Blog 627: Shadow of Boredor

First impressions are tough things to get right, and Shadow of Mordor really drops the ball. A vomit-inducingly narrow field of view? Awful laggy, acceleration-ridden camera movement? Insane information overload and everything is a pre-rendered cutscene? (No wonder it’s 50GB big, they’re all bloody videos.)

You’ve just tumbled off a cliff, son. Care to attempt a recovery?

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Okay, so things took a turn for the better when I plugged in my new XBone Controller For PC (it’s the same as a normal XBone but comes in a For PC box and has a wire). Turns out that games like this don’t actually want you to control them and once you surrender, things start to go a bit more smoothly.

I suppose it’s a different angle on the cover shooter. Cover exists to negate your need to move and aim at the same time, because aiming with thumbsticks is very difficult — even with cover removing all the dynamism from shoot-outs, you still need heaps of aim-assist to bring you into some semblance of capability.

I made the mistake of trying to control SoM with mouse and keyboard the first time around. I made the mistake of assuming that aim is important.

It isn’t. I don’t like that, but at least now we have a way in.

I'm the one with the glowing sword. Obviously.

I’m the one with the glowing sword. Obviously.

Even so, surrender didn’t lead to success as the game still refuses to let me continue my progress the next day — every time I open the game is the first time, as far as it’s concerned.

Seems like I have to back up my save file, start a new game, then overwrite the game it just started with my actual save file.

Bizarre and rather annoying. For a second there, I thought the game would become literally unplayable rather than just figuratively.

He can't kiss her when she's aware of him, he can only do it in stealth mode.

He can’t kiss her when she’s aware of him, he can only do it in stealth mode.

There are other advantages to the XBone pad. SoM has a load of buttons to press and rolling your own keyboard layout is inevitably going to end in tears (but I have to because I cling like a frightened child to the cursor keys rather than using WSAD). It’s hard enough to know which button to press when just fighting normally, let alone knowing what combination you need to unlock another variation of wraith world interrogate wraith stun elf bow drain wraith blast interrogate grab shadow strike finish him oi ranger…

… Whereas the XY and AB buttons and the triggers are right there; it is a bit easier to map all the on-screen prompts to fingers already poised across countoured curves without having to peer down at the keyboard during all the fights, even if some of the combinations require a little contortion. (Let’s ignore for now how this problem could probably have been solved with a skill bar along the bottom of the screen, which would allow your brain to map every ability along an easy sequence and in turn map that sequence to the assigned keyboard keys.)

Side-effects of being cursed to eternal unlife and merged with an ancient wraith include seeing convenient prompts floating about enemies' heads.

Side-effects of being cursed to eternal unlife and merged with an ancient wraith include seeing convenient prompts floating about enemies’ heads.

Luckily most of the time it’s mashing X to slice and hitting Y to counter enemies when the prompts come up — Talion will literally glide across the ground, snapping happily into position to do whatever it was you pressed to whichever enemy he deems appropriate. Gesticulating with the thumbstick seems to give him some kind of direction, but that’s how it feels — like I’m a director rather than a direct participant in the action.

Occasionally, the ranger will pretend to actually be doing what you tell him and swipe at thin air, but such occurrences are rare; mostly, it’s a rhythm game that divorces you from the actual business of third-person actioning. Is it just a very jazzed-up quick-time event sequence at this point?

Oh well, shooters are just clicking on heads. Shadow of Mordor is something different that I’ve never played before and that scares me; the problem lies with me being a control freak that just can’t let it go.

The look of abject terror on an uruk's face when you prepare to gain intel by forcibly ripping the thoughts from its head is a little bit disturbing.

The look of abject terror on an uruk’s face when you prepare to gain intel by forcibly ripping the thoughts from its head is a little bit disturbing.

Sure, outside of combat you do get to control your movement — well, again, mostly. Running up to an overhead rope will ensure Talion vaults onto it and slides down, rather than jumping off the cliff as I was expecting. He’ll magically snap onto wires if they’re horizontal too, tippy-toeing between the orcish fortifications strewn seemingly at random across the landscape. Press “A” to do something awesome, pretty much.

In a land full of uruks the deathless ranger is king, but still needs to hide lest he be overwhelmed because combat is never far away. The open world platter isn’t unmanageably big, which is good because (fast-travel between forge towers aside), you have to run or, yes, sneak everywhere. There are collectibles scattered around, all conveniently marked on your map which seems to slightly defeat their purpose. There’s no need to explore if you know where things are; you stop joyfully unravelling the world and start ticking boxes.

Collectibles offer tangible benefits in that they give you points with which to upgrade yourself, so it’s less of an exploratory bonus achievement than just… I don’t know, you still get experience points for combat so I’m not sure what’s going on here. Several abilities have to be unlocked by the plot rather than your own growth so you have to tackle the plot missions to reach your full potential.

Luckily Mordor is absolutely *covered* with clumps of identically-shaped bushes.

Luckily Mordor is absolutely *covered* with clumps of identically-shaped bushes.

Oh, the uruks, we couldn’t talk about this game without talking about the uruks. The society of the uruks does chug along without you; every time you die, or fast-forward time, the uruks fight amongst themselves and become stronger then get killed or promoted. The targets of interest are the captains, who offer upgrades for your sword, bow or dagger on being offed — needless to say, they are the baddest uruks who got to their positions by climbing a mountain of corpses.

Since you’ve got infinite respawn wraith world on your side, being slain by a captain isn’t the end of the line for either of you — he gets stronger, possibly rising up the ranks, and will offer more specific taunts the next time you try to take him down. On the other hand, killing the captain means he’s out of the running, but I’m pretty sure an uruk I properly killed before still managed to come back with a chunk of his face missing…

Dying is worse when it's dying -- repeatedly -- to an uruk called "Runny-Bowels". It couldn't be "Hell-Hawk" or "the Literate One", noooo, it HAD to be "Runny-Bowels".

Dying is worse when it’s dying — repeatedly — to an uruk called “Runny-Bowels”. It couldn’t be “Hell-Hawk” or “the Literate One”, noooo, it HAD to be “Runny-Bowels”.

The Verdict

There’s a lot to like but I just can’t get over the style of combat. There are a few too many combinations of buttons to press to make it smooth and control is a few degrees too far removed to feel like I’m having much impact on it.

“It’s just like Assassins’ Creed,” they said. “I’ve never played Assassins’ Creed,” I replied. Based on this, I won’t be intending to remedy that.

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4 thoughts on “Blog 627: Shadow of Boredor

  1. Never finished Asscreed 2 myself, which is the only game with this type of combat that I played. SOM sounds a lot better than that game, but it’s a pity that the combat system is apperantly the same bore.

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    • It’s very lavish and clearly very high budget, beautifully put together… The story is extremely fanfictiony (it reminds me of The Force Unleashed in terms of coming between prequels and sequels and being hilariously self-inserty) but amusing enough. I feel a bit of a boor in not really liking it, but like I said, I’m not convinced that I’m actually playing it.

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      • Yeah, it really sounds like the same combat system. Very cool to do once or twice and boring after that. If anything, you feel like you’re fighting the system (please accept this button press) rather than the actual enemies.

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      • Yeah, I’m not sure if I’m mashing wrong or have terrible timing but it doesn’t feel very responsive sometimes. I’ve still not worked out how to press A to avoid getting stuck by those jobbies with shields and halberds.

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