JANUARY 27, 2015

I think I may be a sociopath.

There are several reasons, unrelated to this review, but mostly because I treat this game as a giant mass murder simulator. Seriously, I spent almost all of my play time committing orc genocide and ignoring any semblance of plot or main mission. It’s not entirely my fault. Never before has slaughtering orcs been more stupidly satisfying (I’m not crazy, I promise).
There are a ridiculous number of detailed and graphic ways you can poke them with your shiny orc-killin’ stick until they go sleepy time. (But then.. that’s exactly what a crazy person would say..)
My personal favourite is rolling over their back while slicing their neck open along the way in one smooth motion. The only other game in history that had me killing everything “just ’cause it’s fun” was GTA, where I would park myself on a roof somewhere and blow up civillians on their daily work commute just so I could eventually steal a tank.

Oh God I'm going to have to admit myself to an asylum
Oh God I’m going to have to admit myself to an asylum

Monolith Productions Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a super fun blend of Assassin’s Creed and the Arkham series dressed neatly in a Tolkienian package (would you believe that word is in the dictionary?). Using a combination of hacking, countering and all kinds of nifty ghost moves, you can take down hordes of orcs single-handedly like you’re starring in a HK martial-arts flick from the ’90s. If enemies ever stop lining up like they’re waiting to make a bank withdrawal we’re all screwed. 

You play Talion, a ranger on the Black Gate sometime between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings who is, for all intents and purposes, Viggo Mortensen. The only difference is, after watching your family viciously slaughtered by orcs, you are also viciously slaughtered by orcs and become very dead. A side effect of death is that you are now in a weird platonic relationship with some old dead elf who spends half his time possessing you, half just hanging out in your body and occasionally popping out to help you pick flowers. Without spoiling anything, elf-dude is a pretty major character in the Tolkien-verse, if not also a major buzzkill. “You are not of this world!” he complains, every time Talion tries have the slightest bit of fun. Yeesh.

Hilarious buddy-cop shenanigans ensue!
Hilarious buddy-cop shenanigans ensue!

The reason this game is so addictive is because of one key word: FERTILITY. Wait, no. FLUIDITY.  The combat works because it’s fluid, slashing enemies and countering exactly when you press the button allowing you to get MAXIMUM COMBO POINTS. Do you hear that, Bruce Wayne? Counter button immediately works as a counter, not a “punch me in the face I’m wide open” button. Running, jumping, scaling walls, terrorizing local wildlife and accidentally running people over on a Caragor all flow together seamlessly. Accompanying the hacking are a plethora of graphic finisher executions, ballin’ archery techniques and ethereal abilities courtesy of Miserabor the sad elf. That said, I did find issues navigating some corners, and mount combat was a bit like playing pool with a rope.

Shadow of Mordor is unique in that there is an entire orc hierarchy which is influenced by everything you do. Like lemmings, if you kill an orc, they are soon replaced by a similar, equally douchey orc with his own set of strengths, weaknesses and pointy armour . Sometimes you kill an orc and the bastard doesn’t even stay dead, showing up the next day with a scar on his face and a zero fucks policy. And if for some reason you manage to die again, the orc who kills you gets an increase in strength, a promotion and a shiny new pot for a helmet. Many of the earlier orcs can be easily taken care of with combination finishers but as your character levels and gets stronger, you begin fighting pissed off orcs in packs who are basically immune to everything except a nuclear missile strike.
With that said, the game isn’t overly difficult, and at some points I found myself letting orcs live another day just so they would dropper better, phatter loot when I finally separated their heads from their bodies. You can augment Strider 1.0 with ability upgrades and your weapons with runes that do various useful things like lifesteal or make orcs run in terror for no reason.

Classic Dush
Classic Dush

I’m not going to call myself a full-on diehard Tolkien fanboy (he says, wearing his adorable little elvish cloak from Lothlorien) but I know my Istari from my Isildur and this game does a brilliant job of fleshing out the universe, with novel bits of lore and LOTR history neatly scattered throughout the world. You can find everything from remnants of the ancient first men to giant sacs the orcs used to hold their booze (Yep. Goon bags of Middle-earth. Expect a three-part PJ adaptation soon).
To say it brings Mordor to life wouldn’t be quite fitting because Mordor is suitably dark, dank and depressing as shit to the point you can almost smell it. It’s gritty, realistic and a decidedly far more accurate portrayal of New Zealand than the films attempt.

I often wonder what old JRR would say if he could play a computer game based on the universe he created. Probably make some fruity elf poem about trees.
Speaking of fruity elves, Tolkien’s infamous blatant racism and class discrimination is wonderfully represented  with orcs uniformly both hideous and British. The character design is fantastically detailed and with a large number of models the orcs are individually grotesque. (Just like the real British! Hahaaaaaaaaaaa.) You will occasionally see two who look exceedingly similar but that’s what happens when you grow creatures in vats, I suppose. The voice acting is top-notch, too.

It’s just long enough to avoid getting stale and it’s the most fun game I’ve played in a long time.
9/10 would genocide with sad elf again