Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Shadow of Mordor review

I hate stealth games. I hate Assassins Creed games.
I love fantasy. I love a lot, not all, of Middle Earth.
I really hate Assassins Creed games.

All this aside, I bought Shadow of Mordor for next to nothing and gave it a chance.

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Did I mention I hate Assassins Creed games?

Still I played through Shadow of Mordor and…….

….love it!

Alright this has been out for what is an eternity now in the video game world. I’ll give a quick synopsis for those people still on the outside looking in.

There is a 60 year gap between the Hobbit and the Lord o’ the Rings stuff. This game falls into that gap. Sauron isn’t fully functional yet. Mordor still has some green areas in it. The orcs/ gobbos are not unified and exist in warbands.

You are Talion a ranger of Gondor tasked with guarding the Black Gate (big wall that stops Mordor from getting out). You and your family are killed by the forces of Sauron. They  are trying to summon the spirit of a dead elf named Celebrimbor. Well it goes a bit sideways as the elf merges with the dying Talion. Now Talion is a quasi-wraith? He lives, but has a wraith inside of him and has access to its memories and abilities.
Undead Gondorian ranger Talion chatting with his (likewise) undead passenger

Now Talion and his internal wraith Celebrimbor, head into Mordor to get revenge for Talion and answers for the newly raised Celebrimbor. Why was Talion chosen? What does Sauron want with Celebrimbor. Who is Celebrimbor and what did he do prior to death? Why is Gollum here? Why are all Sauron’s higher ups named after a body part of Sauron or a inanimate object of Sauron’s? How are they going to do this? Well by killing their way through a horde of Mordor baddies.

The power of Parkour!

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An all too common occurrence while fighting
At the heart this is looks and feels like an Assassins Creed/ Batman: Arkham game with a Middle Earth skin on it. There is a healthy amount of stealth going on here. It was irritating at first, but became so important as I played through. Plus the stealth kills are just so easy and the option for brutally dispatching orcs is sheer delight.


The combat, for me, was awful at first. I was button mashing my way through goons only to die if there were more than two attacking me. Yeah, I had to slow way down and become this methodical button masher. It made combat longer, but it also made it survivable. I really wanted to power through goons, but that was not the case. You have to swing, block, dodge to swing to block and dodge again. Much like the stealth, it was tedious at first, but then became so second nature and easy.

After combat there is a lot of parkour and climbing to do in Mordor. Why? Well I’m not sure but Talion is constantly having to climb an jump around the dark lands to get to where he is going, to spy on the baddies, escape trouble or to do some sweet death for above attacks. Once again an irritation at first, but so important as the game is played.
Talion uses his wraith powers to coerce an enemy orc.
You can always mind rape the orcs for information or to control them too.

Yeah I had an issue with all this for a bit, until I realized how to move, fight and sneak my way to victory over the forces of Sauron.

Sauron’s forces
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This is where the game gets really interesting. You have to kill your way through the orc warbands that control the area. There are four warchiefs and they all have a few underling captains and goons. Here is where the game gets really interesting!

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If you kill a few lesser goons, then they will be replaced (eventually) by new lesser goons. If you kill a captain, then a power struggle in the lower ranks can occur. This causes lesser goons to fight amongst themselves. If you kill all the captains for a warchief, then his forces will and himself will be weaker and easier to dispatch when you strike. You can interfere, instigate or quell orc rivalries for your own benefit.
Dodging Makes You Invulnerable
Best way to keep an orc enemy from coming back for revenge!
If a named goon kills you they go up in power and might eventually challenge others for a higher rung on the proverbial ladder. If a nameless goon happens to kill you (and there is room on the list) then he will become a named lesser goon and begin working toward a warchief mantle.

They call it the Nemesis system. Here the goons are randomly generated with all manner of strengths, weakness and rivalries. It really is a cool concept and makes for continued playability after the ending, if that is thing people want to do.

It is also all randomized as well. My goons will be different than your goons. Thus making for a whole unique, yet shared, game experience.

Wait! I forgot, there are times that orcs you kill actually come back. Yeah they pull a comic book villain and can sometime return from a death you thought you delivered. I had a random goblin that I put down four times before he stayed down for good. When they return for “the dead” they have wounds, bandages or hunks of metal grafted onto them to show that they survived some sort of orc surgery center. Sure this was annoying, but makes for some good comedy and also more points and runes to use for leveling weapon and skills, more on that in a bit.

I had more fun (and hair pulling frustration at times)killing my way through various orc captains to make sure their warchief was devoid of extra help and weaker before confronting him. Plus setting rivalries between goons and seeing them face off was always a good time as well. Mostly because then I could show up and ambush both guys after they had whittle each other’s hit points. Even better was being able to mind control various captains and have them turn on their warchief right as you are about to strike. It makes for some very fun and interesting gameplay options.

There is an RPG level element
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Besides all the sneaking there is also an RPG like skill tree to level as the game progresses. You get points to strengthen your ranger skills ( mostly combat ) or your internal wraith skills ( a lot of ranged, sneaky and misc. abilities). There is another skill tree to level up your dagger, sword, bow and amount of focus (magic) as well. Being a bit of a completest I did level unlock all the skills for the ranger, wraith, weapons and focus.

There are also runes you can collect from dead named orcs, captains and warchiefs. These are dropped into your weapons to give various combat bonuses.

All this is achieved through collecting lost trinkets throughout Mordor, killing named goons, and doing little skill challenges (nailed all of those too!). Besides the sneaking and slaying there is a modicum of exploration to achieve as well.

Talion commandeers a Graug, a 15-foot tall killing machine.
A skill unlocks so you can ride these guys!

The plot is descent. The gameplay, for me, was rough at first and then super easy. They Nemesis System is awesome! The end…well this is where people might have issue. Look at this as a journey not a destination game. You have to fight so much to get to the end and when you finally reach the big boss fight……you get a button mashing mini-game.
Worst boss fight of the game, and it was the first!
Now wait.

I know that is super lame. However, all the fighting to get to the end. The annoying mid-game boss fight against the Hammer of Sauron.  Then there are endless orc and goblin goons running around the map to kill. Is a quick mini-game that awful for a last boss fight? I can see why the yes. There was no glorious combat against the big bad. There was no real sense of accomplishment by winning from hitting like four buttons.

I say no. The end was fine. I killed so many guys and had so many difficult and drawn out combats, that another tedious boss fight would have been too much.
They made it easy and it worked as an interactive final cut scene more than a glorious battle. I’m more a journey over destination guy when it comes to video games so I had no problem with it.

Shadow or Mordor. A game that has been out for two years. A game I should hate on principle. A game I am actually hoping they make a sequel for, if they can keep it close to the original.

Grab it if you haven’t. It is Middle Earth fantasy fun and dirt cheap. 

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