I have managed to play the game for about 15 hours by now and I beat the game the other day. I still have many more abilities I want to unlock in order to become the ultimate BA but I feel as though I have enough information to put forth a general opinion of the game.
So far I am loving the game. The graphics are beautiful and it's just fun walking around admiring the landscape; From the arid Mordor crags to the more lush, farmable area of Mordor that apparently exists. From the quaint goblin towns to the vast fortresses where you have to sneak from parapet to parapet to avoid the wrath of a hundred orcs. It really is a fun world. That being said, I of course would have loved to see more areas. A more dedicated forest area or northern area would have been a lot of fun to explore, and maybe we shall see that in the future as a DLC or a second game, who knows?
The action is awesome. I can't get enough of the swirling melee. You have so many different ways of fighting that it never gets old. Building up a hit streak in order to pull off an execution is always entertaining, but you can always get in some arrow shots and vaults over shield-bearers to mix it up. You can really create your own style when it comes to combat. Want to just go in and start wrecking people in close combat, you can do it (good luck). Want to sit back and snipe everyone in the head, you can do it. Want to use the environment to your advantage and just sit back and watch the carnage as orcs go running from Mordor flies and get mauled by Caragors (think Wargs but half lion instead of hyena), go for it. Want to sneak around like one would in Assassin's Creed, slowly killing off the orcs in a stealthy approach, that's also possible. There are many other ways that you can go about doing this with combinations up the wazoo. I love everything about it.
There is not a ton of customization in the game there is still a lot to do. You can upgrade your 3 mains weapons: You dagger Archan, your sword Urfael, and your bow Azkar can all be upgraded with various runes that can be collected in the world and from fallen enemies. You also have two skill trees to upgrade: One from your wraith side, and one from your ranger side. These 2 skill trees allow you to become the great BA ranger/wraith everyone wants to be. There of course are tons of little trinkets and hidden lore artifacts and relics throughout the world that you can find on your quest for 100% completion.
Although the game is accurately portrayed as an Assassin's Creed with a Lord of the Rings theme, it feels refreshing enough for anyone to enjoy it as something new. There's a lot more to the combat and from what I've heard that is similar to the Batman Arkham games. The game is also at the same time both more forgiving and more punishing. It is more forgiving in that there is no falling damage because you are a wraith, and you can even unlock abilities that allow you to "teleport" to an enemy for the kill. This is a thematic way of making the game just more fun to play. Who wants to struggle around trying to find a safe way to climb up or climb down? Just let me do it and get on with the action! The way it could be less forgiving is because of the Nemesis system.
If you haven't heard of this, it's basically the draw that the game uses to get in any gamer. This system randomly creates your foes and gives them several different strengths and weaknesses. These various captains of Mordor can be viewed in a kind of pyramid hierarchy. You can gain intel from various foes and allies in the game and learn what the strengths and weaknesses are, and then you can exploit them. In the beginning of the game you will be basically learning these things in order to find the easiest way to kill the orcs, but later in the game you have the ability to brand the orcs and command them to do your bidding. The Nemesis system also can create personal stories within the game in that your foes will remember you. Did you run away from an orc, he'll remember that and taunt you the next time you see him. Did you throw him into a fire or stab him in the eye? He will sport some nasty burns or a sweet eye patch. Did he kill you? Well then you have successfully leveled him up, making him harder to kill as well as giving him ammunition to make fun of you the next time you see him.
I haven't run into the same script more than once, and I've killed thousands of orcs so far. Although it's only the captains and war chiefs that have this system, even your run-of-the-mill orcs can get promoted if they should kill you. They get some flashy new armor and a cool name, as well as some new strengths and weaknesses for you to exploit. I love branding orcs and sending them to go betray their master, or to go get initiated as a bodyguard for someone else. You can brand someone and watch them climb the ranks as you help them destroy their rivals, successfully go on hunts, and generally thrive in the unforgiving orc society.
What also is interesting is that anytime you die, or anytime you fast forward the game, you can see the world really come alive. The orcs have their own agendas that they will carry out with or without you. Say you get killed by a random orc. Not only will that orc get leveled up and become a captain, but all the other orcs in the army will have done stuff too. Some may have taken it upon themselves to become the war chief and have killed the top orc and taken their place. Others have warded off enemies or gone on successful missions and leveled themselves up that way. And then there are just some other random baddies that have shown up on the board, awaiting your swift justice. It really makes the world feel real and alive. It's a fun system to just watch.
The story was entertaining enough. You are a ranger who was "killed", and then possessed by a wraith, and now you want revenge for the death of your family. A simple enough story that has been told before, but nonetheless a tried and true classic that I don't mind playing again. The story delves (not too deeply though as we don't want to awake the Balrog), into some previously unmentioned lore when it comes to the Rings of power. I have loved this part of the game. The main story, as well as the countless little hidden tidbits thrown about the map as collectable items, have really shown some more light into the Lord of the Rings history. It even goes into some stuff only talked about in the appendices of the books, which I as a Tolkien nerd find amazing!
I have some questions about the lore in the game that I think should be mentioned (without using major spoilers): In the game all the various animals you can kill/dominate are new to the world as far as I know. There are Caragors, which are basically bigger Wargs, who are half lion rather than hyena. There are Graugs, which are huge troll/Rancor beasts that could probably eat trolls for breakfast. Then there are little cousins of the Fell beasts flying around not really bothering anybody, but something you can shoot out of the sky for hunting rewards. The orcs in the game aren't really orcs either but rather are referred to as Uruks. Why did they do this? Were wargs and trolls just not BA enough? I can understand from a lore point that you don't want trolls roaming around in the light seeing as though the Hobbit ones turn to stone in the light, but we've seen plenty of other trolls in the Peter Jackson series (which is obviously where this game gets its art), that can be in the sun. I'm assuming that they wanted bigger and badder things to fight, but it seems a little video game gimmicky. The orcs turning into Uruks at least have some lore validity since Uruks in the books are the leaders of orcs that aren't afraid of the light.
Another minor issue is that the major villains in the game are not really built up enough. You CAN build up a relationship with the various orcs in the game, but you don't really do anything with the main villains. Sure, they murdered your family and cursed you to undeath, but you quickly forget about them as you go about killing the other random orcs. This, and the fights against the villains were very forgettable, which to me is a little sad considering how awesome the fighting is.
However, the sidekicks and allies in this game have been decently fleshed out and have been some of my favorites in gaming. The little sniveling orc Ratbag that introduces you to a lot of the game is hilarious and I love the dynamic between he and Tirion. The wraith that occupies your body is also very interesting in more ways than I care to talk about because of spoilers. There is also a dwarf in the game that is highly entertaining as you go around with him hunting various creatures in the wild. I wish there were even more story bits and interactions with these characters and the time you spend with them is far too short in my opinion.
There is of course a season pass with this game that will be adding some fun new story elements that I obviously cannot wait for.
Despite the minor issues I have with the game I must say this has been a very entertaining experience so far. Even after you finish the game you can still roam around the world killing orcs. I am tempted to just kill all my war chiefs and fast forward the world so I can kill new ones all over again. I can easily see myself replaying this at random points in my life when I have an itch to kill some orcs.