I was not sure I still had it in me.
To take on a "big" game, dive in, learn, be engulfed and push straight through all challenges.
But I did.
Between first picking up the controller and watching the credits roll was very close to forty hours of gameplay, and I enjoyed as close to every second as you can in a game which actually challenges you a bit.
A celebration of game mechanics
Sometimes, I feel as if I mainly play games for story. Middle earth: shadow of Mordor had a story well told, to be sure. But above all, it was a game which delighted me by delivering very fun and solid mechanics and then trusting them all the way through. Abilities were introduced one at a time and were always available and valid. There were no special missions or fights where I suddenly had to do without some of my abilities, just a gradual addition of more and more possibilities. Even the last boss battles, as they were, delighted me by being fun and true to the overall form instead of some super difficult variation or special cases.
The core fighting and movement mechanics really were a joy. The first stealth kills felt good. The first battles too, even if they were a lot more chaotic. Flailing around more or less madly, failing to execute the things I vaguely remembered being told about minutes ago. Sticking at it, and feeling the pieces starting to click into place, one by one. After a while came that first large battle where I really got into it.
I was in a stronghold, hiding somewhere up high from the horde of enemies I had brought on by setting off the alarm. By mistake or intention, I ended up in the middle of that horde and to my own surprise found myself chopping them up, one by one, into very tiny pieces. The exhileration of feeling like an actual big battle in a good fantasy action film, of being an incredible fighter prevailing against tough opposition. I consider myself bad with combo systems and timing, but once I learned my options I had no real problems doing what I wanted in battle. Apart from when I got stressed and forgot which button was which, and I find it very hard to blame the game for that …
Let's hunt some orc
The open world also worked well for me, I always felt free to go anywhere and to find my own ways of doing things. Very rarely was I forced into a set path, and those times an exact path was part of a mission I enjoyed the clear guidance the game presented.
Sneaking and stealth was a big part of the game, and those mechanics worked just as well as all the rest. Forced stealth can really annoy me, but here I got to feel smart and in control and never like too much precision or retries were required. Sneaking being fun connected very much with why general movement and exploration was fun too, with very nicely made three dimensional spaces to get around in, and modern intelligent mechanics which make you feel in control instead of demanding exact precision to jump or stay on a narrow ledge.
Challenge or not?
I think some would consider the game on the easy side, but for me the difficulty level was just perfect (and I wonder if there was some amount of dynamic adjustment or not). Sometimes, I felt behind the curve and more challenged. Those times, I became a bit weary of challenging opponents, not wanting to see them increase in power by my failing to defeat them. Then I went and did something else for a while, had some fun and noticed my brain chewing on what I might do better and which abilities I might use more to overcome the challenge. Then the dips every now and then of running into tougher and more varied opponents, needing to take a bit of thought to adjust fighting styles. Remember more possible actions. The open world and game mechanics also made it fun to attempt things again, or to just rush around and chop up orcs and uruks aimlessly inbetween.
To wrap up, I have to mention the visuals. To these eyes still getting used to Playstation 4 graphics and full HD gameplay, everything in this game was a joy to look at (and listen to). It moved silky smooth, too. Mordor is a horrible place to live (and in dire need of renovation), but oh my does it look good. In all weathers and at all times of day.
I almost felt disrespectful not stopping to just take in the views more often.