Wow, That Was Quick!

Happy Weekend Tay!

Blech. I missed getting a whole dose of the cold my family caught a couple weeks ago, but last week I either finally got the full brunt of that cold or my body decided to sample a new sickness from the cesspool my son attends everyday.

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So, I didn’t accomplish a lot last week other than to mope around the house and play snatches of Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor until it was finished; well the vanilla game at least.

I quite liked the game, though I think the whole might not be as good as the parts. The storyline is well done, though there is no driving need to follow the narrative. This ends up making the story hit with less impact when you finally go back to one of the story missions, as the time you spend doing sidequests weakens the urgency the story tries to convey. This problem isn’t unique to Shadow Of Mordor as it is a thorn in the side of many (most?) open world games.

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The bigger problem with Shadow Of Mordor is that your character development seems to outpace the story. Before I even arrived on the second map (and there are only two areas in the basic game), I had probably upgraded my character to 80% of maximum. There are some skills that are locked to the storyline, but it feels like Monolith could have done more to mete out the skills in a better manner. I’m a reluctant completionist, so of course I finished all the readily available sidequests in the first area and this unfortunately makes you overskilled by the time you are ready to travel to the second map.

I think the game is too short for all the powers and skills they give you. It is too much of a good thing really, you don’t have a chance to really appreciate one power before you get another. I’m much more of the opinion that less is more in these cases, it is nice to savour and appreciate skill upgrades. Plus, this is part of the problem with the overall difficulty of the game. You are already godlike when you start, but you end up so much more powerful that everything becomes a joke to fight. Not to mention the game probably ends with two of the lamest boss fights I’ve seen at the end of a game in a good long while.

That’s why I said I think Shadow Of Mordor’s parts are better than the whole. The game feels a little too aimless at times and somewhat repetitive, but damn if it isn’t just so much addictive fun to play. Everything works so well. The stealth is well done and never feels out of place. The combat is exhilarating in every battle; I just can’t tire of their battles despite really wanting the game to be much harder than it is. The exploration is great and many of the missions are well designed to make maximum use of your skillset. I’m particularly happy with the large amount of timed missions; this is something more games should impose more often. I would love to see games start to use time limits in important ways that can impact the direction of the game if you don’t complete certain missions in a certain time. Also, the storyline is well done and the voice acting is fabulous. The credits for the voice actors is a who’s who of gaming’s current top voice actors.

I especially loved Shadow Of Mordor when I turned off the enemy awareness icons and all the combat indicators that tell you when to dodge, parry, etc. Not only does the game look substantially better without all the awful icons and indicators cluttering up the screen, but it helps the game from being dumbed-down.

Monolith has everything in place to allow all these indicators to be turned off. Orcs will react both visually and with speech to indicate whether they’ve seen you or not and these reactions will vary depending on whether or not they have a positive ID or just saw something moving in the shadows. There is really no reason to have the awareness chevron over the Uruks at all. Same is true for the combat indicators. Once you understand which baddies you parry and which ones you need to dodge, there are sufficient pre-attack animations to telegraph the enemy’s intent. I find it far more satisfying to read my enemies through their motions rather than the QTE method that the default combat indicators hold your hand through. If you left all these indicators on when you played, if you revisit Shadow Of Mordor, I highly recommend turning them all off and seeing how I think the game should be played.

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Previously in games I never seem to turn this stuff off, but I’m really not sure why I don’t. I guess a big part of it is that since I rarely play games twice, I want to see the game the way the devs want it to be played. But I’m starting to think that I have no real idea what the devs had in mind for their original vision. Since Shadow Of Mordor has no difficulty settings, it might be that the combat indicators and awareness chevrons were added for those gamers with less skill or those who want an easier ride. The game is slightly more challenging without these indicators, but I think the biggest difference is that you as the player have to take more control and pay more attention to what is going on around you. For me, this is so much more satisfying and I’m grateful that Monolith provided so many options to let me play the game I wanted to play. Now I want to go back and play Far Cry 3 and see what I can turn off in the options; that was another awesome game that suffered from too many on-screen indicators and handholding icons.

So, hopefully I’ll get over this cold on the weekend. I haven’t exercised in over a week and I feel like a bum; if my sinuses ever break free I really need a date with Dance Central. If I get some time, now that the vanilla Shadow Of Mordor is completed, I’ll be able to dive into the DLC in the GotY edition.

What are you playing this weekend?