A late Merry Christmas and a have a great New Year.

Posted by: Jason Silverain / Category:

Just posting to say I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and have a great New Year, I'll have quite the few posts for January to make up for the chaos of the last few months so I hope you enjoy them.

Now as a gift I'm sharing a picture (not taken by me) that made be giggle this Christmas.

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Stealth assassinations and freeing slaves in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Posted by: Jason Silverain / Category: ,

Between my friends birthdays and other events this month while I was stuck indoors due to my worsening sciatica and typically terrible British weather I finally got the chance to pick up Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, spending three days solid playing it from beginning to end for full 100% completion this post is just a little overview of my experience.

For a little background information Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (or just Shadow of Mordor for short) is published by Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment and developed by Monolith Productions, for those of you unfamiliar with Monolith Productions they began in 1997 producing a number of games including some of my favourites such as Shogo: Mobile Armor Division (AL) and Aliens Versus Predator 2 (AL) before been bought by Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment in 2004 after which they worked on both the F.E.A.R and Condemned Series.

At this current time alongside the main game a year season pass is available granting all further released content without further payment during this period. There is also a handful of DLC available for between 75p to £3, I cannot and do not recommend purchasing these at this time as they are either single encounter events which grant an epic rune (more on those later) or just runes which grant end game abilities which undermines game progression.

Shadows of Mordor which takes place in a non-canon timeline of Middle Earth puts you in the role of a ranger of Gondor named Talion, after a brief but charming tutorial section which builds the characters of Talion, his wife Loreth and son Dirhael, Talion finds himself slain in a cruel blood ritual by powerful minions of Sauron known as the Black Hand. Awakening in the twilight realm between life and death Talion finds himself bound to an elven wraith who no longer remembers who he is and neither of them unable to die.
From here the story and gameplay begins in earnest and can be described as a combination of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Assassins Creed in Middle Earth.

The games setting spread amongst two regions within Mordor though those familiar with the films or Lord Of The Rings Online will not recognise any familiar areas within them and may feel disappointed. That said however both regions are fascinating and fun to explore in their own right and are sized just right to give the feeling of space without too many empty areas with ruins and Orc/Uruk camps and patrols breaking up the terrain.
Speaking of the regular foes of the land a player mostly faces Orcs and Uruks for the majority of the game, however as the story progresses more specialised Uruks such as giant Berserkers and spear wielding Hunters begin appearing with each new foe requiring particular methods to effectively dispatch them.
By the middle of the game the normal Uruks and Orcs actually become rather scarce in regular patrols, this mixed unit composition results in the combat never becoming entirely mindless with a player having to remain sharp or face sudden unexpected death... at least in mid game. 

The other hazards of Mordor include giant cats called caragors which hunt in packs, graugs which are rancor like beasts that can bite the head off a troll and packs of weak but numerous poison spitting ghuls all of which bring their own challenges and are as dangerous to each other and the Orcs as they are to you. There are also numerous other tiny critters such as dog sized spiders, Mordor rats. sea gulls, bats etc but interaction with them is limited to occasionally shooting an arrow at them for a sliver of experience points and to fulfil the hunting side mission. I honestly think there was a missed opportunity for some giant spider killing.

In regards of the main story there are 23 missions in total though many of them are rather short and serve as tutorials for new abilities and the final missions are somewhat underwhelming with the final boss been a quick time event, a very short quick time event at that. The other major side missions are weapon challenges which vary between fun and frustrating but eventually transform your weapons (though I personally prefer its original form for design and story relevance not to mention it remains as the original form in cutscenes) and freeing slaves. Normally there are packs of human slaves (all using the same character model) that are guarded by a pair or so of Orcs located around the level though a single orc about to execute a lone slave or a unit of orcs are chasing down escapees are not uncommon, normally when freed these slave grant experience points and run off occasionally providing a distraction, can grant information about Orc/Uruk warchief or captain or put the boot in to their down captors. After a certain point in the early game you can acquire special missions from the slaves, these are gained by initially freeing a captured slave who informs you of another group of slaves who are been tortured or punished by the orcs for misdeeds. In spite of the rather interesting backgrounds to each of these missions every single one of them is the same much to my frustration. Each of them involves freeing 3-5 slaves tied to poles with a experience bonus granted by killing Uruks in particular manner as a side objective and there's 26 of these damn missions again wasted potential.

Combat which comprises the majority of the game is good and much like Batman: Arkham Asylum flows seamlessly though targeting can be an issue and on more than one occasion you'll find yourself beheading the wrong ork. Though it is certainly more fun in its early game as the branding ability introduced in the second half of the game that lets you dominate Orcs becomes overpowering and no reason for a player use anything else. This bleeds over to stealth sections of the game as well as dominate guards are not replaced and there is no issue of a dead body attracting attention, combined with the fact that a dominated Ork ignores your presence means there are no downsides.

Okay so far it must sound like I hate the game, this isn't true I very much enjoy the game and the reason why is the much praised Nemesis system which had me hooked for most of the game, the Nemesis system allows the various captains and warchiefs to remember your previous encounters and respond according when you meet again as well as levelling and developing abilities when you or they (if they survive) are defeated.
Here are a few of my choice few captains made an impression during my early game:

Skark Bow Master notable for having one of my favourite helmets in the early game and for setting off the series of events that would develop my end game rival, Skark had a nasty habit of suddenly appearing and  whenever he did he seemed to be always shortly followed by two particular captains...


Krakhorn Sawbones another key player in my early game and first of Skarks back up, surprisingly nimble and loved to throw me around like a ragdoll if he got close. In spite of his hated of burns he was always paired together with a Captain know as..     

 Ugakuga Fire-Brander as you can see he was the first of this deadly early game trio to fall his rapid attack ability really forced me to learn to dodge and counter correctly and he possessed one of my other favourite helmets and designs in the game.

Last but certainly not least Azgrom Caragorfang, Azgroms introduction was short and brief initially thought to have been killed not by myself but by Krakhorn Sawbones after enraging the captain by setting him on fire while attempting to snipe me. Azgrom however refused to stay dead coming back at least 9 times from defeat getting stronger all the while and we seemed to constantly harassing and encountering each other until he became this..

This Azgrom was clever and cautious attacking only in overwhelming strength and fleeing as soon as the battle seemed to be turning against him, he managed to outlive two of the Warchiefs he was body guarding and kill a great deal of lesser captains and even defeated me twice with sneaky sniping.

Though I'll confess that some of the personalities and names had begun to repeat by the end of the game and that is when the charm began to wear off for me, especially since the game forces you to brand captains who afterwards lose all unique interactions with the player and thus all character for most part. The Nemesis system has definitely room for improvement but its a solid base and its a system I hope Monolith Productions retains in future games. All in all Shadows of Mordor gives back what you put into it, the story elements shoring up a sandbox of orc slaughter and amusing confrontations with personalised nemesis. 

For an idea of the graphics and a further probe into various aspects I've touched upon above I recommend watching TotalBiscuit's WTF Is Shadows Of Mordor which I've linked below though please note that TotalBiscuit does occasionally use strong language. 

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