Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
If you were doing a little gift shopping and spotted a video game titled Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, it would make total sense that you might pick it up thinking, "Oooh, this is that thing with hobbits!" So be warned: This very M-rated, violent battle-obsessed adventure isn't populated by little guys with big hairy feet. (Though we do run across a scrawny little scavenger named Gollum at one point.)
The focus, instead, is put on a human Ranger of Gondor named Talion. The game opens with a few flashback scenes that show us the love and devotion he has for his family ... just before he and they are all brutally murdered in a ritualistic execution. An evil fiend called the Black Hand has purposely sacrificed Talion and his brood as a means to grab some undefined dark power.
Talion's ghost is then magically bound to the amnesiac and nameless spirit of a once powerful elf. And it's up to the reconstituted Talion to use his own special fighting skills right along with the otherworldly wraith-like gifts of the elf to piece together the truth and somehow wreak deadly vengeance—which mostly amounts to killing every nasty and hideous orc and Uruk, berserker and ghoul you can find, ever-spawning legions of which galumph throughout this Middle-earth.
You must also slip in and out of the shadows of this open world while working your way through the hierarchy of captains and warlords in an ever-expanding army of evil. You break bones and carve gnarled flesh on the way to hopefully finding the main baddie, the malevolent Sauron himself.
If our hero dies along the way, he's instantly resurrected at a nearby wraith tower. But that also means some unknown brute will likely have been added to the ranks he must kill. And any leaders involved in his death will gain new powers and skills, making them all the harder to eliminate.
The gamemakers designed that ongoing bloody quest to be as "fun" as possible by giving Talion superhuman agility. With Assassin's Creed-like ease the Ranger can scamper up the side of crumbling towers and leap from building to building like a seasoned parkour master powered by Spider-Man's webs. When crouched up on an elevated perch he can then pull out his bow, slow down time itself and spill the brains of any head within range. He can swan-dive to the ground unscathed from dizzying heights to slaughter one of Sauron's minions. And he can crawl into nearby bushes and effectively disappear, only to leap out and rip open the throat of any passing enemy. Group skirmishes? That's part of the mix too. When taking on a captain out in the open, hoards of uglies will soon come running in to help and hurt with swords and daggers drawn.
Thus, the Middle-earth-related storyline quickly becomes a background buzz as you focus on figuring out how to best overcome your next target's skill sets, use the surrounding crumbling battlements and perpetrate yet another bloody assassination. Talion plunges his blades into eye sockets and lops off heads with practiced ease. Slow-motion slaughter is watched closely as torsos are splayed and craniums are cracked. Dark body fluids splash and spurt with each gut stab and neck slash. In fact, one of the Ranger's specialized hacking and gouging kill moves (called brutalize) is designed specifically to rip open a foe so gruesomely that it will make any nearby sharp-fanged bestial slayer run away in fear.
OK, I suppose if you were to press me, I would have to admit that you can see a certain side of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings in this game. But it would be only the bloody-crush-of-battle side of things, the roaring-clashing-forces-gut-slashing-crumple-over-and-die side of things.
The mountaintop moments, where you taste the crisp spring breeze and wait for rescuing Great Eagles? Well, that's another world altogether.