Tobold's Blog
Sunday, November 08, 2015
Shadow of Ubisoft

I am currently playing Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, a Warner Brothers game. However it feels very much like playing an Ubisoft game, Assassin's Creed: Mordor or something. A few years ago, when open world games were becoming popular, Ubisoft developed the "Ubisoft formula", a game design concept of giving structure to an open world by sub-dividing it into smaller areas to be explored one by one, with a story-line leading you through the world. For some unknown reason this formula requires you to climb towers to unlock those zones. And Shadow of Mordor copies that formula to the dot, including those towers.

You play Talion, a ranger of Gondor, and the game starts with teaching you how to sword-fight, and then gets you killed. You continue the game as half human ranger, half elven wraith with magical powers, so your early death is necessary for the story. Or maybe it is meant as a message that you shouldn't be sword-fighting in this game: Sword-fighting combat is copied from another Warner Brothers game series, the Batman Arkham series, and involves hitting the attack button a lot, plus well-timed blocks and dodges when the game signals you to do so. The problem with that is that it is so hellishly inefficient: The same orc who will die to a single headshot arrow or stealth dagger in the back will need a dozen sword hits before he goes down. That is not a problem if the orc is alone, but for fighting a group that quickly gets tedious. More orcs means needing more blocks and dodges, and if you mistime those, you quickly end up dead.

To some extent the game is designed to make you fail that way, as that showcases the game's Nemesis system: Orcs that kill you get promoted and become stronger. Even orcs you kill sometimes come back and remember you in a small cut-scene when you fight next. The idea is to have a more personal relation to the orc captains to make killing all those orcs more interesting. To some extent that works, but there is something inherently flawed in a system that makes the enemies stronger when you fail to kill them. On my first game I missed how important interrogating orcs was in this game, and didn't know how to scout captains through walls yet. So I ended up running into a group of two captains over and over, and got killed repeatedly, turning them into unbeatable monsters. Once I had understood what I was supposed to do, I deleted the save game and started over. Now I mostly stick to arrows and stealth kills.

That is facilitated by orcs being incredibly stupid and having problems looking up. Even with a dozen orcs on your trail you can often easily get into stealth again by climbing a wall. So if you find yourself fighting too many orcs, you're doing it wrong; climb a wall, disappear, and then shoot or stealth kill some of them to make the rest of the fight much easier. Shadow of Mordor is a stealth game, and much easier if you play it as one.

Overall the quality of the game is great. While you kill orcs most of the time, the orcs all look very different from each other. They come in different sizes, different faces, and different clothing. Not just the captains, but also all the regular orcs. Some of the structures are re-used, but overall the open world is quite interesting to explore, with some easier, lighter populated areas, and some much more difficult strongholds. There is also quite a good mix of story elements and open world elements, which is keeping the game interesting for many hours. And of course you get Middle-earth and Gollum in the story, which I find more interesting than Ubisoft's assassins. So I would recommend Shadow of Mordor to anyone who likes Assassin's Creed games.

I have nothing to say on topic.

Quick question though: do you like suggestions for games to try? If yes here is one: "The Swapper", a nice puzzle game with a creepy background story. Learning curve is well done, easy at first with real head scratchers now that I'm about 2/3 through the game.
I have to say I liked Shadow of Mordor a lot although I did find that things got very repetitive towards the end. I generally found melee combat more interesting than ranged combat. Once you learn a few combos things get easier. Also once the bosses level up a bit they often become immune to ranged which forces you to use melee. Stealth works wonderfully as you have noticed but by the end of the game some bosses can be immune to melee and stealth so you need to find their weaknesses in order to have any chance.

Strangely of all the "Ubisoft formula" games I have tried the only ones I have never managed to warm to are the Assassins Creed games themselves. I keep trying each new one because the historical locations really appeal to me (AC Unity has a spectacular rendition of 18th Century Paris) but I quickly get bored with the game play every time.
Once you've played long enough to get a bunch of the extra skills trained up melee is not so hard. Those "unkillable" bosses have exploitable vulnerabilities. Running away, ducking behind an obstacle then stealth/range attacking to pick off a few enemies can even the odds.

Late game, with all the skills unlocked, standard orcs are pretty much ignoreable and even captains can be simply subverted. I'm trying to get the achievement for raising up an orc to warchief and then killing him but keep failing because my tamed army wipe him out first!

Setting a Graug and a half-dozen charmed Caragors against an enemy stronghold is always good for a laugh.
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