Killing Orcs and Taking Names
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor unlocked on Steam at 6:00 PM today and within minutes I was back in Mordor murdering Orcs once again. It is interesting sequel, to say the least. First off, I’ve not seen quite as much mainstream publicity for a game for a while. There has been a fair amount of TV advertising and every London Bus I see, seems to be adorned with promotional posters for the game. Next, this game is acutely aware that it’s a sequel and does everything it can to improve and embellish upon the previous instalment. Such a policy broadly works but there are times when there seems to be an overabundance of choice. Many of the core skills from the first game make a return but have a subset of modifiers. Not all of them seem that important or relevant. However, the new double jump is invaluable for navigating the environment which features numerous iconic locations such as Minas Ithil and Cirith Ungol. There’s also a far greater number of mobs about this time so stealth is not always an easy option.
As with the previous game, if you’re a Tolkien purist then you may object to some of the liberties that the writers have taken with existing lore. Talion is still connected to the spirit of Celebrimbor and the game starts with the forging of a new ring, free from the power of Sauron. However, the crafting process weakens the Second Age Ñoldorin prince and he is separated from Talion. The Grave Walker eventually tracks him down, finding him in the clutches of Shelob. She will release him only if Talion freely gives her the new ring. As he has no other option Talion agrees and Celebrimbor is restored to him. Shelob encourages them to make war upon Sauron and suggests that the Palantir of Minas Ithil will aid them. However, Sauron has plans of his own and lays siege to the Tower of the Moon. Celebrimbor deems the city lost but Talion feels obliged to fight with his people. However, will the pair of them be able to withstand the Nazgûl and their leader the Witch-King of Angmar.
It's a bold narrative despite the canonical inconsistencies. Minas Ithil fell to the Nazgûl 939 years earlier in the third age but to be honest it doesn’t really matter. This is a game set more in Peter Jackson’s version of Middle-earth, rather than Tolkien’s. And once again it is the nemesis system that is the major selling point. The Orcs, Uruks and Ologs all have incredibly well written personalities and can be either sinister, repulsive or just plain crazy. They often have curious quirks and foibles that come dangerously close to parody but the humour is kept on the right side of the line, so it doesn’t get too silly. The game also has a wealth of minor quests and collectables, that some would describe as busy work. There are dozens of lore items to discover, each with a short-narrated anecdote connected to them. Then there are fragments of Shelob’s memory to collect. Furthermore, this time round there is gear to collect and upgrade.
So far, it all seems highly polished and very familiar. Having maxed out my previous character in the last game it is a little odd to be starting from scratch again and to be missing many of the skills I came to rely puon. They all have to be earned from scratch again. At present I cannot dominate Orcs and so I have had no reason to look any further in to the Fortress Siege system. I’m not required for the meantime to recruit an army to rival Sauron’s. I suspect that mechanic will be part of the endgame along with the requirement to use the loot box system. Exactly how long it takes to get there, is a subject of interest to me. The marketing of Middle-earth: Shadow of War suggests there is fifty to sixty hours of gameplay in the campaign. Considering that I spent £59.99 for the Gold Edition of the game, I hope that is the case. As and when I have to use the microtransaction mechanic in this game, I will write another blog post to discuss how I find it. For the present I will simply say, so far, so good.