Exceeding Expectations

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor – Game of the Year Edition

Tea: Ice cold ginger water (thanks heatwave)

Games about popular movies or movie franchises haven’t exactly been what I would call flawless, or even good for that matter. Be it a good movie or a bad movie, they never really translate well into the game-format, mostly because it is just another cash grab without much work (or souls) put into it. Now we have a Lord of the Rings game that aims to break this cursed cycle and surprise us with its quality by going away from the movies and developing an unwritten part of the Lord of the Rings canon. The question now is: Did they succeed? Short answer: Somewhat, long answer:

One would think that the story aspect would be and should be the strongest of a middle earth game, given all the rich history and nerd culture it is infused with. You play as Talion a ranger, a Troy Baker character in both voice and face, and loving husband and father, which gets shoved into your face in the first five minutes, so you can feel sympathetic when his family is killed about six minutes in. Talk about fast character exposition. Talion is also killed in the murder-spree of the Black Hand of Sauron, because all of Sauron’s body parts must play a role apparently. Never heard of the nose of Sauron, or the loins of Sauron… But I digress. Talion is kept alive by a wraith and not just any wraith, it is Celebrimbor. You are now wondering, who is Celebrombor? Well, the game got you back, as through a series of side mission you uncover the role of the wraith and what is part is in the grand scheme of things.

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– Look at this dark hero, no remorse only revenge, also no originality –

Talion is a Batman-type hero. Always brooding and full of self-hate, out for revenge only with a bit more bloodlust than Batman. Soon we discover that Celebrimbor is the exact same character. Brooding with a hard-on for revenge. One can only imagine their rich and varied discussion around a campfire. I can’t really understand the line of thinking behind this. I thought shoving two people in the same body would generate some sort of conflict, resulting in missions in which Celebrimbor (I am really getting tired of typing that name) would take away your wraith-based abilities for not agreeing with him. The only conflict they have is when Talion gets a little too emotional and Celebrimbor just quickly pops in and says something along the lines of “stop being emotional” and just disappears again. Their characters are very one-dimensional and don’t really evolve much at all, in fact both of them are even more similar near the end, not that I thought that to be possible, but the ending proved me otherwise. I thought that maybe together these two could create one passable well-rounded character. But at the end it feels more like you are stripping attributes away, rather than, say, adding them!

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– “Want to kill a bunch of Uruk to feel better?” – “You know it.” –

There are numerous reference to the movies, obviously. Some of them seem fitting, while others are so forced in you can actually see the writing strain with the effort to drop a certain name. All in all the story aspect is probably the weakest of the entire package. Nothing really seems resolved by the end. The lack of a final boss doesn’t help much either and the game ends with a very non-canon statement by Talion, which gives me hope that the next game would create an alternate timeline, so things can actually happen. Otherwise you are always in the mindset of producing conflict that can never alter anything, since everything must connect with the next movie.

The place Middle Earth: Shadow of Obligatory DLC takes place is Mordor, which should surprise no one. The sandbox environment is big, but not too big coming out at just the right size. It is small enough for you to sprint to locations and big enough to feel like an actual open-world. In fact, running to your next mission and stumbling upon random captains is a lot of fun and can lead to some intense situation. The game is also awarded with the Critical Teatime Award for Best Rain in a Videogame to this day. Raineffects look absolutely stunning and gorgeous.

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– Beautiful rain. I love rain. More rain like this, please! –

What makes Shadow of Weak Writing an interesting game is the actual game-aspect. Gameplay is heavily borrowed from the Arkham games and traversal is straight out of Assassin’s Creed. They even went through the trouble of including the dodgy running mechanic from Arkham Asylum and that running-up-walls-you-actually-wanted-to-run-past-thing form Assassin’s Creed. I liked the combat and stealth mechanics, they worked well and never got old fast. Upgrades matter as you can feel your power actually increasing alongside them. Riding beasts is hard to control, but I can kind of see why, since they are beasts after all, but it is still annoying.

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– *high-pitched eagle sound* –

The heart of the game is the Nemesis-system. It aims to immerse you in a living Uruk society. All of the major captains and warchiefs have names and hilarious adjectives attached to them. Should you engage in combat with them you can be killed yourself and the Uruk becomes a revenge target and gets leveled up. Should you meet him again he will remember you and tell you how pathetic you are. Should you wound him, but he can escape the almost same thing will happen, except he will draw attention to his wounds or something like that. Or you can kill him and he stays dead, sometimes… Sometimes, however, the system has a little hiccup and will make up some weird connections I can’t seem to recall. Like that one guy that insisted that I burned his face, or maybe he was just projecting really hard. But shoving a sword through his throat proved him otherwise.

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– A lot to take in, learn, manipulate, and master –

It actually works quite well and is an interesting mechanic you can have fun with. Only one problem: It is not a difficult game. I died two times throughout the entire game. Therefore I didn’t have those memorable re-encounters with past enemies. But the ones I did were actually quite nice. About halfway through the game you get the ability to control Uruks and brand them with your power by giving them a stylish blue hand tattoo on their faces. After that you can help them climb up the ranks by interfering with their lives, like you are their parent prepping them for their first day at Uruk-school. But to actually get more captains I would need to be killed by a normal Uruk and that just makes no sense to me story-wise. As a whole the system is a really nice experiment, but needs some tweaking for the obvious sequel.

Middle Earth: Shadow of the Sequel is a great game for a game based on a literary source material, few other games can compare to its quality (I am looking at you Dante’s Inferno). There is the problem of not being able to cause any major change, since the whole thing takes place between the two movie trilogies (or one and three other books), which ties it’s potential down like a big rock during the game’s first swimming lesson. But I would still recommend Shadow of Copyrighted Material for its mechanics. The generic story is over in a flash and you can get to messing around with the Uruks which is the real fun part of the game. I’d rather take slightly flawed innovation above perfected tedium.

Image sources in order of appearance:

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2 thoughts on “Exceeding Expectations

  1. “Celebrimbor”: Say that ten times really fast!
    No, seriously: why do the protagonists need character? They´re handsome! That´s all it needs really. And the brooding is just the cherry on top.
    Nevertheless I have to admit that it is a bit of a let-down if you can accuse a protagonists whose body is inhabited by two souls actually lacks character. Doing a bit of maths that would mean that one alone doesn´t even possess half the personality of a normal individual. Meaning individually Celebrimbor (I really delight in that name) and Talion don´t have as much character as an old lemon.

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    • Who cares about those girly things like story and characters anyways? Your equation is absolutely correct, sadly. Now I am constantly thinking about Celebrimbor using a lemon as his next host… sequel saved.

      Like

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