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Help others decide with your opinion of Shadow of Mordor

Hey everyone. In accordance with Kotaku's new stance on focusing more on games currently playable instead of upcoming games, I'd like to ask you all your opinion on recent games. Too much do we rely on hype, previews, demos, and reviews. Often I'll play a game and have a completely difference experience than most reviewers had. That said, feel free to share your opinion even if you haven't played the game listed in the topic - perhaps you've seen unedited gameplay and have formed an opinion. That's fine because no one has time to play every game out there and educated guesses can be formed without experiencing everything a game has to offer.

Today, it's Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Here's my take (full disclosure, I haven't beaten the game but have put at least a dozen hours into it). The reviews seem to be quite glowing. The nemesis system sounds like it actually functions like advertised; it wasn't overhyped and delivers on the promise. But is that enough to make this game worth a $60 purchase when it overall seems like a jack of all trades but a master of none?

First, the core gameplay. Yes, it's true, this game's combat functions almost identically to that of the Arkham games. I thought reviewers were exaggerating but I don't think most of them hammered home just how similar it is. Everything down to the enemy variety, control configuration, and unlockable combat moves/upgrades are taken from the recent Batman games with virtually no change. Beyond that, being stealthy is very easy to perform, even moreso than that of most AAA action adventure with stealth elements, but sneaking is more or less completely optional beyond the occasional mission or side-activity during which detection is not allowed, so no sections with orcs with assault rifles. You have the ability to lure enemies to your position with a nice Ring Wraithy whisper, so that's different from Arkham but still doesn't feel unique or engaging/challenging. This is what you're going to be doing most of the time so basically, if you want more Arkham at the moment, get this game. If you're fatigued of that gameplay, wait until you want some more or just replay your preferred Batman game. Everything else is ancillary, this game is Arkham (oh yeah, there are even green-glowing enemies that you must finish last to gain intel, exactly like the Riddler henchmen).

That said, part of the appeal of the Arkham games is the power fantasy of being the incredibly capable Dark Knight. I believe they made the core gameplay so simple to make you feel like you're Batman when you overpower your foes, and they succeeded. As a casual LOTR fan, the game gave me a nice reminder that Orcs/Uruks are quite literally born evil and get off on death and torture. So, similar to feeling like you're Batman in Arkham games, it IS cathartic to kill these monsters and doesn't feel too unrealistic since you're part Wraith and have supernatural powers.

Now, if you're still on the fence like I was (I like the combat/stealth in Arkham, but I don't love it), here's how this game stands apart.
1. Your wraith arrows. There is ranged combat in this game via powerful but limited supernatural arrows. When you aim, you use Focus that slows down time, allowing you to charge a shot that one-hit-kills most enemies. You can also distract orcs but I very rarely found a use for this ability. During a main mission, you unlock Shadow Strike which allows you you teleport to any enemy you could shoot but this uses two arrows. Once again, I haven't used this very often out of necessity but it's quite fun.

2. The nemesis system and side missions. It's true, the main missions are really lame but the side missions and dynamic nemesis system are going to draw your attention. *Just a quick aside, don't wait too long to do the main missions since a lot of helpful/unique abilities are only unlocked during certain missions*. The side missions mainly consist of combat/range/stealth challenges that sometimes provide a spin on the regular gameplay, but I mainly play them because they provide ample experience points. There are also collectibles scattered around in very easy to find/traverse locations, so while it's not exactly fun it's at least not too time consuming.
On your travels, you will often encounter a warchief (or more than one!), highlighted in red when you use your Assassin's Creed vision, or just by them attacking you. These guys are harder to kill than regular enemies and usually have a group around them. They also have their individual strengths and weaknesses that you can learn by interrogating any enemy or finding intel scattered around. For example, some of them will be completely immune to ranged and/or stealth attacks, and some of them can be killed instantly by said attacks. Now, part of me is thrilled when I triumph due to adapting my strategy, but another part of me really feels like it's luck and doesn't require much strategy at all. Last night, I encountered one guy who I failed to kill after at least four attempts. He had only one weakness, fear of fire, that I couldn't exploit because there was no sources of fire around (I even unlocked the Fire Arrow ability but his immunity to ranged attacks also meant he couldn't be set ablaze by a Fire Arrow) and he had so many advantages (did extra damage, couldn't be stunned, extra health, healed over time, monster slayer so he OHKs the useful Caragors, etc.). Finally, I encountered him in a Power Struggle, a type of randomized side mission that features captains and if you stop whatever activity it is you gain extra Power, which is used to unlocked access to the next tier of abilities. He happened to be near a bonfire, which I ignited, causing him to run and I was finally able to finish him off. While it was satisfying in the moment, I felt like I just caught a break instead of overcoming a challenge - a challenge that was frankly ridiculously unfair.
See what I'm saying? The nemesis system supplies you with a personal narrative, which is nice, but success is often based on luck and the player's ability to read the list of weaknesses and just chose one, the execution of which is very easy.

The story? If you come here for the story, don't. So far it's bland and generic, even for AAA action/adventure standards. Music and sound are also equally forgettable but at least it fits the setting pretty well. Something's wrong with the audio mix - directional sounds are unclear with surround sound.

Playing on PS4, the graphics are pretty comparable to that of Black Flag. While it's certainly not ugly, you can tell this is a game held back by the previous generation of hardware. The draw distance and lighting are the most impressive features, but neither of which are showcases.

So yeah, overall, I am enjoying the game but I highly doubt I'll be returning to it after I beat it. Reminds me of my experience with Destiny and many other open-world games, it's addictive but the core gameplay gets old very quickly. It's a strangely satisfying game in that it's not the core gameplay that is satisfying, just the dynamic stories the nemesis system instills in you as you take down a captain, or get taken down by a captain.


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