Over the several months since its release, minor pieces of DLC have been released for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, but the prized package that fans have been clamouring for is The Bright Lord. This short campaign story puts you in the armoured boots of the legendary Celebrimbor: the Elf wraith that Talion is bound to throughout the main story, which granted him his supernatural abilities. Down the line of the narrative, it's revealed that Celebrimbor actually fought Sauron during the Second Age of Middle-earth with an army of Orcs using the One Ring's power, but how exactly did it go down? This is what The Bright Lord is all about. However, does it build upon our 2014 Game of the Year with substantial new content and by successfully remedying a few issues that we had with it – or is this a lacklustre follow-up that should be cast into the fires of Mount Doom?
The premise is fairly straightforward: you force Orcs under your lead by slowly gaining control over Sauron's Warchiefs until you come face-to-face with the villain. Besides several spats between him and war journals that you can dig up that give tiny glimpses into Orc culture and history, there are hardly any new surprises with the story. While this may have been a missed opportunity to produce a compelling plot for such an important moment in the Lord of the Rings lore, you see a side of Celebrimbor that's quite frightening and philosophically intriguing. While this portrays him as a foolish and unlikeable character, it's intentional to show why he fell from grace due to the One Ring's influence. It's worth watching unfold just to see how he became the vengeful, angry wraith that we encounter in the main game.
While the primary objective of branding five Warchiefs to face Sauron sounds easy enough with Celebrimbor's immense power, you'll be shocked with how difficult it is to subdue them and their captains for the first two hours of gameplay. Soaring at the highest levels and having more gruelling traits to boot, the Orcs are no pushovers since major battles will usually result in 20-30 enemies assaulting you with several captains in the chaotic brawl. Planning strategies before entering a fight and familiarising yourself with all of the moves is essential. While the difficulty levels out halfway through the experience, this will definitely scratch the itch of those who thought that the main game should've been more challenging.
It's a good thing that Celebrimbor already has most of Talion's abilities and upgrades, too, though he does handle a bit differently than the Gondorian Ranger. Celebrimbor lands faster and more powerful shots with arrows, but cannot slow down time briefly. He can gain health by killing Orcs that he's branded, teleport, and so forth. The most fun addition is utilising the One Ring, which grants you invincibility and unlimited combos, once you build up a meter by branding enough foes, that is. Gameplay wrinkles like these are appreciated as they add variety, and while we think that more could have been done to accomplish this, what's here is appreciated.
One of the major letdowns of the original game is that the last two boss fights are incredibly underwhelming in comparison to the first boss, so The Bright Lord makes up for this with a climactic showdown with Sauron. The guy is twice your height and can barely be touched as he swipes and slams his deadly mace, so he's an imposing force to say the least. Even the idea of facing this embodiment of evil is exciting in itself, so we would say that it's this package's highlight.
It's not without issues, though, since you're only able to attack Sauron when you activate the One Ring, which is fun at first, but it's a single, simple strategy to this whole duel. While Sauron does summon Orcs to his aid in epic ways that you won't expect, we wish that there had been more complexity to defeating the Dark Lord, perhaps involving the exploitation of the environment and other combative methods. It's still not as satisfying as the first boss fight, but somewhat makes up for the other two nonetheless. After you complete this, gain control of Mordor by establishing towers, defeat the Warchiefs, and mark off side missions, you're looking at 4-5 hours' worth of gameplay in total, which is satisfactory in relation to this expansion's price.
While we think that anyone who enjoyed Shadow of Mordor should submit to the Bright Lord's rule and purchase this DLC for the slight gameplay variations and advanced difficulty, those who aren't really drawn in by it might consider passing it up due to the low replay value and less than stellar storyline. Either way, it's more Shadow of Mordor with some slight twists, and that's still as good a reason as any to go there and back again with one of 2014's most triumphant titles.