Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

The Gist
Batman goes to Mordor. Brutality ensues.

The Story
Talion, a ranger captain from Gondor, is brutally killed in a ritual sacrifice along with his family when his garrison is attacked by am army Sauron's Uruks. However, the ritual somehow goes awry and Talion finds himself possessed by the spirit of Celembrimbor - the same elven master smith who created the rings of power.

Along the way, legions of orcs, led by their powerful captains and even more enigmatic warchiefs, stand between them and their goal. They must try to piece together the pieces of Celembrimbor's fragmented memories while hunting down the Numenoreans who are responsible for his family's death and prevent Sauron from assembling the forces that will bring the lands beyond Mordor into ruin.

Gameplay Impressions
Anyone who's played the excellent Arkham games would find themselves in a familiar place when they play Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. The world map is open world, and the player has the freedom to pursue quests and collectibles as they travel around Mordor before its eventual desolation found in the main trilogy.

Players are given several tools at their disposal to deal with enemies, split into two upgradeable ability trees. The Ranger tree plays host to Talion's abilities as a Ranger of Gondor, while the Wraith tree allows him to channel Celebrimbor's power to harness offensive spells or impose his will on the orcs. While combat is fluid and combos are incredibly satisfying, players who prefer to lurk in the shadows and use stealth and subterfuge to defeat their enemies wouldn't feel left out.

At the heart of it all lies the Nemesis System - a mechanic that allows Uruks who best Talion in combat (or survive his attempts to kill them) to come back and adapt their strategies in battle against the Gravewalker. From the lowly Uruks who serve as cannon fodder to the Captains who command squads of orcs to the Warchiefs - five Uruks who command armies of orcs (and are protected by fierce bodyguard captains) - Talion has a lot of work before him to try and topple the power structure of Sauron's mighty army.

Uruks follow a specific hierarchy within their ranks, and one of the game's strong points in terms of lore is that power struggles exist amongst the armies of Mordor where strength is the sole currency by which the orcs use to ascend to power. Achievements, such as surviving encounters with wild beats and fellow rival orcs alike (or being able to kill the player), allow Uruks to grow in power and rank making them more dangerous when kept unchecked. On the other hand, this makes for interesting encounters with the player, as captains who have tangled with the player and survived would develop a rivalry with Talion and would not hesitate to take the fight to the player, even during the most inopportune of times (such as when you're already surrounded by a ton of orcs).

In terms of story, I'd say it's fairly weak given the massive amount of lore that Tolkien's stories have to offer. Despite that shortcoming, the Nemesis System is an interesting exercise in procedural content generation and it's a whole lot of fun to just try and mess with the system as the player goes along the beaten paths of Mordor.

Players who have played the Batman games would find combat to be a breeze to the point of being a pushover (especially if they use the higher tiers of the Wraith powers), but overall the game is an interesting walk (or run, or crawl) through one of the most celebrated high fantasy worlds in history.

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