A tale at the cutting edge

by Shane Dillon

THINGS are comparatively a little quiet on the gaming front at the moment, following the recent high-profile launch of Destiny, with the big guns of major titles and franchise updates being held back to nearer Christmas.
However, almost out of the blue, we have an interesting game that’s much more entertaining than its low-key arrival might indicate.
And, being a game that’s developed using Lord of the Rings as a base, it’s also bang on trend (as the fashionistas say), given the imminent arrival of the closing part of The Hobbit trilogy, now no more than an eagle’s flap away at cinemas.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Cert 18, multiplatform, out now) takes Tolkien’s rich mythology to spin its own rich tale of dark days for Man, as orcs and all manner of foul things spill forth upon the land.
Although set between the times of The Hobbit and the start of The Lord of the Rings, it tells its own tale that doesn’t quite fit into Tolkien’s richly detailed world, but won’t seem too jarring to Tolkien fans or gamers.
Following a fairly standard open world setting, Talion, a human Ranger, starts off the game by being killed, alongside his family.
However – breaking with Tolkien’s “rules” – death is not the end for Talion, restored to life (more or less) by an ancient Elven blacksmith – none other than the smith who forged the fabled Rings of Power, so vital to Sauron’s great evil, and the exploits of the books and films.
So, Talion – with help from a spectral Celebrimbor, the smith – sets off for revenge, with a pretty large game world to explore, and lots of quests to undertake, as well as the usual optional side quests and secrets to take on that are typical for this genre.
On the way, he meets a lot of characters on both sides of good and evil, as well as someone who’s a bit… precioussss…
As you might expect – and earning its Cert 18 rating – it’s a pretty violent game (as though anything set in Tolkien’s world could be any different), as Talion sets out to hack and slash his way to vengeance, as well as fulfilling Celebrimbor’s aims too.
So far, so ho-hum, as gamers are very used to defeating armies. Orcs, wargs, ogres, aliens, zombies, killer robots, squirrels – whatever.
This being so, its maker, Monolith Productions, have come up with a couple of interesting twists that lift the game out of its already notable position, thanks to what it calls the “nemesis system”.
With this, enemies that escape from your clutches may return later, perhaps scarred by your previous encounter, and perhaps even stronger than before.
That scrawny orc that you last saw running off into the sunset an hour ago could return, full of insults and mockery – you may not remember him, but he certainly remembers you.
If he gets away again from your next scrap, he could be even more annoying on another unexpected encounter, tuning “bit part” meetings into more personal and engaging events than simply running into one group of anonymous baddies after another.
In addition, there’s an interesting bit of number crunching going on behind the scenes, too. As you sythe your way through the ranks of Mordor, your actions have an almost chess-like effect on those around you, as you also engineer political shifts in power.
By eliminating a lowly captain, or by intentionally or incidentally leaving someone – or something – free to live another day, the knock-on effects may weaken (or strengthen) future enemies and challenges, adding a strategic element to the game.
Throw in a number of other interesting gameplay elements, and a fairly standard upgrade tree to develop Talion’s skills to suit your gameplay styles, and you have a very polished title, with some great graphics in part, thanks to Monolith’s relationship with Weta Workshop, and their work on the films.
While the main story is a little dull, the entertaining freeform chaos that can erupt – not to mention the satisfaction of tracking down and finally eliminating a hated/loved foe – and its richly atmospheric world setting make Shadow of Mordor a guilty treat that should also put gamers and Tolkien fans in the right mood for the next Hobbit film.
Now, did anybody see where Pigbreath of The Rusty Knife clan went running off to?

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