Monday, May 22, 2017

Game EXP: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Well, yesterday (being Thursday May 18th) I made a final push and completed the main quest in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor on PC; although I did play with an wired 360 controller.  I did briefly try KB/M controls, but the controller felt more intuitive in most cases (a little more on that later).  And after 52 hours in a game that is supposed to take between 23 and 54 hours, I think I did fairly well considering I left a handful of prisoner and weapon quests un-completed.  Basically, after I found out that Shadow of Mordor was taking up 52GB of space on my hard drive, I felt like I should hunker down and finally finish the game.

So I did.

The Death of Skûn Grog-Burner.
You know, this game had my opinion all over the place and on more than one occasion, I definitely questioned not only if I really wanted to finish the game, but if I was actually capable of finishing the game.  For those seven of you that have yet to play this game, Shadow of Mordor is not as forgiving to the player as you might initially expect.  First off, there is no dedicated save function, but the game auto-saves at times that it alone deems necessary.  The main reason it seems is because the game does not want you going up against an Orcish Warchief (think mini-boss) and one strike before you are dealt your death blow, exiting out of the game.  The player's reason for doing is, is because any time the player is killed, time passes in the game, Orc Captains and Warchiefs level up and become stronger, thereby making the Warcheifs more difficult the next time they are encountered.  In the first half of the game, there definitely was a time that with nearly every quest I attempted to further gain levels (and become more and more used to the game and fighting type), I would frequently die and there were a handful of Orc Captains that seemed god-like progressing up to and past Level 18.  One Orc in particular; Skûn Grog-Burner, a javelin thrower who seemed to have impeccable aim, and an army of constantly re-spawning Orcs from just around the corner there.  I felt annoyed that the game mechanics punished the player for not being good enough.  So like was demanded of me in Dark Souls, I guess I just had to get gud.

And as long as we are on the topic of game difficulty, Shadow of Mordor had no difficulty scale, which apparently bothered some people, but only those who felt that the game was way too easy and actually wanted a challenge.  In the late game, there was one Orc Elite Captain who was both immune to ranged damage (and therefore to Shadow Strike/Kills; it's a teleporting attack), was a combat master (could not perform execution attacks, which would normally do a chunk of damage if an execution was not possible) and apparently because of this, I was unable to block a killing blow.  Oh, and like a lot of Warchief and Captain battles in Southern Mordor, this Legendary Captain seemed to have a never-ending supply of re-spawning Defenders and Berserkers.

So pretty.
Now that we are half way through the article (maybe?), I want to say that this is a damn beautiful game, and even though my computer could run most of the cut scenes around 60 fps, while playing, the game typically ran between 28 - 20 fps.  This, believe it or not, did not bother me, and only one time (during a cut scene for The Bright Lord DLC), did the frame rate drop to 8 fps and the visual was very choppy, but lasted only a few seconds until the cut scene ended and everything went back to normal.  Sadly though, I do not have as many pictures that were not combat execution related since most of that time was traveling from Point A to Point B and being distracted by side missions such as rescuing slaves or trying to upgrade one of my weapons.  Actually, you know what, hold on a second:

There, that is a somewhat decent depiction of how good looking this game can be, even on a limited system.

One of the criticisms I had with the game, was how leveling was done.  During the game, you game experience points though quests, finding "hidden" items, and chaining hit streaks, which can be used to purchase skill and weapon upgrades.  Somewhere around the 30 hour mark (or maybe less, I did not keep track, but that seems about right), I maxed out on the skills I could purchase (I still had a couple that could only be unlocked through quests), but still had a skill point to spend.  Maybe this was some result of having the Game of the Year Edition, but either way, it seemed a bit off.  It was around this point, coupled with a couple Warchiefs that were exceedingly difficult to activate, that I began to lose interest in the game.  That I had no character skill advancement left to do felt a bit disheartening.  The game definitely felt that it had wanted to go in a direction that made the player feel that customizing Talion to focus more on either Ranger abilities or Wraith abilities meant that he was either retaining his humanity or losing it.  I loved the idea in the beginning of the game, but I apparently played the game to learn abilities and had done more than what was expected of me.

I will admit though that I did not complete all of the weapon quests, which are there to "forge the legend" of either your sword, dagger (which starts as your broken sword), and bow.  On each, due to the difficultly level, I stopped at having acquired either seven or eight out of the ten available quests for each.  And, the other thing that held be back a bit, was that aiming the bow with the controller was woefully more difficult than with the mouse.  This made my accuracy drop significantly and wasted a fair amount of time trying to aim at Orc heads (one hit kill) and not their chestal regions.  These were the only times I wish I could have been using KB/M.

And speaking of accuracy (kind of, but not really), I was never able to get a hang of dealing with the Caragors.  Even when prompted by the game to press "A" for some reason I could not get the timing down and even one of my last deaths in the game was to a pack of Caragors that chased me across Southern Mordor while trying to find some healing herbs or some arrows to replenish my Elf-Shot.

Lastly, (I think) despite being a little confused as to how much the game was going to (or able to) pull from Tolkien's vast sources of Middle Earth lore, I was quite surprised with how the writers/developers handled most of the information.  Scattered throughout the game were artifacts that gave experience points and offered bits of story for both characters and for the areas where the items were found.  Talion was then able to listen to bits of narration, presumably from one of the last people who used the item.  This trowel, for instance apparently belonged to a farmer who lived on Númenor just as Sauron was attempting to influence King Ar-Pharazôn to invade Valinor in order to claim the gift of the Elves and no longer be mortal.  What I loved was that this information is not necessary at all to the plot and for people who have not read The Silmarillion, may have gone over their heads, but it was a juicy little nugget that I loved.  And a lot of these narrations were sooooo very well voiced.  One in particular was the "Coded Journal Entry #3."  Just give it a listen, I will wait.  See!  That is some Eternal Darkness quality madness!

One thing that I recalled hearing about Shadow of Mordor while in the process of playing, was that the ending was very unsatisfying, and that Talion never fought Sauron in an epic final battle.  I was actually not expecting a showdown with Sauron because that would mean the end for our main character since Sauron cannot be defeated until Frodo and Sam bring the ring to Amon Amarth.  I do admit though that the game's final encounter was a bit lackluster, but I was honestly thankful that I did not have a one-on-one battle that I had to do over and over because of my lack of fighting skillz.

I mean, just look at his sad beady little eyes.
So that is my spiel, although I am sure that I could probably go on a bit more about the bit of sympathy both Conklederp and I felt for the Orcs once I learned to pull information out of their tiny little brains, or about how despite the robustness and diversity of the Nemesis System, there are only a few Orcs that I could give any kind of information on despite the fact that they are now dead and their names forgotten to the annals of time.  I am sure there is something tucked away in my brain too about the similarities to a particular game about assassins or more about Monolith's take on Tolkien's lore such as the creation of Caragors, or that all of the slaves were male and looked identical with the exact same animations, or that sometimes that characters or the environment would break and splinter off into infinity.  Or that I felt that exerting energy to save the sixth slave would just be too taxing.

I think I may wait before tackling The Bright Lord DLC since I initially felt that it was too similar to the game that I had just finished and I might want a new adventuring experience, but that 52 GB of space is semi-prime realestate, so we will just wait and see.


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