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Shadow of Mordor hands-on: The Lord of the Rings game we've been waiting for?

Ready for Shadow of Mordor?
Ready for Shadow of Mordor?
Permission to use photo given by Warner Bros.

If you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings series, and chances are you're a fan, then Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor may be what you've been waiting for. Sure there have been multiple attempts to create a video game version of The Lord of the Rings, but none of them have come close to delivering the immersive world you've wanted, until now.

I recently had the chance to go hands-on with Shadow of Mordor, and I'm pleased to say things are looking outstanding. Perhaps even, Game of the Year outstanding. Monolith Productions, the studio behind Shadow of Mordor, has clearly done a wonderful job of capturing the spirit, tone and wonder of what made The Lord of the Rings so amazing for millions. That's at least what our short time with the game suggests.

Shadow of Mordor features a lush, vast open-world, and lands players in parts of Middle-earth they've never journeyed into before. The section of the world we fought through was a rain-drenched, heavily vegetated land with rolling hills north, south, east and west.

As you may expect, Shadow of Mordor will have scattered collectibles across Middle-earth, but Monolith would not specify as to what exactly those will be. That said certain bonus items can be picked up by defeating enemies. When you've slayed them, orcs will drop loot for players to apply, making Talion that much deadlier. The aforementioned upgrades can only be found by defeating enemies and will not be scattered throughout the world.

Speaking of upgrading Talion, Shadow of Mordor features a deep, yet simple skill tree. It works much like Borderlands' skill tree does. I found an exceptional amount of choice and depth to the skill tree, providing lots of options for how I upgraded Talion.

Enemies populate the world in mass quantities, encouraging thoughtful traversal to be utilized by players versus mindless exploration. Orcs are everywhere, so you'll want to be smart about how you move through the land. The slice of Shadow of Mordor we journeyed through had Stonehenge-like landmarks, which were all guarded by groups of enemies.

Oh and did we mention you can ride a freakin' troll? Yeah, that's in there and it's amazing! In addition to the troll riding, players will be able to enjoy a fluid climbing system. Some of the controls for this were a bit quirky, but the system itself works great and players will enjoy it.

Players need to weed through the hordes of orcs that lie along their venture through Shadow of Mordor. In order to locate specific bosses and targets, you'll need to use your Wraith Vision. This helps you pinpoint certain targets that need to be eliminated. Wraith Vision also serves as an alternative form of traversal and allows players to move from one point to another quickly. Remember Eagle Vision for Assassin's Creed? It's sort of like that, except it has more depth to it.

There's one lasting lesson I learned the hard way in my time with Shadow of Mordor. Orc officers or captains will remember if you are defeated in combat against them. I tried to go after a captain that was above Talion's current skill level and got destroyed by the captain and his men.

While Shadow of Mordor will allow you to go after enemies outside of your skill level, it's not wise to do that. One reason why it's not a good idea is because they remember you and what you did, but they also level up each time you are defeated. It's certainly in your best interest to only go after captains that are of a similar level to you.

Controls are definitely a concern I have, though. There are quite a few different sets for players to be aware of, which may cause some headaches when you first get into the game. By the time Shadow of Mordor launches, hopefully Monolith will have refined these a bit more because they were a hindrance during our brief time with the game.

I found the stealth components of Shadow of Mordor to be very enjoyable. While some of a player's stealth will be made up of how they play, there are various objects scattered throughout the world for players to take advantage of. Hiding in a bush was one example we found.

One of the tactics that players will use when they are in combat is marking surrounding enemies. When you are going up against, say, eight or nine enemies, some of the lower level foes can be marked by Talion. Once marked, they then fight for you, easing pressure a bit. If you are skilled enough, this is one way to defeat an enemy that is above you in skill.

Middle-earth features some environmental elements for players to interact with. For example, I shot a Wraith arrow at a fire some orcs were huddled around, and it promptly exploded, killing them all at once.

My time with Shadow of Mordor was a blast and really gave a wonderful sneak peek into what this game will ultimately be. I have high hopes for Shadow of Mordor and look for it to challenge the rest of the industry for Game of the Year. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor launches on Sept. 30 for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC.