Sometimes, when you review a game after all the other reviews came out, you wonder whether or not you got sent a completely different version of the game. As I type, the ad for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor comes up with IGN, Polygon and Joystiq saying the game is amazing, and in the case of Joystiq, revolutionary.
If, by ‘revolutionary’, they mean ‘combines aspects from three popular games and has one new mechanic’, then yeah, I’d have to agree.
Inferior reviewers aside, Shadow of Mordor is a pretty solid game. Not exactly ‘stealth action’ done right, because, quite frankly, it requires almost no skill in either action or stealth, but it’s fun. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been playing this game while listening to podcasts because it’s nowhere near the task of requiring my full attention, but it’s a hundred percent worth playing.
SoM is Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and Kingdoms of Amalur. Assassin’s Creed for climbing checkpoint buildings (there’s pretty much no difference between the two, with an accompanying ‘eagle dive’), Far Cry (for the maps and beasties) and Kingdoms of Amalur (for the completely underwhelming stealth).
You will be pretty much familiar with the style of gameplay as soon as you have the controller or mouse and keyboard in your hands. You run here, do the mission, and there are other parts on the map you go to in order to start other missions. Rinse and repeat. For the first half of the game, this gets tedious, because the landscape is so boring to look at. Set inside Mordor, it looks like a place where happiness comes to die and clowns go to masturbate. The problem is that it’s not particularly pervasive — it just looks boring. During the second half of the game, you’re introduced to a new environment which is actually pleasing to look at.
Before you vomit in your hands and throw it at me screaming about how ‘that’s how Mordor is supposed to look’, well — Mordor looks boring. It feels flat and dead, not like there’s a thriving Orc and Uruk populace starting to prepare for war.
And let’s look at that for a second — weren’t Uruks created by Saruman during the Fellowship? Doesn’t this game take place between The Hobbit and The Fellowship?
It’s not going to make much difference to you if you’re not a LoTR fan. If you are, prepare to cream your pants, because there’s some great lore in there. I’m sure one or two of the more hardcore Samillirion (or whatever it’s called) fans will have gasped in shock at some of the names mentioned.
However, none of these things are the selling point of the game. The Nemesis system apparently is.
When the game was being PR’d, I remember talk of a ‘complex Orc culture’. It is not complex. There are Orcs, and then there are Orcs with names who will spit a line of dialogue every now and then and have abilities and strengths and weaknesses that other Orcs and Uruks don’t have. These are champions. Champions may have bodyguards, or nemeses who want to see them dead.
You get to play with this, killing these guys, dominating them (not in the BDSM way, taking over their mind and making them betray their chieftain) — basically screwing up their chain of command.
The fun bit: You get to have a certain amount of control going against bad guys that aren’t extremely easy to kill, only mostly easy to kill. Manipulating events to go in your favour is a short-lived high.
The not fun bit: It’s all the same shit.
You go into a base. About fifteen hundred Orcs attack you. You plough through them (don’t forget to mash that counter button, because it takes absolutely no timing to accomplish), then you start to beat the champion, then you kill him. This can take anywhere between 5 mins to four days, depending on how many Orcs are around. The idea of using stealth to help you, dominating low level Orcs and getting them to turn on one another is pretty much worthless. It might make it easier in the long run. Or it might just delay the inevitable swarming.
The saving grace of this scenario is that the combat is varied enough to keep you from falling asleep.
It’s weird — both Assassin’s Creed and SoM make the mistake of not knowing what the hell their main character is. Why on earth include stealth if their main source of power is being a nigh-invincible killing machine? What’s the point if I can stride in, take out a thousand guys, and walk away as if I’ve just had a Naru massage?
I think this resistance to make the character either one thing or the other really killed any chance I had of seeing this game as something other than good. Yeah it looks good, but (sort of) next-gen games should look good. It’s got pretty polished combat — even if it is so simplistic a sleeping dog could play it — but there’s no real challenge, and for me personally, it means there’s no reward.
For instance, you can interrogate Orcs as to who the current champions are, and special Orcs can give you intel as to their weaknesses and strengths. This process is laughably easy. You then go and do the 1000 Uruk tango which I described earlier, and verse the boss, probably not having to use any of their weaknesses against them. Or you can not find out who the Orc is and just randomly run into them, and then trial and error their weaknesses (which takes all of about ten seconds to figure out). They might drop an upgrade to put on your weapons, which you won’t really have to use, but if you do, the game becomes even more easy than it already was.
As for bugs and glitches and whatnot, I’ve seen a lot on YouTube and a bunch in gameplay, first-hand. Sometimes during combat, if I just stand there and don’t do anything, the Orcs just stand around me roaring. It’s like I’m the only girl at the dance party and everyone’s too shy to put an axe in my head. During one of these encounters, which I am furious at myself for failing to capture, one of the spear throwers ended up killing five or more Orcs because they were standing in his firing path.
Lastly, and many got a kick out of this while I simply failed to care, was the constant reappearance of champions you thought you’d killed. I read someone’s crappy article about how they got obsessed with one particular Captain that kept coming back, and I’ve heard others say how they ‘have a different personality and evolve’ when you see them again. I’ve learnt what they actually mean is ‘they have a slightly different aesthetic appearance and say a different generic line’.
I mean, one of the first champions I came against was saying how I ‘burnt his face with magic’, and I’m like ‘bro, calm your farm, I’ve just started playing. I have no idea who you are, but damn you ugly’.
You can have fun with Mordor. I very much doubt you’re going to want to slide the excitement of it down your throat as much as every other website seems to be doing, but there’s definitely fun to be had.