September, 2014. It's the month scores of game-players associated with Destiny, the long-awaited online shooter from Bungie that commanded people's attention for months before release. Who could have suspected that Destiny's quality would have been bested by a number of games, each of them worth playing in their own right? Well, perhaps it comes as no surprise that a Super Smash Bros. game would be terrific, but a Dynasty Warriors offshoot featuring Legend of Zelda characters? Not everyone would have assumed the greatness of Hyrule Warriors.
And so we are grateful for those games, as well as the others that gave us continued reasons to love games of all sorts. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter: We love you for being so beautiful, and for giving us a mystery worth getting invested in. Wasteland 2: We love you for reminding us that old-fashioned games don't have to feel just plain old. From Fenix Rage to Roundabout, the gifts kept piling up in September, though if there were piles we truly associate with last month, they are the piles of orcs that continued to accumulate when playing Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.
Indeed, it is to this Middle-earth adventure that we grant our coveted game of the month award for September 2014. It would be easy to dismiss Shadow of Mordor as Assassin's Creed in the Lord of the Rings universe, but it is so much more than that. The nemesis system turns the game into a political party simulator that allows you to play the Karl Rove of the orc world. One by one, you turn Uruk-hai against each other, manipulating the captains into overthrowing their warchiefs, and proving that the most dangerous warrior is one who manipulates minds as well as daggers. Of course, when you stick to murder over manipulation, Shadow of Mordor is still a delight. Every captain arrives with great hullaballoo, claiming to be unkillable, and prepared to rip out your heart and eat it. How satisfying, then, to rip through a couple of dozen grunts before jamming your blade into their leader's neck and watching his severed head fly through the air.
Shadow of Mordor is fun, but it's also more than that: it's proof that big-budget games needn't be linear and cinematic to be exciting. In fact, roaming Middle-earth as a ranger/wraith hybrid and watching the Uruk-hai learn of your courage and murderous deeds is one of the greatest thrills we've had all year. And it's those thrills that allow us to call Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor GameSpot's Game of the Month for September, 2014.