Bat-Ass Mordor

Happy Weekend TAY!

Wow, I’m so glad it is the weekend and a rainy one at that. I spent three days last week resealing our driveway in scorching summer-like heat and I’m so glad that it is over. I hope this sealant will last longer than the crappy product people are hawking at my door every year. Canada can be brutal on driveways with the harsh winters and dragging the snowblowers around on them.

Of course I managed a little gaming last week and acquired a bit of a cold from my child’s return to the petri dish known as school.

I finished off Dead Effect for PC. It was OK. No one really needs to play it, but there is something there. Maybe it is just a promise of something better in the next game. It had nice atmosphere and I enjoyed myself somewhat, so it wasn’t all bad. I did kill the final boss in one hit though, that was a little disappointing. Dead Effect is free on iOS and Android if you want to check the game out, it doesn’t look as nice as the PC version, but the gameplay seems similar from the little I’ve looked at the mobile version.

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With Dead Effect finished, I moved on to Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor that I managed to snag on sale a couple weeks ago. (it is also on sale this weekend on Steam if you haven’t picked it up).

I’ve often heard how much Shadow of Mordor is somewhat like a mix of the Batman Arkham games and Assassin’s Creed games; it certainly feels that way so far. The combat feels an awful lot like Batman and the climbing feels similar to Assassin’s Creed, especially unlocking area missions by scaling large towers.

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Thankfully, Shadow of Mordor takes the best of these games and improves on much of what it emulates, making something with a unique identity. I don’t feel like I’m playing Batman or Assassin’s Creed, even though there are similarities to the way the engine works. It feels fresh and most importantly, a whole lot of fun.

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I’m not too far in to Shadow Of Mordor, but I definitely see what the hype about the Nemesis System was all about. What a wonderful game device! Never in an open-world game have I ever felt so familiar with the characters and so pissed off at some of them. I find myself going out of my way to hunt down some asshole Uruk who caused my death by jumping into a battle I was having with another captain. Plus, the idea that my death makes my enemies stronger is delicious.

I do feel the game is somewhat easy so far, though I have died a few times. It is definitely going for the superhero route, which is a bit of a shame. I think I’d like to see that game with a slightly more realistic slant to it. They cover the superhero aspect of the game with the story, but the x-ray vision and wraith abilities feel a bit overpowered. Thankfully, Monolith includes an array of gameplay options that can be adjusted to make the game more challenging in lieu of difficulty settings.

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The QTE-style combat that these modern games have implemented doesn’t help with the ease of the game. Having big ugly button icons appear on screen when I should dodge or roll makes things a little too simple. It does allow for wonderful battles by enabling you to “skillfully” fight dozens of enemies at once, but it is offensive to my eyes with the gaudy icons. Thankfully, Monolith allows these to be adjusted. You can have just the “fx” which is the white border-thing around the Y prompt in the picture above. This makes for better immersion while still alerting to the incoming attack, though now the player doesn’t know what type of attack to counter with which button. The combat prompts can be turned off completely, which I have chosen at the moment, but that fundamentally changes the game. No longer can you run in to the midst of 20 or more orcs and keep an eye on every attacker coming your way to see their “tell” of an impending strike. I like no prompts for the moment, but the combat is definitely much harder this way. Maybe I just have to make better choices what brawls I start.

I would much prefer devs start using vibration feedback in more meaningful ways. I can readily see when I am hit in a game and when you are mashing buttons, hit detection vibration is easily ignored. You could get rid of the offending counter/dodge prompts and use vibration to alert the player to incoming blows. This would be a nice way of cleaning up the screen while allowing the player to tap in to another sense for feedback. Think of it as a “tremor in the force”.

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I’m enjoying the stealth though, I think it does this aspect better than both Assassin’s Creed and the Arkham games with more fluid stealth controls and more options for stealth kills. If only I could hide the bodies, then we might be able to give Sam Fisher a run for his money. I’m always a sucker for a good stealth implementation in games and Shadow Of Mordor doesn’t disappoint.

That said, I don’t like the trend of showing enemy awareness with big ugly icons over their heads that change colour to show alert status. The best stealth implementations for me are when it only shows when I am hidden from sight and I only know enemy awareness from observation; either via their behaviour or speech. Thankfully, again, Monolith has anticipated my needs. You can turn off the ugly awareness chevrons on the baddies and even turn off the highlight outlines for targeting. I have turned both off going forward and we’ll see how that goes.

Other than a small stint with Shadow of Mordor, the only other thing I played this week was some Banjo-Kazooie. My kid suddenly became obsessed with trying to figure out the Banjo-Kazooie theme song on the keyboard after he discovered the game on Rare Replay. I didn’t help the obsession by giving him my mint condition Banjo-Kazooie and Mumbo Jumbo stuffies that have decorated the shelves in my mancave for probably 16 years.

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He doesn’t want to play the game himself though. He finds it too difficult. I don’t know that it is difficult, but it is way less hand-holding and forgiving than most modern games. No regenerating health here and does anyone remember lives?

I didn’t play Banjo-Kazooie when they ported it to the 360, but it is a wonderful port and the sound and visuals are better than ever. Plus, the framerate is infinitely better than the N64 version. I also LOVE that note collection is saved per level so if you leave (or die) you don’t have to collect them all again. That used to piss me off in the N64 version and I think ultimately burnt me out on the game.

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I’m extremely happy to be playing Banjo-Kazooie again. It holds up extremely well and is a masterpiece of platform gaming.

Hopefully I’ll get to some more Banjo-Kazooie and Shadow Of Mordor this weekend. Also, my family will likely hit some more Rock Band 3 this weekend as it won’t be long before we are hopefully retiring it for number 4. “Hopefully” being the optimum word, after the abysmal support Harmonix gave to Dance Central Spotlight and the way they’ve effectively buried the game, my goodwill and trust in Harmonix is very shattered at this point. I’m fully prepared for loads of track importing issues when Rock Band 4 comes out.

So, what are you playing this weekend?