Shadow Of Mordor: Performance Testing And Benchmarks

Fresh on the heels of the final Hobbit movie, we bring you our game performance review of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. This innovative title has a few pleasant surprises up its sleeve when it comes to hardware requirements.

Monolith has produced a lot of memorable games powered by the company's proprietary Lithtech engine, including Aliens Vs. Predator 2, Tron 2.0, the F.E.A.R. series, and many more. On a personal level, though, I have to admit that none of them wowed me by breaking out of the mold. As a result, I didn't expect much from Monolith's newest release, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (despite an admitted fondness for Tolkien's intellectual property).

And then I played the game. In my opinion, Monolith took a giant leap forward as a game studio with Shadow of Mordor, a project that takes the best features of multiple genres and spices it up with truly unique mechanics and a wonderful meta-game. The smooth combat and animation does Batman one better, with Assassin’s Creed-style stealth and parkour, Far Cry's tower map reveal mechanic, a well-rendered narrative and the introduction of the Nemesis system. At first glance, it may seem like this game is trying to be something it’s not, but after you give it a chance, it sucks you in.

Shadow of Mordor kicks off between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. You play as Talion, a ranger in the defense of Gondor. Sadly, his family is murdered in a heart-wrenching cinematic immediately following the tutorial. Before he leaves his mortal coil, however, he is joined by an Elvish Wraith and saved (or banished, depending how you look at it) from death. Confused and disturbed by this state of affairs, he is thrown another curve ball and wakes up in a form of Mordor crossed between the past and future. Talion sets out on a wild (yet well-structured) adventure to discover why he is bound to the Wraith, and what happened to the life he knew.

Being attached to an ancient Elven Wraith is an interesting state of affairs. When Talion is partially covered by a shadow, the wraith's ghost glows through in an effect similar to what we saw in the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. The character also has the ability to enter the Wraith world, as seen in the Lord of the Rings films, where his elf counterpart can strike at range with his otherworldly bow. By the way, this bow, like the ranger's sword and knife, can be upgraded throughout the game via a nifty legendary weapon system.

One does not simply walk into Mordor, but once you're there it's astonishingly easy to find someone who wants to kill you. You might not be making any friends, but thanks to the nemesis system built into the game's heart, you're guaranteed to make more than a few enemies. This innovative mechanic tracks your interactions with various Orcs in Sauron's army, and conjures consequences on a personal level. For instance, if you accidentally push an Orc into a fire, he'll probably feel a burning desire to get even. Thus spawns a love-hate relationship that continues as you run away like a coward, or face the poor disfigured Orc. The system creates a unique experience for each individual; every enemy's personality is different, as are their appearances and abilities. As mentioned, they remember everything you’ve done in their presence, whether you rode a Caragor into battle against them or you missed that first shot at them with an arrow.

The system goes even deeper by tracking high-ranking members of Mordor's fighting force. Unique Orc captains have particular strengths and weaknesses. Gain intel by interrogating their minions and learning strategies to defeat them. This brings the game's brilliant death penalty system into play. As a Wraith, you can't die, of course. But the monster who manages to defeat you gains a frightening amount of power when you take enough damage to be temporarily banished. In addition, any members you've dispatched from the Orcish chain of command are replaced with fresh blood. When the Orc that did you in gets a promotion for his efforts, insult is added to injury. It feels personal.

The combat in this adventure/RPG should be familiar to fans of the latest Batman series, as well as Assassin’s Creed. While other games tote a similar play style, Shadow of Mordor does a great job of refining the genre in a meaningful way. For instance, unlike Batman, when you're prompted to block, time doesn’t slow down. It continues at a regular speed, forcing you to stay on your toes.

Its not all hack-and-slash, either. There are many variables to consider before taking on the likes of Thrak Death Blade (above). Are there archers nearby that will hear? What about his body guards? Throw in a few spearmen and a pack of Caragors and you have a recipe for disaster. Mordor isn't a walk in the park, even for an immortal Wraith, so careful planning goes into every battle. Find Orcs with information about your target because knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy is key to a successful encounter.

Movement is reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed, with similar parkour and wall climb animations. At times, this gets clunky as you try to run around a corner and suddenly shimmy or hide behind the wall instead of continuing on your way. But despite a few annoyances, it's a solid system.

The map is full of valuable information. Icons are differentiated by color and other indicators that tell you what missions are near, where a marked target is located and even the location of herbs able to heal you. Through this interface, you can also view Sauron’s Army, with information on the Orc chain of command.

Talion is a hurt and angry protagonist (who could blame him?). However, he does have a conscience, and there are times when you'll have the opportunity to free human slaves in Mordor. You cover a lot of ground during the story, but its plot progresses quickly, and your ultimate goal is revealed early on. Pay close attention because many questions you might have about the character are answered as you regain your memory. It's a good substitute for the lack of detailed introduction to the characters.

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  • Neilbob
    It's nice, for once, to see a game that doesn't particularly favour one brand of CPU or GPU over another. A slight advantage for AMD on the GPU side perhaps, but nothing extraordinary.
  • damric
    Nice review, Sam, Don.

    Game looks pretty fun, too.
  • Grognak
    You ran an R9 295X2 with a 650W PSU?
  • blackmagnum
    I hope it doesn't ruin the Tolkien franchise and gets competitive with the Elder Scrolls.
  • Cryio
    Poor Nvidia buyers.

    The 760 was for some time a recommended card in its price bracket because of 7950 performance at a lower price and now it's slower than a 270X, which is a 7870.
    Not to mention the 280/285 is usually same price or cheaper than the 760.

    Pff.
  • Cryio
    Seems like I'll have to play the game with textures on Medium on my 560 Ti.

    Do they look decent enough at that level of quality ?
  • slyu9213
    I have to say my experience with Textures has been the same as your testings. With my 7850 1GB they recommended Low Textures but I had minimal impacts when I Medium Textures. Additionally the game recommends Medium Textures for 2GB of VRAM but I was able to run High Textures on my 650M with minimal to no impacts (DDR3 version). By the looks it seems they really are conservative and everyone may be able to run one texture quality higher than the game recommends.
  • Sakkura
    I wonder why the R7 250X was not tested at 1080p Medium. It did very well at 1080p Lowest, so it would have been nice to see if it was still playable at Medium. Would have been more useful to know whether it would run at 25 or 40 FPS than to know that the R9 285 runs at 93.7 FPS at those settings.
  • spp85
    Compared to Toms FarCry 4 review, this one is a good one
  • photonboy
    Sakkura,
    You can't expect them to run every combination of cards and settings. There's enough information here to help someone decide whether to buy or if they have what settings to use.
  • lostgamer_03
    Such a bland and mediocre game. I didn't even finish it as I became too bored with just slaying orcs. It didn't feel anything like LOTR or the Hobbit.
  • spdragoo
    See, this is what game designers should be doing: designing games that can be visually appealing on a wide range of hardware, so that they can have the widest audience possible (& therefore make the company as much money as possible so that they can continue developing games).
  • gerhardb
    I'm sorta confused as to why they didn't test a 780 series card. Everything but?
  • sincreator
    So why would two different manufacturers cards not work in SLI? I knew the memory had to match, but I never thought the brand mattered... Driver bug, or game bug? Sounds like a driver issue to me.
  • airborn824
    The 290/x cards are so great for the money. I personally play at 1440p -4K on my 290 PCS+, the vRAM bandwidth is a really good boom to the performance. IT may not do it on ultra settings but the higher resolution makes up for a lot of that. I cant wait to see how Fiji does at qHD and UHD!! i love competition!!
  • Sakkura
    67821 said:
    Sakkura, You can't expect them to run every combination of cards and settings. There's enough information here to help someone decide whether to buy or if they have what settings to use.

    I'm not. I'm in fact suggesting they test the same number of combinations, just using the R7 250X at 1080p Medium instead of the R9 285, which is overkill for that anyway. There is a lack of information for people with cards in the performance range of the R7 250X - can they play at 1080p Medium, or will they be stuck at lower settings?
  • Eggz
    Why'd Tom's drop the 780 and 780 ti from testing?

    I get that Nvidia replaced those cards, but they were extremely popular and sold a lot (more the non-ti version, but still)!

    The other 700-series cards are on there, and Tom's featured both the 780 cards in other reviews. For the many who own them, it would be helpful to see how the powerful 3GB cards perform, since all of the powerful cards on this review feature 4GB per chip.
  • cleeve
    1406980 said:
    Why'd Tom's drop the 780 and 780 ti from testing?


    Game performance analysis articles represent a massive undertaking in testing, and the 780/780 Ti are somewhat redundant when we know where their performance sits relative top the 970 and 980. We'd rather spend the effort on more resolutions and settings.
  • Eggz
    21257 said:
    [T]he 780/780 Ti are somewhat redundant [of] the 970 and 980.


    Yeah, I can tell you guys did a crap ton of work for this article, and omitting the 780 (ti) given the 980/970 makes sense for most games. My curiosity stemmed form the hype over this game being touted as a super-VRAM-hog; namely, does the game expose a drawback in 3GB as opposed to 4GB?

    Just a thought.

    You did sell me on the game, though. It looks like a great play.

    Also, how did you get the 295x2 running on 650 watts? Pretty impressive if you stuck with the IN WIN GreenMe 650 650W for testing that card! I recall an earlier article showing that card popped the 860i you were using, though it might have just been that sample. Interesting stuff!
  • RedJaron
    I've been wanting to play this game since it came out, but I'll wait for the inevitable GotY edition this fall where they include all the DLC too. I was also worried my 6870 wouldn't quite cope with it at medium settings, and it looks like I may be right on that.

    Any plans for a follow up on this with the hi-res texture pack? I know you say it's a little overkill, but I'd like to see some screenshots of the difference, and also what the actual VRAM requirements usage is.
  • ferius20
    260X is catching the GTX660? There is something wrong in here. This card should be some frames behind the 750 ti and not the other way.
  • Sakkura
    1876327 said:
    260X is catching the GTX660? There is something wrong in here. This card should be some frames behind the 750 ti and not the other way.

    Just means the game favors AMD graphics cards a little. Differences like that from game to game are normal.
  • cleeve
    1406980 said:
    My curiosity stemmed form the hype over this game being touted as a super-VRAM-hog; namely, does the game expose a drawback in 3GB as opposed to 4GB?


    I mean, the game recommends a texture setting depending on your card's VRAM, the resolution, detail level, and other factors. So if you stick with it's recommendation you won't bump into a performance problem. If you choose to ignore it, you probably will.


    1406980 said:
    Also, how did you get the 295x2 running on 650 watts?


    That's my bad. The 295X2 was run on a second test system with an 850W PSU, I forgot to mention that.
  • iam2thecrowe
    "As you can see, the Lithtech engine doesn't appear limited by the processor it's run on, particularly when we emphasize graphics performance. "

    So dont emphasize graphics performance so we can get a clear idea of what the CPU's are capable of? helpful for those wanting ultra high fps on high Hz monitors that may sacrifice image quality for FPS, or those who have beefy dual GPU rigs.

    Also again, the arrows are blocking some of the gpu names on your slideshows.