do everything there is to do and I imagine had I taken more time I could easily have gotten 50 hours into it. However, I found myself into the story and enjoyed the missions a lot, so I kept at it especially after gaining one particular ability. I won't spoil it, but it starts with a "B" and you get it roughly 60-70% of the way into the story and can totally change how you approach any skirmish in the game, big or small. Needless to say "B" is awesome and plays a key role in the lead up to the final confrontations. I am on the fence as to returning to the game to finish the plethora of side missions and I am probably going to wait until story DLC before I do so.
Without going into too much detail of the story, the game is one that grabs you immediately. Put simply, the Shadow of Mordor is a story of revenge and the opening is done so exceptionally well that I was immediately engaged and wanting to destroy orcs within minutes of taking control of the main character, Talion. While the game does a decent job of keeping this interest, I do feel there were some shortcuts taken in almost every respect. The story is not immediately predictable, but does run into some typical cliches that may have been unavoidable. The big bad guys that are your true "targets" (they're not orcs) are more fearful in terms of their look than their bite once you fight them.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the game is what's being termed as "the nemesis system". What this means is that when you are defeated in battle, the orc that defeats you grows in power, remembers you, and you are encouraged to seek him out to exact your revenge. There is almost a neverending limit to orcs that get promoted, so as you kill one, another will take his place in the power hierarchy in essence creating a constant power struggle amongst the orcs of Mordor. They will even fight themselves, plot against one another, and you can essentially push this one way or another by the choices you make. Unfortunately, this system does not have an effect on the story and could almost be considered a meta game as the story missions are mostly unaffected by this system until nearer the end. Despite this, the nemesis system is one that I imagine will be copied and perfected by other games. I am already imagining something like this in a game of political intrigue, or with a terrorist mastermind who becomes stronger via the choices you make. This is an excellent mechanic that deserves to be explored more fully.
QuickTip: Focus on Ranger abilities first. They are integral to strengthening Talion.
Most of the enemies in this game are run of the mill orcs. Some are stronger than others (i.e. Captains) and require some aspect of a mission (kill X number of guys a certain way) before they appear. It is very Arkham-esque in certain respects as most of the foot soldiers are complete pushovers. That said, I found most of this game entirely too easy. The only times I felt truly challenged by my enemies was when they were completely overwhelming or I was stuck in a chokepoint unable to defend myself. You will die, but I guarantee you will feel "cheated" at times regarding your manner of death. The lack of a skill level selection hurts this game's replayability.
QuickTip: Run a benchmark when you first launch the game and experiment with the settings from there. I was able to Ultra everything even if the benchmark put me at high on everything!
All in all, I am extremely impressed by Shadow of Mordor. It's an engaging and fun third person action game in a familar world with great mechanics and some new ones that should be staples in future games. It's technologically sound, and while I felt extremely let down by the final boss "fight", the journey was worth it. I wanted Talion to succeed and that is half the battle in a game like this. When the player cares about the "avatar", you've got yourself a great starting point. If you are at all a fan of this world, you owe it yourself to play this game.