Here is a game that simultaneously surprised me and met all my expectations. Given it won a number of awards (including a couple of "most surprising" game awards which really should have tipped me off), I was anticipating an enjoyable experience when I picked up my controller. Thankfully, I was not disappointed. What I didn't expect was to find orcs charming.
Don't get me wrong, there were a couple of nemeses I made who I hated enough to deliberately forgo a tactical branding just so I could watch Talion shank them to death. Or so it would seem. Ishgar the Swift was so fast he outran certain death three times, getting uglier all the while. I was glad to meet him at the Black Gates one last time so I could put a sword between his eyes.
Nemeses aside, I found the orcish political system truly delightful. The orcs behave as if they stop maturing mentally after they hit fourteen years old. Influence is gained by proving their orcishness by feasting, drinking, throwing themselves at enormous beasts and trying to kill each other. Its no wonder Sauron lost the war.
What surprised me was how invested I got in my orcs' progression through the ranks. I was very protective of my first few brandings. If one got into a tussle with another captain, Papa Talion would be right on over to ensure the big meanie didn't get the chance to lay a finger on my warchief-in-the-making. Being an orc captain can be hard so I'd take them aside afterwards for a heart-to-heart.
'Now Güshtar, just because they call you "the Brawler" doesn't mean you have to keep getting yourself into situations like this. You can be anything you want to be. As long as it's Warchief. Now go out there and assassinate your competitors and make Daddy proud.'
I know you're not meant to pick favourites but of my batch of budding Warlords, Zog the Drunk was possibly the best. When I first encountered him he seemed more confused by the whole situation than hateful. His damage output was phenomenal so I knew he was destined for great things.
Surely enough he murdered his way to the top and now he commands a proud legion of Uruks who spend most of their time feasting rather than getting involved in the political affairs of Mordor. Strangely anyone who would threaten the Warchief rarely lasted long enough to issue a challenge.
During my travels I met a number of curious orcs, including the paranoid sociopath Shagog Giggles, and the surprisingly civilized Shumo the Merciful (who sadly received none). I also meet this charming fellow, who offered polite conversation when he saw me rather than threatening to hang me by my entrails;
He received the white palm of friendship. The further into the game I got, the more orcs I branded and the less important they were to my plans. Eventually I had all the Warchief slots filled with possessed orcs and any time I claimed another it felt like branding cattle. Maybe that's the point. Maybe Monolith want us to share in Celebrimbor's disdain for the species. I remember a couple of lines where Talion begins to question using the orcs with such disregard and Celebrimbor pretty much tells him they are little better than puppets. I was starting to question the integrity of Celebrimbor's motives... then Ishgar the Swift killed me again and I decided to purge an entire orcish settlement to get even.
I believe my actions became the most dire when I met Dûshrat Graug Slayer. Dûshrat first came to power when I let him kill me as a plebeian orc so he could get promoted. Little did he know his sole purpose in life was to help Scotty towards a sense of completionism. And with a name like "Dûshrat," I knew he was the one. Just look at this majestic SOB.
Dûshrat was a lazy bastard. Almost as soon as he made it to the rank of Captain did he jump into an empty slot left by one of my vendettas. I went to check in on him at his fort where I happened to kill another captain whose position he had his eye on. So up he went another rank without having to actually do anything.
Due to his rapid ascension but lack of conflict, his power was abysmal so I decided it was time to brand the dûsh to keep a better eye on him.
Given Dûshrat lack of capability, I cleared off one of my Warchiefs to make room for him (sadly, Brog the Skin-shredder's life held less meaning than Dûshrat's, which is saying a lot). In a rare moment of inspiration, Dûshrat decided to go on a beast hunt to prove his worth. His target was a trio of Caragors. Caragors. This is a Caragor.
And this sums up my opinion of Caragors.
Anyway, Dûshrat didn't seem all that fussed that two of the three Caragors mysteriously dropped dead and the third already had an arrow sticking out of its head by the time it actually got to him. He got his kill and his promotion. And so began Dûshrat's reign as Warchief.
It lasted approximately three minutes.
And so ended the reign of the worst Warchief in all of Mordor. I don't think anyone cared either. Of his two bodyguards, one immediately took his place and the other just strolled away. He didn't even have the mass of orcs chanting his name as he arrived, which is one of my favourite details about the game. I really wanted to hear the hoards calling this guy what he was. Alas, we cannot all be winners. Especially not Dûshrat.
On a whole, I really enjoyed Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. It's feels like what Assassin's Creed should have been. It clearly took inspiration from the series; 'viewpoints' are 'forge towers,' maps are full of side-quests and collectibles, and the combat AI suffers from the same disease where only a single target can attack the player at a time, despite significantly outnumbering the player 95% of the time.
Despite its flaws, there are so many aspects of the game that are really enjoyable. When you first look at it, the combat's pacing is a whole jar of beef jerky, however the fluctuations in timing are much more bearable once you're the one with the controller in hand. The addition of the focus meter and combo chaining into special maneuvers results in some very satisfying finishers.
The game does suffer from the triple-A habit of spoon-feeding its audience. While there are a lot of controls to learn at the start, getting into a flow of movement was very easy. Once I knew my way around, the UI felt cluttered with constant reminders of how to play. Especially late game. If I forget how to play your game after sinking twenty hours into it, it can't be a very good game therefore why would I be playing it for twenty hours? This isn't Final Fantasy XIII.
So there are a few grumbles but on a whole, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was a brilliant experience, especially to a LOTR fan such as I. Its in-depth inclusion of the world's lore got me in the mood to read the books again and I felt like it did a great job at portraying Tolkien's universe. I'd definitely recommend it to any fan of the series, as well as anyone who enjoys a well-made stealth/action game. Kudos to Monolith for pulling this one off.
And the game has hail! How many other games include hail as a weather effects?