Along with our group-selected 2014 Game of the Year Awards, each member of the PC Gamer staff has independently chosen one other game to commend as one of 2014's best.
When Mordor was first revealed, I was pretty mean about it on Twitter. It looked to me like an Assassin’s Creed knock-off that made dumb use of the source material. But I decided to play it anyway, ‘cause I kept hearing good things about the nemesis system. I’m glad I did. This is actually one of the year’s most straight-up fun games.
But while almost everything in Mordor is derivative, that nemesis system gives it an identity of its own. It’s a stroke of genius, really. Enemies in games are usually little more than meaningless drones that you absent-mindedly hack your way through, but here they have the potential to become actual characters, shaped by your actions. If an uruk beats you, it gets stronger, and it remembers your encounter. Watching a lowly grunt in Sauron’s army transform into a battle-scarred veteran as it repeatedly kills you is both infuriating and fascinating. You hate them, but you also kind of respect them.
Okay, so it’s a fairly artless, simplistic use of Tolkien’s world, focusing more on bloody decapitations and Peter Jackson-flavoured combat than anything else. But I got over it, and I find brutalising those orcs—and I’m aware this’ll make me sound mental—hugely satisfying. Sneaking up on one as it taunts weary slaves and divorcing its head never gets old, especially with that amazing photo mode. Click the left stick (if you’re playing with a gamepad) and time freezes. You can then use a free camera and a powerful suite of tools (depth of field, FOV, etc.) to stage and take screens. At least a quarter of my time with the game has been spent twirling the camera about and taking pics. You can see some of my favourites here.
The combat is totally Arkham City. The climbing is straight out of Assassin’s Creed. The mission structure is like any number of open world games. But the remarkable thing about Mordor is that it doesn’t feel lazy or by-the-numbers. They’ve taken all these different elements from other developers and confidently made them their own. The result is one of the most enjoyable open world games I’ve played in a long time. The story is a bit stupid, and there’s no reason for Gollum to be in it other than as a service to Rings fans, but I found myself invested in Talion’s quest for vengeance regardless. Hell, I didn’t even mind Troy Baker, whose constant presence in games I find a bit illusion-shattering.
I like smart games that do new things, but I’m not always in the mood for that. Sometimes I just want a well-made, easy-to-play, fun action romp, and Mordor was that game for me this year. Although the last time I played it I had to rage-quit after some bastard uruk killed me for what felt like the hundredth time. But I’ll go back, and I’ll finally kill him, and it’ll feel amazing. But it’ll also be a bit sad, ‘cause as much as I want Ûkrom the Reckless’ head on a spike, we’ve also shared some special moments together.