Although the release of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was not widely considered to be the first big event of the fall season, that will soon change. Reviews for Monolith and Warner Bros' Tolkien adaptation are in, and thus far they have been almost exclusively positive.
In fact, very few critics have had anything bad to say about the game. Most have explained how the Batman: Arkham City combat meshes well with a well-realized open world, and praised the story for making clever nods to Tolkien's universe.
But the real gem of Shadow of Mordor appears to be the game's Nemesis System, which tracks game-wide vendettas between the player and various enemies. It's something that Monolith has been touting since day one, and were keen to show us back at E3 2014, but seeing it in the full game apparently tips the experience over the edge.
Check out a few choice quotes from some critics around the web.
IGN (Dan Stapleton)
"Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor stands out from other open-world action games by putting a great new layer on top of the trail that Batman blazed. I was surprised at how well it integrates its excellent combat with rewarding feedback and progression not just for me, but also for my enemies. I’ve had many more memorable and unpredictable battles with its randomized Warchiefs and captains than I did in the scripted campaign missions, and I expect those to keep on coming."
Polygon (Phil Kollar)
"Shadow of Mordor is that ultimate rarity. It tells a fun little story that would be enough to hold up most games on their own. But it also provides all of the tools to ensure that the most interesting tales to come out of the game will be the ones that were not scripted."
Game Informer (Matt Miller)
"Shadow of Mordor is an unabashedly challenging and complex experience, sometimes at the expense of accessibility. I’m thrilled that we’ve got a new franchise in the fertile ground of Tolkien’s fiction. Add in a borderline revolutionary approach to mission design, and this is a firm foundation for a stellar new series."
Gamespot (Kevin VanOrd)
"This is a great game in its own right, narratively disjointed but mechanically sound, made up of excellent parts pieced together in excellent ways. I already knew what future lay in store for Middle-earth as I played Shadow of Mordor; I'm hoping that my own future might one day bring another Lord of the Rings adventure as stirring as this one."
Games Radar (Lucas Sullivan)
"Shadow of Mordor isn't just the greatest Lord of the Rings game to date--it's also one of the most entertaining open-world adventures around. By the time you've concluded Talion's journey, you'll feel like you've experienced your own personal odyssey through Middle-earth, locked in a struggle against adversaries that only you truly know. The thrill of undermining the Uruks' hierarchy doesn't last forever, but the memories of the villains it generates will stay with you for a long time."
Joystiq (Alexander Sliwinski)
"What would have otherwise been a competent sandbox game with solid combat mechanics and an interesting twist on a known fantasy world is elevated by the Nemesis System. Shadow of Mordor is the strategic person's action game."
EGM (Andrew Fitch)
"The landscapes and exploration elements might not be on the level of some of its open-world brethren, but Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor delivers one of the best games to feature the intricate lore of J.R.R. Tolkien—and its innovative, addictive Nemesis system could redefine the way developers design enemy encounters in the future."
Games Beat (Jeffrey Grubb)
"At its core, Shadow of Mordor is a fresh, exciting game. I love what it does to make every enemy feel special. Open-world games like Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto haven’t really done much to expand on the possibility for emergence in the genre. They look like a pair of Casio digital wristwatches compared to the complex moving parts of Shadow of Mordor’s intricate cuckoo clock. But like any complex system, it’s easier to notice the effects of one misplaced component. The resurrecting bosses undo some of Shadow of Mordor’s magic, and the story and characters don’t do a ton to help. I don’t want to turn everyone off of it. I think Shadow of Mordor deserves a huge audience. I like it bordering on loving it. Had Monolith tightened up a few things, I’d probably love it bordering on considering it one of the best games of the year."
Eurogamer (Aoife Wilson)
"Its open world doesn't always feel as big, busy or varied as you'd like it to - an understandable problem given that much of Mordor is a barren wasteland by definition - but you see Tolkien's uniting influence running through everything from the darkened slopes of Orodruin on the horizon to the skittering ungol underfoot. "
Destructoid (Chris Carter)
"Ultimately, like many ambitious projects, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor doesn't deliver on everything it sets out to do. Although Monolith's heart is in the right place and the studio honors the lore, it doesn't really add anything that's worth seeing outside of some solid open world gameplay. It isn't a bad game, it just feels far too repetitive for its own good. "
Despite only a handful of outliers, it seems critics are in a general consensus that Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a quality gameplay experience. More than that, though, several reviews point out that the Nemesis System is one of the few gameplay mechanics that truly feels next-gen. They praise the combat and the open world, sure, but it's that Nemesis System that seemingly pushes this game over the edge. It sounds like we have our first definitive must-play title of the fall, and it's only late-September.
Have the positive reviews for Shadow of Mordor changed your interest in the game? Do you plan on buying, renting, or skipping it? Let us know in the comments below.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Morder releases September 30, 2014 for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.