(Sorry, more technical difficulties so this is a day late too).
You'd be forgiven for seeing a trailer for Shadow of Mordor, seeing it's blend of Assassin's Creed's movement and the Arkham series' combat and writing the game off as little more than an average tie in with few ideas of its own. You'd also be gravely mistaken.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is hands down the best game on Xbox One and PS4 so far. Why? Well it feels like a current gen game rather than a very pretty last gen game.
Shadow of Mordor sees you play as Tallion, a Gondorian Ranger sent back from death with Wraith abilities to seek revenge on those who killed him. The story is very basic but it does the job, Gollum shows up so you're aware it's set in the Lord of the Rings universe (it's set between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) and it unfolds much as you would expect. It's ok but nothing special.
What is special is the gameplay. Sure you free run like Ezio, climb towers to uncover the map like Ezio and fight and counter like Batman but the whole style is a near perfect version of these games' ideas and the addition of Wraith powers, like slow motion and mind control make it feel truly special. The ideas are borrowed but perfected and the blend is incredible. Add to this a Rune system for upgrading weapons and a skill tree for your abilities and you have a very robust combat and RPG system.
The side missions also deserve consideration simply because they aren't dull! Freeing slaves is great fun, infiltrating an Uruk stronghold to gather Intel on a captain is exciting and the Nemesis system is the most current gen thing I've experienced yet. The Orcs have captains and in the start screen you see them all set out in ranks, you discover them and then gather Intel on them, learning their strengths and weakness as well as their level of power. When you're ready you can attack. Success sees a captain fall, normally to be replaced by a newer one and you acquire runes to upgrade your weapons. The hierarchy is generated as you go so when a captain falls he is replaced if an Orc proves to be worthy, just as in a real army.
The catch is if they kill you they gain more power, can be promoted and often acquire new equipment. This makes it harder to kill them. Likewise if they manage to escape then next time you see them they will be displaying scars and marks from your previous encounter. It feels real, it feels natural and it's incredibly deep and immensely rewarding. It's the game's big hook and it's utterly ingenious. Then they may also try to attack or outdo each other to get promoted. There'll be feasts, ambushes, executions and all sorts of events which you can try and stop. Stopping them can prevent captains from acquiring power. Failing to stop them means they gain power.
The graphics during the gameplay are stunning, Mordor can be much more varied than you'd think and little touches like mud splats as you run are greatly appreciated. The recently added photo mode even allows you to pause the action and take pictures of beautiful scenery or, if you're that way inclined, brutal violence. Sadly the cutscenes don't fair so well, the framerate struggles and the scenes are far from smooth. It's honestly quite poor and is not something I'd expect to see in such an otherwise amazing game.
Interestingly none of the music from the films is used here, a new soundtrack was written for the game and I have to say it is very good. A lot of it is quite understated but it swells when needed to compliment the action. The voice work is also good, with the orcs and Uruks having very distinct voices and personalities.
Aside from the graphical hiccup in the cutscenes and the fact that the game does start off rather slowly, there isn't much to say about this game that's bad. If you want to play a AAA game on your current gem systems that doesn't just feel like an extra pretty last gen game then this is the game for you. It's a serious contender for Game of the Year and it's definitely the best game to come out so far for these two consoles.