When I heard that a Game of the Year edition of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was coming out, I got the tingles. From my toes to the tip of my ears. That is to say, I felt the time was now right to see what was up with that sleeper-hit that everyone was talking about during the end of 2014’s podcast deliberations. I’m always a sucker for GOTY editions, especially since I’m ten out of ten times late to the party, and these end-all, be-all packages provide me with, ideally, everything I need to get the full experience, such as DLC and now useless pre-order bonuses, just many months later. Count me in.
However, when I got to GameStop and asked the duder behind the counter, he informed me that the GOTY versions were only for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Snartleblast and snakes. Or rather–for the love of Varda! Us ancient tortoises stuck in the “previous generation” were simply out of luck. Still, I had driven all the way over to this brick-and-mortar building and didn’t want to leave empty-handed, and so, with Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor still tickling away at my mind, I picked up a vanilla copy of it for the ol’ Xbox 360.
Back during all the praising and glorifying of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions were released a month or so after the current generation, with rumblings about how they were altered to not have the Nemesis system, a major element of the game that has you taking down Uruk and Orc captains and watching as the Dark Lord’s army shifts and shapes accordingly. This kept me at bay certainly, but no one seemed to care enough to cover them and confirm this. Well, as far as I can tell, the Nemesis is in the Xbox 360 version, though it might not be as robust or dynamic as the current generation; for example, I haven’t heard any mass of Uruks chanting their leader’s name to intimidate Talion, which is a big bummer.
Grinding Down readers should know how deep my love for J.R.R. Tolkien’s work goes, though many of the vidoegame interpretations fail to impress. I think LEGO Lord of the Rings so far is the only one I feel any kind of amazement towards. Definitely none for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring or Aragorn’s Quest. Anyways, from what I’ve gathered, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor does little to enhance Tolkien’s lore, but is still a ton of fun to play. I can concur with that sentiment, with one major caveat: it is a ton of fun to play, but not on Xbox 360.
Five paragraphs in, and I’m now only beginning to talk about the game proper. Welcome to my blog, new readers! This is par for the course. Right, here’s the four-one-one. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is an open world, third-person action romp, where the player controls a ranger called Talion who seeks revenge on the forces of Sauron after his wife and son are murdered. Initially, Talion is mortally wounded during this early massacre, but the wraith of the Elven Lord Celebrimbor is able to use his powers to keep Talion alive, gifting him magical, wraith-like abilities in the meantime.
I hate to do this, but I want to get to the part where I rant about this version’s quality so here’s the gameplay in comparison terms: running around the world is like Assassin’s Creed on speed, combat is prompt-heavy and taken from Arkham Asylum, stealth is not very deep, and in between story and side quest missions you can collect plants, artifacts, and ancient runes for experience points and lore. I’m enjoying Talion’s journey so far, but am taking my time to collect what I can and learn the ropes when it comes to fighting large groups of enemies or hunting down nearby captains. In fact, I have to take my time. Yes, thank you, that is a great lead-in into…
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor‘s menus are atrociously slow to load, to the point that I am constantly reaching for my phone to do something while I wait for the opportunity to do something in-game to appear. The problem? You use menus a lot in this digital Middle-earth, whether it is scrutinizing your intel on Sauron’s army, upgrading your weapons with collected runes, unlocking perks for Talion and his skills, or engrossing yourself in the appendices. Oh, and don’t forget the map, if you are interested in seeing what events/collectibles are around you at the moment. It’s so lousy that, at certain points, I’ve had to restrain myself from hitting pause and just go forward without doing whatever I thought I could do quickly. Couple this with textures frequently not loading (or taking forever to load in, even during cutscenes), choppy audio issues, and some hitching, and you have a less-than-impressive version of what many proclaim to be an impressive game. The Xbox 360 version also has a 5 GB mandatory install, which nearly filled up my hard-drive.
That all said, I won’t be moving into the new generation for a good while, certainly not until Fallout 4 is ready to be purchased and played, so this is the best I can do for now. It’s not unplayable, but like with Gandalf’s trepidation about entering the Mines of Moria, I wish there was another way around. For now, I’ll get back to tracking Gollum, freeing slaves, and cinematically slicing off the heads of Uruks with unequivocally cool names.