Disclaimer: At this point, I have finished the main story and have dabbled into much of the sidequests.
This review will be split into 4 parts and each will be rated out of 10, with a final average score at the end:
The story is full of cliches and tropes, such as but not limited to a badass ranger having his family killed in front of him, but survived and goes on a roaring rampage of revenge. Nothing new in particular, but I believe it can be excused by the fact that it was Tolkien who kickstarted much of these tropes and trends.
The writing takes creative liberty of gutting the lore often. While it is a subjective as of what it does to the story, I believe that the bending and breaking of the lore (i.e. elves cannot be wraiths) works to the strength of the game, giving it a more interesting story. To sum it up, the story is a good story, yet lacking in originality. The worst part is probably how rushed it is towards the end, but nevertheless it is a memorable plot anyways.
The gameplay can be viewed as something of a cross of Arkham games with a smidge of Assassin's Creed thrown into the mix. I personally view the criticism of it being an "Assassin's Creed ripoff" as invalid, largely because of the fact that the only thing that is a rip-off of AC is the free-running mechanic, which is smooth for the most part. It does have stealth kills, as does the AC franchise, but nowadays stealth kills/takedowns are so common in gaming that it can hardly be considered a rip-off, and even if it is, it is a very well done rip-off. It is also published by WB, so I don't believe it to be wrong to rip-off another game under the same producer. (Batman Arkham Asylum/City/Origins)
The combat is much more challenging than either AC or Batman, in my opinion. While it is still relatively simple to completely obliterate orcs, there are usually huge numbers, especially in strongholds, and berserkers and shields make it quite difficult to just breeze through. While there are instant kills in the form of stealth kills and finishers, higher level captains/warchiefs are much more resistant and immune to this, making it a real challenge to figure out the weaknesses of certain uruks, meaning that it is challenging, but not unfair.
This brings us to the nemesis system. It is very well designed and gets rid of a bit of the repetitiveness of the game. This system means that all the captains and warchiefs are unique. Some are strong, some are weak, and if one kicks your butt a few too many times he might even become your arch-nemesis, meaning that he will keep coming back! My personal nemesis was Ratlug the brave, who was immune to everything but explosions and ranged attacks, forcing my to turn him into a pincushion every time I face him. What's worse is he has the Ambush trait, meaning that he keeps showing up in the worst of situations, such as when I'm fighting another captain or warchief, or when I'm running for my life from a horde of ghuls, poisoned and heavily injured. I would not like to divulge much as it would spoil the game for you.
The lack of bugs and glitches is also amazing. In my 15 hours of playtime, I have not run into a single bug and only one glitch one time, where I tried to drop assassinate a captain but was stuck frozen mid-air above the ground for a few seconds, before the game teleported me to the spot next to my target, who was unharmed.
I was unable to run this game in Ultra, as it requires an absurd amount of Video RAM (6 GB, holy moly!). However, the texture quality, while not ground breaking, is still rather decent most of the time with the occasional terribly textures, but nothing immersion killing
The cutscene quality is reasonably high, and weaves itself seamlessly into the in-game visuals. I believe a good amount of it is pre-rendered, but it is very hard to see the difference. Overall, the visuals are not hugely amazing, but it isn't too shabby either, and the landscape and map design in general is beautiful.
I have had some audio cutoffs and stutters in cutscenes, but I believe that is most likely a framerate issue instead of a sound issue. The sound effects are top-notch, you can feel immersed with every single sword blow, arrow shot or explosion as you shoot a barrel full of putrid uruk grog, really making the gameplay feel very smooth or impactful when it needs to. The soundtrack is also quite a fine tune.
The voice acting is flawless, as I can't find a single thing wrong with it. Every single line of dialogue was delievered with clarity and emotion, and the voice actors have done a very good job. From the protagonist and the antagonist, the supporting cast in the main quest to the idle musings of random uruk grunts or the complaints of the human slaves littered around Mordor, not a single line of dialogue struck me as strange or not well-delievered.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a great game. While it lacks a lot of originality, it makes up for it by using the right ideas from the right places and implementing them very well. While the story is nothing to write home about, the way it is delivered to the player through the visuals and the sounds makes it a memorable one, with a host of memorable supporting casts, especially a certain dwarf!
The gameplay is smooth and it is very satisfying to hack at an uruk and send its limp body flying or to decapitate a warchief, but here lies the problem; the gameplay is good, but it is also repetitive. It means that you will most likely not get to do much else in this game but run to a place, kill some uruk, rinse and repeat. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable experience.
[FINAL VERDICT: 9/10]