I PRESSED Y, DAMN IT.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a surprisingly mediocre game. I’ll try to review it a little later, but I want to take a little time to investigate one of the major sources of disappointment: getting the small things wrong. It shouldn’t be a big deal. After all, the small things are small things for a reason. However, the little touches in a game are often the most important and draw a line between fun and dull. For a game that got a Metacritic average of 84 and rave reviews from a number of users, Shadow of Mordor misses some of the tiny things that should make the game shine.
As my line above might suggest, one of the first issues is combat responsiveness. Shadow of Mordor pulls from the Assassin’s Creed/Batman school of fighting with timed button presses to fend off attacks. When it works, battles flow from one swing to the next with the player feeling like an unstoppable badass. What’s wrong then? The delay in responding to button presses. Pressing the appropriate button at the last possible moment doesn’t work because the game will ignore that button long before it removes the button queue above the enemy character’s head. This isn’t much of an issue in early combat, but as the game becomes more difficult, the small issue creates a large crack. With numerous enemies on screen attacking and a combat system based on chaining together hits, delayed button responsiveness destroys flow and make it difficult to access high levels of combat. The little thing becomes a big thing.
Towers serve as Shadow of Mordor’s fast travel system. Though no map is particularly large, towers allow the player to get around enemy patrols and pointless dead time between missions. Unfortunately, the towers don’t cover the whole map making some areas difficult to access. Often these areas are strongholds for enemy forces which means the area is both far from a tower and blocked by combat. This makes sense during a mission, but becomes frustrating when trying to nab collectibles. The player can’t take a break from combat (one of the best parts of collectibles), because the tower placement ensures that combat either must take place or be actively avoided. Whereas a player might collectible hunt in Assassin’s Creed for a break, they must leave Shadow of Mordor to accomplish the same task.
No joy in motion
Most open world games have a mechanic whereby the player can just enjoy running around the world and soaking in the sights. GTA and the Saint’s Row series have cars and radio stations. Assassin’s Creed has rooftops and the occasional pirate ship. Shadow of Mordor has…well….nothing. The player is confined to his feet most of the time and the occasional ride on a feral Caragor doesn’t help considering how inconvenient it can be to get on one. This doesn’t hurt basic gameplay as the maps are small, but it does hurt the downtime between missions. There just isn’t a fun way to get around the game which hurts when that’s all the player wants to do.
Small things often add up to big things when there are enough of them. Shadow of Mordor’s small things are often wrong and show an ignorance of what makes an open world action game tick. They take tiny bites out of the player’s enjoyment until only the game’s true strengths are any fun. Nailing the small things, particular in an open world game where the player will often want to mess around, is the key to making a great game. Sadly, Shadow of Mordor doesn’t and so isn’t that game.