An Unexpected Journey
The universe that J.R.R. Tolkien created has exploded in popularity since the emergence of Peter Jackson's take on Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. Not only did a classic fantasy tale take off with renewed sparks once again in book sales, it also inspired video games. A lot of them. The unfortunate downside to this is that so far, the games have seemed to be very hit and miss with some providing memorable moments for gamers and others being so abysmal that we banished them to Mordor to suffer... When Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was announced, it was met with mixed reactions which overall stabled out into baited breath stability as we waited to take a journey to the forbidden lands. Well, it's here, so grab your blade and set forth unto the horde. Not for glory, but for vengeance.
Trapped Between Worlds
Take on the role of Talion, a ranger and former guardian of the Black Gate set between The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings. Sauron slowly regains his strength as The Black Hand carries out his will behind these walls, and even go as far as to attack the massive gated wall that separates the dark land of Mordor from the rest of Middle-earth. It is during this attack that Talion loses what he holds most dear to him, before his own life is taken.
Unable to find solace in death, Talion finds himself alive and well once again with the aid of an elven wraith (we'll get back to him). Thrust back into the world of the living, this time in the land of Mordor, Talion is out for Vengeance. The Black Hand of Sauron, responsible for the attack, guides the Uruk from shadows. While the story is there, it seems to miss the mark in several ways, which isn't due to a lack of memorable moments or characters, but due to somewhat awkward pacing.
I found Talion and the wraith that shares his body (I won't spoil who it is, but chances are you may have had it spoiled already) to interact fluidly with each other. Ratbag, a low ranking Uruk thug with ambitions to climb the ranks provides a bit of comic relief in a dark atmosphere. You'll even see Gollum, and flashbacks reveal Sauron as he once was: Annatar. But for all the memorable characters, there are also forgettable ones.
Hate is a strong word
The Black Hand serves his purpose of moving the story along, but we never see deep enough into his character to hate him beyond the attack at the beginning. He fails to be fleshed out like the other memorable villains that we've seen through our times in Middle-earth and equates to about the same importance as the Balrog that Gandalf once fought; that is to say as a villain, he shall not pass.
His captains, The Tower and The Hammer, also don't have much to their characters. Even though this is perhaps intentional considering their place in the grand scheme of things, their design appearances are as menacing as one could expect from the more elite denizens of Mordor. Now let's go back once more to the Talion, the wraith, and where the story falls into the series of events and their canon status in the universe.
Allow me to pick up my shield, as I'm about to find myself right in the middle of the battle of 'Middle-earth Canon' that has been raging on since the creation of the films by Peter Jackson. Loyalists of Tolkien's original work against those who find it okay to interpret and expand, as long as the main story is left intact. Shadows of Mordor finds itself somewhere in between, in a piece of Middle-earth history never discussed in detail.
There are some parts that are clearly not lore-friendly. The subject of Talion's death and revival along with the elven wraith being the two most glaring things. For most others I will just say: go into it with an open mind. Some puzzle pieces will fit while others are forced to fit, and then there are some that don't fit at all. This causes the main story, as previously mentioned, to shine in some parts and become heavily disjointed in others. The main story may not shine brightly, but the story that the player can forge for themselves is a remarkable experience.
Addicting combat, side missions rarely become boring, Nemesis System much more than just a gimmick and adds another layer to the overall experience, great character interaction between Talion and the wraith.
Main story has awkward pacing and disjointed deliveries, most characters leave as quickly as they come, weak villain.