Middle-earth Shadow of Mordor PS4 1

2014's Game of the Year winner perhaps comes as a surprise, given that we weren't all that confident in its success when it was originally unveiled. Unsure if it was a movie tie-in or simply another in a long line of disappointing Lord of the Rings titles, a slew of intriguing trailers, conference appearances, and developer interviews meant that Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor slowly worked its way into our consciousness, and we're certainly glad that it did.

Playing as vengeful ranger Talion, you work to cripple the dark lord Sauron's army of orcs by putting down its monstrous leaders. Set in a relatively open world, you're free to tackle your enemies in any way that you want, taking out patrols using stealthy tactics or running into the fray with sword in hand.

Indeed, it's all about the gameplay when it comes to Monolith Games' fantasy romp. Boasting brilliant combat and skill trees that eventually forge our rugged hero into a force to be reckoned with, slaughtering orcs in intense close-quarters clashes is at the heart of the adventure.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Review
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor isn't perfect. The somewhat repetitive nature of the side content and lame final acts prevent it from achieving our top score, but do not mistake us when we say this, because it's one of the best games that we've played this year. It finds its own groove with its inspired yet satisfying combat, stealth, and open world navigation; it's one of the first Lord of the Rings games to take meaningful advantage of the property's world and lore; and it possesses a true stroke of genius with the Nemesis System. To put it another way, this game is like the One Ring: it'll take much for it to ebb away into the shores of time, but will surface in our memories for years to come due to its "preciousss" novelty.

But it's what ties into the act of killing uglies that really makes this release shine. Dubbed the 'Nemesis System', your opposition is randomised, and every orc, from foot soldier to war chief, has an identity and a set of strengths and weaknesses that you'll have to uncover before you take them on. The system isn't just a fancy outlining mechanic, either – it's at the very heart of the game.

By thinning the ranks, the pack shuffles, too. New chiefs move into place with new bodyguards and their own little crew, and the cycle begins again. You're essentially making your own subplots, creating rivalries with warriors who reappear on the battlefield with the scars that you gave them. Together with a decent main storyline, the dynamic nature of the game creates a fascinatingly engrossing vision of Mordor.

For a new property, Shadow of Mordor is impressive because of what it manages to achieve in terms of open ended gameplay. As the power of hardware increases, more and more developers are striving for game worlds that are increasingly dynamic and that react to your actions and feel alive even when you're not doing anything particularly interesting. Monolith Games' creation arguably takes this vision one large step further.

Do you agree that Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was the king of PlayStation consoles this year, or does it deserve casting into a furnace like a bothersome piece of bling? Grin or grunt in the comments section below.

[ Words: Robert Ramsey ]