Showing posts with label Tolkien. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tolkien. Show all posts

GiR by GIR: Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Good news guys. We have a new feature as part of this whole turning-the-blog-into-a-real-website business that’s been popping up over the past couple of weeks. One of the goals for this ongoing ‘transformation’ business was to produce more content on a weekly basis. To accomplish this, and just because he loves talking about games, the GIR is officially joining the Care and Feeding of Nerds as a contributing author. His game reviews will now be published under the heading ‘GiR by GIR’ (the first GiR being an abbreviation of Games in Review), and his existing posts have been edited to carry this heading as well. He’ll formally introduce himself to you in a separate entry to be published in the very near future. I’ll still be writing game reviews and commentaries as well; think of this as just getting more gaming goodness for your browsing buck. More writing for us and more fun stuff to read for you! Everybody wins! I’ll let the GIR take it from here.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is Monolith Production’s newest take on gaming in Tolkien’s carefully crafted world and they have succeeded in setting a new standard for Open World adventure ARPGs, particularly those set in the realm of fantasy. This comes as a pleasant surprise, as I was a little wary heading into this title considering the quality of some of Monolith’s past titles, namely The Matrix Online and Tron 2.0. However, those missteps are a fairly long time gone and Monolith did manage some modest successes in the years since (like the FEAR franchise). It also helps that, as a pretty big fan of both books and films about Middle Earth, I’m already sold on the setting. That being said, I’m here to tell you though that even if you are a total stranger to these lands, you should still be giving strong consideration to picking up Shadow of Mordor because of the biggest trump card it brings to the table: the Nemesis System.

Before we get to that, since I'll will be spending the bulk of this review discussing it, let’s check off some basics. As noted, this is an open world along the lines of Grand Theft Auto, Watch Dogs, and Sleeping Dogs with the usual collectibles, side quests, and so on. This foundation is paired with typical ARPG combats that allow you to level up skills and gear. Incidentally, your initial set of equipment never changes (Bow, Sword, Dagger). However, Runes, a system of unlockable skills and abilities that you can add to gear, those base weapons are kept feeling fresh and powerful from the beginning to the end of the game. Stealth plays a considerable role and manifests in a manner similar to Assassin's Creed while combat tends to be combat-focused and will feel familiar to fans of the God of War and Batman’s Arkham franchises. If it seems like I’m glossing over some of these things it’s because the concept of open world ARPGs isn’t really new and, if that was all Shadow of Mordor had to offer, I wouldn’t have bothered reviewing it.  The crown Simarils, as it were (hey, I warned you I'm a Tolkien nerd) is the aforementioned Nemesis System.
The game itself is set apparently sometime between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring. You play as Talion, a Ranger who guards the Black Gate. His position is overrun in the opening cinematic and *SPOILER ALERT* he dies along with his family and everyone else in the immediate vicinity only to become posthumously paired with a mysterious wraith. Are the purists done gnashing their teeth? I know it may sound absurd, but let’s not forget we’re here to play a game and so certain concessions have to be made plot-wise to wedge this bit of fun into such a well-established world.  I may be a fanboy but I’m also a gamer and, while I can’t deny Shadow suffers a bit in the lore department, if you can suspend your disbelief long enough to get to the top-quality gameplay I can promise you won’t be disappointed. That being said, Monolith is far from ignorant of the weight of the property they're working with. While the main story line acts to facilitate the core gameplay, the various side quests and collectibles are packed full of accurate bits of lore that relate and allude to the larger fiction itself. 

But I digress. With his new-found wraith BFF in tow, Talion sets out on a quest for revenge and this is where the game truly shines. As you make your way through the world it evolves and changes with or without you.  See, the Uruk-hai and goblins don’t just sit around waiting to be victims of Talion’s revenge, but have lives and goals all their own. They struggle for power, infamy, and glory amongst themselves. Each encounter you have with them and all adversaries you face will alter how the narrative progresses. I don’t simply mean that you if go left versus right you'll end up in either crags or open plains. Rather, each time you come in conflict with a particular Uruk if you die and fail he will remember and make sure you don’t forget, taunting you repeatedly. Maybe his vanquishing you resulted in his promotion and now has more powerful bodyguards protecting him the next time you cross blades. But what if HE was the one who didn’t survive, you ask?  Well then maybe the power vacuum you created, the resulting gap in the chain of command, has allowed some enterprising upstart get a promotion. This new commander recognizes the source of his good fortune and is grateful to you. Consequently, he can then be turned to your cause and against his own kind. These sorts of events aren’t entirely scripted. Some certainly are, but the vast majority seems to emerge out of simply wandering, exploring the map, and interacting with the NPCs you happen across. 

Perhaps an example from my own time harrying the Uruk forces will help illustrate. 

I somewhat casually engaged a patrol of Uruk in order to free some human slaves. Things were fine at first as I cleaved my way through the enemy ranks, but soon the noise of battle and the piles of corpses drew unwanted attention in the form of a pack of Caragors and additional Uruk patrols.  Things were quickly spiraling out of hand as the Caragors didn’t discriminate who they mauled and ranged units launched spears and arrows liberally into the melee with the mentality of, "Kill ‘em all and let Sauron sort em out". The damage was starting to add up and, as much as I hated to admit it, it was time to flee; discretion is the better part of valor and all that. There was just one small thing I had overlooked during my escape plan: the possibility that an Uruk Captain I thought I had killed earlier, Zathra the Savage, would chose that exact moment to show up and settle our old score (namely that I had dropped a laundry basket-sized wasp's nest on his head, cut off most of his face, shoved him into a fire pit, and left him for dead maybe 30 minutes prior). As we locked blades, he swore this time I’d be the one who lost his head, but it was in that moment that  previously unnamed Uruk scout would seize this opportunity to kill-steal and shot me in the back of the head. Zathra gets a promotion, nameless goon gets both a name and a promotion (to an even higher rank than Zathra), and I got to die.
The interesting thing here is that Zathra and I had a history and the Uruk Formerly known as No-Name just stole his glory – and the game accounted for it. From that point on Zathra has a new motivation borne from his frustration at home landing the killing blow on me and this blossomed into a power struggle between him and No-Name. While I haven’t done so yet, it seems that Zathra might be open to the idea of helping me overthrow No-Name so that he can take his rightful place as chief and, in turn, get the honor and glory of killing me himself at a later date. That was the moment where I realized Monolith might just have introduced a new system as revolutionary as the games whose mechanics it had so liberally been pulling from. This was a level of emergent gameplay and relationship-building I have never seen in an action adventure game before. This wasn’t a scripted story and this wasn’t a pre-generated plot based villain. As a result I in fact found myself extremely engaged in the developing and ongoing drama I had with each of these specific Uruk Captains than I was in the main quest line. That’s not to say the main story arc is bad, but, rather, is a testament to just how powerful these little personal dynamic story arcs are.
The game seems to have a pretty steep learning curve if you aren’t already familiar with things like Batman’s Arkham or Assassin's Creed style systems. Some folks have complained about the finicky parkour/wall climbing aspects, but these individuals can’t provide examples of where it’s been done better. The level of difficulty, combined with almost too little direction in such a massive sandbox, as well as lack of accessibility mechanics-wise may turn some folks off, but if you can stick it out there is mighty fun to be had here and heaping amounts of content. That last point is particularly refreshing considering how short some AAA titles can be these days. If you do find yourself having difficulty perhaps this beginner's guide, courtesy of Game Informer, will help.

Shadow of Mordor provides a solid bedrock on which I hope a full franchise and not just DLC can be built. I’m sure there are more stories that can be told about Middle Earth that aren’t rooted in the films and I would love to experience them using the formula Monolith has presented here. Again, I cannot stress enough how excellent the Nemesis System is. I strongly recommend picking this title up at your earliest opportunity.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor was reviewed on a Windows PC using a gamepad controller.  It’s Rated M for Mature and is out now for PCs on Steam for $49.99 USD for the base game with optional season pass content for an additional $24.99 USD. The game is also available for Xbox One and PS4.
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This Week in Geekdom

You can probably guess as to why there's been a gap in posts during the past week. With only 18 days remaining until PAX East, the costuming engines are running at full throttle! A LOT of progress has been made over the course of the past few days and everything is starting to come together. If all goes well, we'll have that Transistor sword post in the next week or so. Woot! And now, on to the week in Geekdom!


The eyes of the video-gaming world were on the Game Developers Conference this past week, largely in the hope of obtaining updates regarding the Oculus Rift. On Wednesday, those eager onlookers got what they were hoping for with the public release of the second developer's kit.
$350 USD will get you much closer to virtual reality

*Mic feedback.* Activision is pulling the plug on the DLC associated with the various Hero franchises. Beginning on April 1st, DLC for Band Hero, Guitar Hero, and DJ Hero will no longer be available for purchase. This decision is not supposed to impact any DLC that has already been purchased for any of the three games.

It only took months of successive calamities, but EA finally released offline mode for Sim City this past Tuesday.

Tuesday must have been some sort of Purge the Hated Game Features Day, as Blizzard enacted the official closure of the much-loathed auction houses feature in Diablo III

Canadian console gamers got a bit of an unpleasant news from Sony this week as the hardware maker announced that its wares would be the subject of a price hike. Sony claimed that a weaker Canadian dollar was to blame for the increases.

In an effort to promote civil, decent behavior on Xbox Live, Microsoft released this plan to bribe reward players who don't throw tantrums and spew vitriol. Best of luck getting that to work guys.


The biggest scientific story of the week was the purported discovery of gravitational waves stemming from the incept of our known universe. Akin to what we saw with the confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking was quick to disclose just how the scientific community regarded the subject.

The research station on the South Pole that hosted BICEP2
Speaking of that revelation pertaining to the now not-theory of cosmic inflation, here is the video of the 'father' of this concept being told of the results from BICEP2: 

Now that we have new potential evidence of the Big Bang, it's especially interesting to see what some of humanity's greatest minds were able to conceptualize prior to the proliferation of the Big Bang. Einstein proffered these thoughts on the matter, though a simple error in his arithmetic renders it incorrect.
And, in a melding of the recently-passed St. Patrick's Day holiday and the above entries, I offer this discussion on the physics of beer tapping and subsequent foaming. (Results appear valid even if beer is green)

Correlated Magnetics Research would like to throw a wrench in your attempt to answer "Magnets. How Do They Work?" with their programmable magnets that can not only change strength, but also polarity at a moment's notice.

In a tribute to the forthcoming release of Captain America: Winter Soldier, check out this explanation of just how heavy Cap's famous shield actually is.

General Awesomeness

Fans of JRR Tolkien and epic Dark Ages Anglo-Saxon sagas rejoice! On Wednesday, publisher HarperCollins announced that it would be releasing Beowulf as it was translated 90 years ago by the inimitableJRR Tolkien. Said publication will be available in both physical and digital bookstores on May 22nd.

File this one under Things I Wish I'd Had as a Child: hobbyist and sometime war game designer Jim Rodda (aka Zheng3) has launched this Kickstarter for those in the 3D printing community who wish to arm Barbies. I would have killed for the Joan of Arc-esque models featured on the Kickstarter page! 

10 extremely unlikely comic-based movies that actually made it onto the big screen.

Consequence of Sound claims that these are the greatest nerd rock records OF ALL TIME.

Finally, I leave you guys with this video of Cubestormer 3, the rubik's-cube-solving robot made entirely of Lego, destroying the world record for solving the infamous puzzle:

As always, best wishes for an awesome week ahead!

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This Week in Geekdom

Hi guys. Happy Lunar New Year and Imbolc/Candlemas! It's been a little bit since the blog has featured any sort of new post, and for that I apologize. A couple weeks ago I got a promotion that, amongst other things, will free me from the cycle of quarterly battles with the workish Elder Hydra. Woot! While I'm very excited to move on to new challenges, this final battle with the Elder Hydra, as if somehow sensing my impending departure, morphed into a boss fight. Fortunately, that combat has come to an end and the Hydra's regenerative malice will no longer wreak havoc on me and, by extension, the blog.

There have been a couple new developments during the recent silence and these will be featured in their own posts as we get back to a normal publishing schedule. So let's get down to the Week in Geekdom!


The past few months have seen a veritable torrent of rumors concerning the plot, work schedule, and casting of the still-untitled Batman vs. Superman movie. On Friday Warner Bros. decided to add some actual confirmed facts to the fray with this official announcement.

Speaking of projects that are surrounded by a froth of rumors, the latest news to come out of development talks for Star Wars: Episode VII is this potential casting tidbit. Errrr, not feeling great about this one.

How is the forthcoming Peter Pan origin movie like the TV series Arrow? Well, for one, the two share a producer but said producer (Greg Berlanti) claims that the similarities do not end there.

JJ Abrams' pair of Star Trek films may be a point of heavy contention for franchise fans, but the alternate timeline presented in the movies is but one of many directions that cinematic Trek could have taken. Read here for a detailed description of Beginning, the Star Trek movie that never was. 


Last month, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia made this potentially landmark ruling that would, if left unchallenged, change the composition of the internet forever. While this has gone largely unremarked upon by the media at large, the guys at Daily Kos attempt to depict the consequences with this cartoon.

It's a merging of cosmic forces that's still billions of years away, but scientists believe that these images of existing galaxies can provide us with a glimpse into the far-flung future.

Cortana may soon have life beyond the Halo series. If Microsoft has its way, Cortana may attempt to challenge Siri for interactive mass-market AI supremacy.

Ooooh...magnetic monopoles
The latest issue of the journal Nature details this effort to create and photograph a synthetic magnetic monopole whose existence was predicted nearly 85 years ago.

10 of the most commonly circulated urban legends about NASA (and the subsequent debunking of said myths).

We've chatted a few times about the potential applications for ultrathin and ultralight materials and this phenomenon may be the key to making such compounds possible.

Want to take a course with Carl Sagan? Well, the Library of Congress will now let you do just that.

General Awesomeness

We may not be anywhere near the point of being able to build Jaegers, but Sagawa Electrics has put together this Appleseed-inspired mechanical exoskeleton.
We have a date for International TableTop Day 2014! Mark your calendars and have your dice bag ready on Saturday, April 5th!

The Middle Earth Project has been toiling away to create a 1:1 virtual recreation of the eponymous Tolkien world. See what they've been able to complete so far.

This is what 2013 looked like as viewed from orbit:

As always, best wishes for an awesome week ahead!
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