At first, it seemed to me that Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor would be a run-of-the-mill third-person fighting game that wants to sell copies based only on the franchise which it stems from. This is one of those times that I love being wrong.
One must understand that the premise of such a game could be seen as repetitive by many. What premise is that? Well, fight orcs, gain experience and improve your equipment then fight more orcs while fighting more orcs. Sure I can make it sound as repetitive as I want but the truth behind ME:SoM is far richer.
You play as Talion a ranger who is on the warpath of vengeance after losing his wife and son at the hands of evil (a combination of really bad humans and orcs!) and no this isn't a spoiler since telling you this is like saying "In Forza you race cars". So there. But you are not only Talion, more on that when you finally play this game!
I have always loved games where the hero is, well, an anti-hero! And Talion is a good example of one. You fight them nasty orcs... but you also terrorize them! That's right, you become a dark force of many sorts, channelling some Nitzsche on your way to fight monsters and becoming one yourself. The combat is brutal, unrelenting and brilliantly utilizes the fighting mechanics of the modern Warner Brothers Batman titles (same company publishes this, they are allowed and I am glad they did it). The way you treat orcs in this game makes you sit back a bit and reflect on yourself. You get in their minds, look at their thoughts then *chop* off goes the head... unless you wish to enslave it and keep it under your command.
It's really dark stuff which in combination with the premise of "a man that cannot die fights through ranks of evil looking for absolution" instantly made me think of that GOLDEN oldie Chakan: The Forever Man. A game that was ahead of its time, not in the way it played (standard fighting platformer) but in that it presented new aspects to the world of videogaming. There was plenty of alchemy and crafting which is now almost a prerequisite for any new game but back in 1992 this was different! VERY different. At the same time you knew that the character you controlled won his duel against death therefore he cannot die, hence why he is on this quest.
Talion presents us with the opportunity to be a very twisted man, no matter which way you look at it. You slaughter hordes of orcs for personal reasons while at the same time terrorising them in ways that even Aragorn himself might be taken aback by. And he knows plenty about slaughtering orcs even in a PG-13 environment, unfortunately. But that's just it... the same way that X-Men Origins: Wolverine gave us the opportunity to truly witness what happens when Wolverine strikes a normal person (see: GORE!), ME:SoM let's us experience the true slaughtering of orcs while throwing in a curveball by way of "You are a wraith, toy with them. Use them, enslave them, turn them against each other".
In the words of another great anti-hero, Marv of Sin CIty "I love hitmen. No matter what you do to them you don't feel bad". Instead of hitmen however, here we have orcs. And I LOVE being able to do all those terrible things to them. Here is where you take a step back and slightly analyse the above. Does feeling good about spreading terror and death makes it OK because I am doing it to an inherently evil race? Or should I be worried? One answer is "Don't, it's fiction and entertainment" and it would be absolutely right! I LIKE being able to play a character like Talion because he gives me the opportunity to "live out" things that I wouldn't be able to otherwise. THAT is what makes videogames great, a safe environment in which I get to be something I couldn't even dream of OR WANT TO in real life. Like watching a violent film or reading a book about things you would only want to read about! Check your morality at your desktop folks and BE ENTERTAINED!
ME:SoM let's you plow (WITCHER REFERENCE!) through literal ranks of orcs, smoke out their captains (who are ALL very well designed) and pave your way to revenge with orc tears and blood. Oh, the story was also written by Christian Cantamessa who was a lead-writer and lead-designer on Red Dead Redemption, which is what I call PROPER PEDIGREE.
TL;DR - 'You get to terrorize and slaughter orcs. 10/10'
- Frixos Masouras 2014
PS. YES, the only good orc is a dead orc. If you believe that to be racism then fantasy is not for you.