A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a very challenging, extraordinarily violent melee action game targeted at adults. Players engage in sword-, dagger-, and bow-based combat, during which the game's hero, a human ranger named Talion, dispatches orcs in slow motion, creating deluges of blood and making severed heads fly through the air. His motive is vengeance for the death of his family, but his violent actions and willingness to achieve his objectives at almost any cost risk making him as much of a monster as those he kills. Orcs drink grog and become unruly.
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What's it about?
Set between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, MIDDLE-EARTH: SHADOW OF MORDOR tells the story of Talion, a human ranger ordered to protect Gondor from the evil growing within Sauron's realm (Talion is an original character who never appears in J.R.R. Tolkien's books). The opening scenes of the game see Talion and his family slaughtered at the hands of orc warlords; the ranger is returned to life to exact vengeance upon those who killed them. He's paired with an elf wraith named Celebrimbor, who becomes his constant companion and gives him superhuman talents, such as the ability to see things the living can't and to survive long falls. Together, they cut their way through Mordor, an open world filled with orc captains and war chiefs to be defeated, human slaves in need of rescue, and various quests. The decidedly bloody third-person action earns players experience and ability points that can be spent on new powers, as well as upgrades for Talion's sword, dagger, and bow.
Is it any good?
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor feels like what you might get if you dropped an Assassin's Creed game, a Batman game, and Peter Jackson's Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films into a blender. There are collectibles to find, towers to climb, and a special type of vision to be exploited, as in the Assassin's Creed series. Combat feels strongly inspired by the fighting in Batman games, with Talion surrounded by mobs of enemies as players tap the proper buttons to counter and dodge incoming blows while pulling off 40- and 50-hit combinations. And there's no denying that the humans, orcs, and elves as well as the dialogue and the setting all strongly recall the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films (if not necessarily the books).
It sounds like good fun for mature fantasy fans, and it frequently is. But some things just feel off. The world is surprisingly small and ugly. Mordor isn't a pretty place in the books or films, but it has a majesty and spectacle that this virtual version lacks. Plus, the narrative consists of a series of too-short mini-movies shoddily stitched together. Dramatic opening and closing scenes aside, it has neither the emotion nor memorable characters found in Tolkien's stories. And the combat, while often terrifically satisfying, can sometimes be challenging to the point of frustration, especially since enemies only get stronger if they defeat the player. The makings of a great game are here, but Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor never quite manages to get beyond the stuff of an average action RPG.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the impact of violence in media. How do you feel after playing a violent game? Do you question whether the violence in the game was justified? Do you ever try to find solutions to problems in games that require less or no violence, such as sneaking around enemies?
What do you think author J.R.R. Tolkien might think of this game, which tells a new story in his Middle-earth universe? Do you think the game captures the atmosphere of his books? Do the new characters fit alongside those written by Tolkien?
- Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One
- Price: $59.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Not available online
- Developer: Warner Bros. Games
- Release date: September 30, 2014
- Genre: Role-Playing
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- ESRB rating: M for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.