Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor review

J.R.R. Tolkien meets Assassin's Creed in one of the year's biggest surprises

Tolkien's Middle-earth has provided rich pickings for games over several generations of console platforms, yet unlike the source material few have stood the test of time. This third-person adventure, nominally set between the Hobbit and Rings trilogies, is a deep and bloody cut above what’s gone before.

You get to play Talion, a Ranger of the Black Gate, returned from the grave by eldritch forces to a land overrun by Sauron’s hordes. Shadow… is a single-player (no co-op) title that can be tackled online or off, and in terms of game mechanism is not dissimilar to Assassins Creed; the fighting is fast and fluid. A torrent of DLC seems assured.

For cinephiles, there are enough similarities with the cinematic universe, including a photorealistic Gollum, for it to seem a coherent extension of Jackson’s epics. The graphical detail of the Mordor environment alone makes for a dazzling experience. The Nemesis System at the game's heart also bubbles with brilliance. It tracks your behaviour, shaping enemies and scenarios for an almost bespoke adventure.

On the debit side, this is a complex and unforgiving title early on, with a learning curve steeper than Mount Doom. You’ll despair as enemies quickly grow stronger while you carelessly fumble through the early stages. Stick with it, though, and you'll be rewarded. Shadow of Mordor is nothing less than Tolkien catnip.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Warner Bros. Interactive, Xbox One/Xbox 360/PS4/PS3/PC, £50 Approx