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Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is now on Mac and Linux


Say Uruk-Hai to the new players
Jul 31
// Joe Parlock
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor was by far one of the best games of 2014. With great combat, abilities, and a really interesting Nemesis system, I was really surprised by what I was expecting to be a pretty generic Batman: Ark...
Xenoblade Chronicles X photo
Xenoblade Chronicles X

Xenoblade Chronicles X releasing on December 4


'It's [almost] time to suit up'
Jun 16
// Darren Nakamura
Nintendo has been pushing Xenoblade Chronicles X pretty hard with Japanese live streams earlier this year. Now it's getting close to time for Western audiences to start getting hyped. The short trailer shown during Nint...
Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor's Game of the Year Edition trailer proves it lives up to its namesake


Horn tootin' at its finest
May 05
// Brett Makedonski
Less than one week after it was revealed, the Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Game of the Year Edition is on store shelves. It contains all released add-ons for the game, as is customary for these re-releases. Really, it...
Xenoblade photo
Xenoblade

Whoa there Xenoblade Chronicles X alien, put on some pants!


Alien pubes
Apr 24
// Jordan Devore
There's a special Nintendo Direct going on right now for Xenoblade Chronicles X. As someone who has paid little attention thus far, I have no idea what's happening despite the Direct's best attempts at setting the stage and l...

Xenoblade Chronicles X photo
Xenoblade Chronicles X

Xenoblade Chronicles X lets up to 32 players cooperate


Form a squad and explore efficiently
Apr 10
// Darren Nakamura
There was a Japanese Nintendo Direct this morning focused on Xenoblade Chronicles X. Thanks to some helpful translation, we know a few more details about the Dolls and mechs and cooperative play. One cool-sounding note is th...

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is a bare-bones port of a fantastic game

Mar 25 // Chris Carter
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D (3DS)Developer: Monolith Soft, Nintendo SPD, Monster Games (3DS port)Publisher: NintendoReleased: April 10, 2015MSRP: $39.99 Jim has already talked at length about what makes Xenoblade Chronicles so special, so I'll spare you most of the details. Suffice to say, I would consider it a new classic in the JRPG space. Every so often you'll find people longing to return to the golden era of the genre, pining over various SNES and PlayStation classics, but new masterpieces come and go in the current era all the same -- this is one of them. Despite the problems I'm about to present with the 3DS port, you owe it to yourself to play it in some form or another. Right off the bat you should probably know that Xenoblade Chronicles 3DS has a huge file size requirement if you're going digital. It weighs in at 28832 blocks, which translates to roughly 3.6 GB. It won't even fit on the 4GB card that comes standard with the New 3DS due to the system partition, so plan accordingly if you're picking this up on the eShop. The huge size is likely due to voice acting, and the fact that it's essentially a 100-hour JRPG squished into a portable format. You can tell immediately that Xenoblade has been downgraded during said squishing session, but it runs smoothly with little in the way of performance issues -- which is more important in my book. Having said that, it is tough to ignore some of the other shortcomings from a visual sense. The icons are extremely low res, as in, they weren't even touched up on the 3DS. It's really strange to look out into the horizon and see a vast beautiful tundra, then go to a shop and flip through the user interface as if it were a PS1-era RPG with fuzzy, muted menus. [embed]289388:57883:0[/embed] Another issue I had was the lack of screen real estate. The bottom screen hosts your status information and such, but the core of the game takes place on the top. It's ample enough space to do pretty much everything, but when you're actually in a battle, your targeted enemy will take up a great deal of the screen with its info box. There needs to be an option to shrink the enemy info text, because even with the "zoomed out" view it can get cluttered. With those technical issues out of the way, the game really shines on a portable. Xenoblade controls like a dream, as the extra buttons on the New 3DS allow it to mirror the Classic Controller setup on the Wii. The C-Stick also controls the camera, which is pretty much needed at all times to survey the land and constantly locate hidden treasures or areas. Even with all the aforementioned problems, it didn't hinder my enjoyment of one of my favorite RPGs in recent memory. You can skip cutscenes you've already seen in case you've already beaten it on the Wii and want to move forward with the story, and the 3D effect, while relatively tame, delivers an interesting perspective on the Bionis and the Mechonis. Keep in mind though that there is no extra content included in the actual story -- so if you already have your 100+ hour completion file on the Wii and want more, the only real advantage you'll get out of Xenoblade 3DS is the portabiity. There is amiibo/Play Coin/StreetPass support, but it's a tiny little bonus that lets you view character models or listen to music. When you think about it, the prospect of Xenoblade Chronicles 3DS sounds pretty silly. It's a port with no real content additions or true enhancements, and you have to buy a whole new 3DS model just to play it. If you can get past that barrier though, ultimately this is a way to get a great game into the hands of more players -- and I'm okay with that.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D photo
Who ate the bones?
Xenoblade Chronicles pretty much blew me away back in 2012. Fans had been clamoring for a localization for over two years, and due to an add partnership between Nintendo and GameStop, we got one. It was a rather limited relea...

Xenoblade Chronicles X photo
Xenoblade Chronicles X

Xenoblade Chronicles X combat explored in 30-minute livestream


All you need to know and more
Mar 07
// Brittany Vincent
Nintendo of Japan recently streamed a live Xenoblade Chronicles X presentation, detailing the game's intricate combat system for eager viewers around the globe. The 30-minute video is available for viewing in full, and it go...
 Vlade Divac Chronicles X photo
Vlade Divac Chronicles X

Xenoblade Chronicles X shows off dynamic weather, day-night cycle


Vlade Divac Chronicles X
Feb 26
// Steven Hansen
Day and night cycles aren't new, but it's a pretty one at least. Actually, thinking on it, more RPGs (particularly Japanese RPGs) could benefit from a day and night cycle just for the perceived visual variation on the hours ...
Bright Lord photo
Bright Lord

Shadow of Mordor's newest DLC has you wearing rings and fighting Sauron


Yeah, THAT ring
Feb 24
// Brett Makedonski
Leagues of Uruks fell by your doing in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor -- just an unacceptable amount of dead orcs, really. Sure, that was gratifying in its own way, but a pile of orcs doesn't carry the same weight as someone...
More Condemned plz photo
More Condemned plz

Which indie studio should take on Condemned 3?


IP owner contemplates third installment
Feb 02
// Jordan Devore
Over the weekend, Monolith Productions founder Jace Hall put it out on Facebook that he is "contemplating" setting up an independent development team with the rights to Condemned "so that they can take over the franchise and ...
Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor DLC goes hunting, vomiting


Who wants More-dor?
Dec 16
// Brett Makedonski
Monolith released Lord of the Hunt today, the first add-on pack for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Yeah, the $10 DLC has a lot of the stuff you'd expect: new nemeses, new challenges, and even some guy named Torvin the ...

Dear devs, stop it with tutorials all the way through the game

Dec 07 // Nic Rowen
Shadow of Mordor is just the most recent and notable culprit of a crime we've seen repeated again and again in recent years - games that go out of their way to include a direct tutorialization of mechanics you've probably already used a ton of times right up to the game's final moments. I cringe every time it happens and wonder how and why this is a thing. I'll forgive it if you have a real game-changer of a mechanic. If some ability or tool only appears in the later part of a game because of plot or balance reasons, it might make sense to give the player a heads-up about it. Say for example, when Talion's ability to drain an orc turns into his ability to brand one and bend him to his will. Sure, that's a big mechanical change that occurs as a result of the game's natural plot. Go ahead and tutorialize that. But dedicating missions to learning how to ride the same beasts you've been taming since your first hour of playtime? Or instructing you on the finer points of slaying the same Ghul Matron monster you've probably annihilated in a few side-missions already? Ridiculous. It just kills all the momentum for me. A big fat ugly reminder that “YOU ARE PLAYING A VIDEOGAME!” So much for all that willing suspension of disbelief and investing in a fantasy world. If you're making a game and realize that, oh shit, you've made 8 hours worth of content already and still haven't included a mission that primarily revolves around X-mechanic, maybe you don't need that mission. If you couldn't find a non-intrusive way to slide that idea into the first third of the game, it probably isn't all that important. If this is a problem that is happening multiple times in your game, maybe its just too full of stuff. Or, maybe you just don't give your players enough credit to figure things out on their own. I guess it bugs me in particular with Mordor because Monolith already found the perfect way to non-intrusively teach things with an easy-to-use two-pronged attack: 1) Make those tools available to the player early and provide opportunity to use them organically. 2) Slide those mechanics into optional, but attractive, side-missions. Mordor slightly stumbles on the first point but does well enough. Some powers and abilities are tied to mission progress, sometimes sensibly, other times seemingly arbitrary. But most of the cool toys can be unlocked and used by the player as he or she deigns to, or at least are unlocked fairly early. They nail the second part though. Seeded throughout Mordor are plenty of side-missions and challenges that are just entertaining enough to entice most players to give them a try. They offer unique situations and dilemmas to solve using the available tools with extra bonus conditions that encourage players to approach them in a particular, often more difficult, way. They're a fun distraction and test of the player's abilities in their own right, but also offer fun stat boosting rewards and cooler looking re-forges of your weapons to boot. Well done Monolith. So why put in so many late-game tutorials? Why not just leave it up to those side-missions and the player's natural curiosity to figure these things out? All of this is ignoring the simple fact that some things are just better left to players to find out on their own. Not EVERY SINGLE mechanic has to be explicitly laid out, broken down, blue-printed, and reassembled in front of a player's eyes. It turns out, we actually like figuring this stuff out on our own. I played through the entirety of Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater, no exaggeration, at least ten times. Know why I kept coming back? Because the game just kept giving. Now MGS might seem like an odd example to hold up in comparison since the series is known for <DREET, DREET> chiming in with a codec message every three seconds with some “helpful tip,” but hear me out. For all the helicopter-parenting Snake's support staff is guilty of, there are at least twice as many things to discover on your own in that game as they hand-hold you through. Every playthrough I discovered something new to Snake Eater that I didn't know before. Maybe a major thing, like a weapon or movement technique I somehow missed on my first few playthroughs. Or something small and disposable, like one of Kojima's cheeky little gags, or some sly film reference buried deep inside a codec conversation. But most of all, I kept finding all these neat game mechanics and little tricks. “Oh, turns out you can interrogate enemies into giving you artillery codes, that's neat.” “Hey, the knife is super effective against The Fury!” “Hah, you can trick enemies into eating spoiled food if you destroy the ration sheds.” “Oh my god, you can kill The End before you even face him in a boss fight, holy shit!” I think it is a beautiful and wonderful thing when games are packed with content, but it's left for the players to find and unearth, not beaten over the players head. Don't make me quote from the scriptures of Dark Souls. *puts on ceremonial Sun Robes and begins to praise vigorously* You don't need tutorials if your game is interesting enough to encourage players to experiment. Especially these days, in the era of YouTube and Steam guides being available WHILE PLAYING with the press of a button. You can offload the slow, cumbersome, drudgery of tutorial work to the organic nature of the gaming community. People will find these tricks and mechanics on their own and spread them around, don't worry about it. Instead, worry about paying off for all the set-up and tutorial hoops you had players jump through in the FIRST HALF of the game, instead of setting up more motherfucking hoops.
Tutorial blues photo
You have to graduate sometime
“THA'S HOW YOU RIDE A CARRRRRAGOR!" Yeah, thanks asshole. I've already done this like two dozen times. You might have noticed I rode up to your mission marker ON a Caragor. “WHEN UN' ORC IS DOWN, THA'S WHEN YOUR C...

Last-gen Shadow of Mordor photo
Last-gen Shadow of Mordor

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor looks not so good on Xbox 360 and PS3


Last-gen versions out now
Nov 18
// Jordan Devore
I completely forgot Monolith was working on last-generation ports of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. The studio delayed the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game to ... today. It's available for a full $59.99...
Revisiting Condemned photo
Revisiting Condemned

Condemned: Criminal Origins holds up better than expected


Halloween replay
Oct 31
// Jordan Devore
When I think back to the Xbox 360 launch, a few games immediately come to mind: Kameo, Project Gotham Racing 3, and Perfect Dark Zero. You had to take what you could get in late 2005 and hope your console didn't red ring. Min...
Shadow of Mordor DLC photo
Shadow of Mordor DLC

Dress up like the bad guy in this free Shadow of Mordor DLC


Some Epic Runes, too
Oct 21
// Jordan Devore
Monolith has released a free Power of Shadow DLC pack for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor on Steam, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Most notably, it includes an alternate costume for Talion that resembles the Black Hand of Sauron...

Shadow of Mordor Playthough - Here's a Graug-sized portion of gameplay

Sep 29 // Bill Zoeker
Below we have some more gameplay. We picked up playing today from where Max is in his personal run of the game, much deeper in than our first run. [embed]281891:55793:0[/embed]
Shadow of Mordor photo
We could kill these Orcs all day
[Note: I am currently in process of rendering and uploading all of the videos to the playlist. If you run out and want more, be sure to check back soon.] Max and I decided it would be a good idea to shoot a playthrough of th...

Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

Want to watch a season pass trailer for a game that hasn't released yet?


I don't
Sep 29
// Brett Makedonski
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor's doing mostly fine from the reviews that came out last week, but that doesn't mean that you will like it. How can you like a game if you haven't played it yet? You can't, plain and simple...
Shadow of Mordor photo
Where did he get that sword?
Like Max, I didn't know what to make of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor but taking a guarded approach has paid off -- the reviews are in and they're overwhelmingly positive. Nice surprise! Still not sure I'll rush out to grab the game at launch on Tuesday -- I've got my hands full, as I'm sure many of you will shortly -- but it's much higher on my to-play list after this week.

Review: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Sep 25 // Chris Carter
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Monolith ProductionsPublisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentReleased: September 30, 2014 (PC, PS4, Xbox One) / November 18, 2014 (PS3, Xbox 360)MSRP: $59.99 Shadow of Mordor generally does a great job of respecting the source material even if it doesn't really add much to the overall universe. Simply put, the game takes place between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, pre-supposing that Bilbo has already located the One Ring, but before it is entrusted to Frodo. Thus, Shadow is a side story of sorts, giving you minor insight into the creation of the ring while focusing on the tale of one particular human -- a skilled ranger named Talion. Talion's entire family has been murdered by the forces of Sauron, whose evil now encroaches the land of Middle-earth once again. Through the use of some dark magic after his own death, Talion is now bound to the spirit of a mysterious wraith, who grants him the power to essentially function as a super-being, combining dark arts with his already awe-inspiring combat prowess. In short, it's basically the setup for God of War, and the basic revenge tale theme permeates throughout in a generic fashion. What I do like about the wraith conceit is that it creates a sense of duality, as the wraith itself is an elf with a mysterious past who can manifest himself during cutscenes, and whenever Talion triggers a wraith-centric power. The companion aspect is cool as it's seamlessly worked into gameplay, and allows for some good banter between the two souls throughout. While I don't want to spoil the wraith's identity, I found his story to be vastly superior to Talion's. [embed]281235:55690:0[/embed] In addition to Orcs and other members of Sauron's army, you'll also encounter Gollum -- who is tacked onto the story to add a connection to the films, predominately because his mannerisms and character are done in the style of Andy Serkis (though he is voiced by Liam O'Brien in the game, flawlessly I may add). With Talion and the wraith, there is that same Frodo and Sam love/hate relationship, and their moments are easily the highlight of the campaign. The rest, however, is too generic. As previously mentioned it's a basic revenge tale, with a few minor minute-long cutscenes woven in to highlight the wraith's past and his place in the plot. The rest is basically going to be "go here, kill this, draw out this big bad, then kill him for your family" type plots. The finale has a few cool cutscenes here and there, but considering that the last boss is a quick time event, it's ultimately unfulfilling. It takes roughly ten hours to make it through the story alone, and the rest can be completed at your leisure by way of two moderately-sized (though small by current-gen standards) sandboxes. The actual exploration and combat mechanics are solid. Drawing from Assassin's Creed and the Arkham series, Talion can climb structures fairly easily simply by running and pointing at them, and his climbing skills are just as sharp has his blade. Basic combos are available by mashing the attack button, though an upgrade allows critical strikes if it is pressed just as a slice is hitting. He also has the exact same "cape-stun" as Batman in the Arkham games (though it's wraith-flavored here), and the combo-enabled "execution" moves that can instantly take out a regular enemy after your combo meter has reached eight (later upgradable to just five). Talion can also take out enemies with a delayed contextual strike when they're on the ground. Combat makes no attempt to hide that it's basically ripped wholesale from Arkham, and that's not really a bad thing -- it just feels less fluid and polished. Stealth has a part to play as well, and that particular aspect is also executed flawlessly. Talion can sneak up from behind to slay his enemies in silence as well as use jumping executions from a vantage point, which are still just as fun as they are in every other stealth game. There's even a version of "Detective Vision" (I call it "Wraith Vision"), making it easy to identify stronger enemies through walls and structures, as well as archers and the like with different color schemes. To dig even further into Talion's utility belt, he can summon spirit arrows at will and fire them at enemies for quick stealth headshot kills. As his powers are upgraded he'll have even more tricks up his sleeve (including possession and beast-riding, among many others), which makes it very fun to carve up Orcs willy-nilly. Then of course, there's the big draw of the game, which allows players to plot revenge in a dynamic fashion. The highly hyped "Nemesis" system starts off rather promisingly. In theory, it allows Talion to interact with specified named enemies in the game, creating random creatures along the way and generating unique storylines on the fly. So if Talion did battle with a weak Orc at some point and it manages to flee, it may appear later, and not only remember him, but have a more formidable force to contend with. Defeating these enemies will grant runes, which can be used to upgrade melee, ranged, and stealth weapons. The system is endless in nature and can create a ton of unique scenarios involving inter-clan warfare and tenuous alliances. The other big portion of the Nemesis mechanic is that it requires isolation and interrogation of Orcs to locate the whereabouts of each ranked member of Sauron's army, starting with the captains. As Talion, you can question peons as to where a captain is stomping about, then either slay the captain where he stands after hunting him, or interrogate him in turn and learn the location of the more powerful warchiefs. Some of the weaknesses of each enemy can be learned by way of intimidation, including an enemy's fears and ways to exploit it with certain combat mechanics. It initially gives the feeling of working a way from the bottom to the top, which is a unique way of approaching a game -- a stark contrast to open world titles that make you feel like god from the get-go. In theory, it's a very cool idea. But like many hyped-up mechanics, the Nemesis system ultimately becomes gimmicky very quickly. Yes, the names are randomized and some of the appearances look different enough, but after an hour of seeing it in action everything blends together. Orcs don't have unique personalities per se, just unique weaknesses (like insta-stealth kill vulnerability, or a weakness to ranged attacks) and generic parameters. Fights against 90% of the captains, warchiefs, and named enemies in the game feel exactly the same. Basically, all of the Nemesis encounters are going to go like this: You walk up to a captain that generally can't be killed by a stealth attack, engage in combat, and watch as a small cutscene plays where the enemy exclaims a generic phrase like "Sauron rules all!" Then 20 additional enemies appear, the player stuns the boss, combos him, and uses an execution attack while avoiding the newly spawned enemies. Repeat the process until he dies. Warchief fights are the exact same, except they also require some tedious basic quest to "lure them out" like "kill five archers." After a few hours of doing this, I became far too bored with the system to even bother hunting down enemies for a chance at a minor upgrade. There are also a few unintended consequences of the system that actually make the game less fun. For one, a roughly ten second long, unskippable cutscene has to play for every captain or named character in the area. For example, there could be up to four named enemies in one skirmish along with the intended target. If Talion happens to engage, strike, or otherwise damage any of them, all of them have their own ten second scene and exchange that plays out -- this repeats even if you die and return to the same location. Initially, this feels pretty cool, and it brings the player into the game even for the most minute confrontation. For instance, after dying by the hands of an enemy and meeting him in battle again, he might say something like "I already killed you once, I'll do it again!" But after watching that scene multiple times over the course of the game and having every fight play out in the same exact manner, it feels like another gimmick. To make matters worse, every fight basically throws the aforementioned 20 enemies at you, so there's no real room for unique one-on-one encounters. Not only that, but a few milestones in the campaign are gated off by Nemesis system progress, making the process even more tedious and forced.Thankfully, the rest of the open world experience is worthwhile. Fast travel towers can be located rather easily, and open up quick portals to practically any area desired. The two maps are different enough (one is desolate, the other fertile), and there are a ton of extra sidequests (including some related to the Nemesis system) that are actually fun. Given all of the tools Talion has at his disposal, it is enjoyable to just roam the map and get into trouble. Whether it's sidequests like stealth challenges that task the player with killing a certain amount of enemies undetected, ranged exercises or combat skirmishes, the rewards are great (certainly greater than those gained through the Nemesis slog), and it's as simple as finding the marker on the map to jump into them. There are also hunting challenges (like in Red Dead Redemption), hidden elvish artifacts to find, and a lot of other secrets to uncover wandering around, all of which are more fun than the main story. Ultimately, like many ambitious projects, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor doesn't deliver on everything it sets out to do. Although Monolith's heart is in the right place and the studio honors the lore, it doesn't really add anything that's worth seeing outside of some solid open world gameplay. It isn't a bad game, it just feels far too repetitive for its own good. 
Shadow of Mordor review photo
One does not simply walk into Bore-dor
Developing a licensed game can be extremely difficult. Not only does Monolith Productions have the Lord of the Rings film series to honor with Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, but the developer also has to work in ma...

Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor pushed back on Xbox 360 and PS3


Xbox One, PS4, and PC remain unchanged
Sep 09
// Brett Makedonski
Like a Balrog vanquished to the depths from whence it came, Warner Bros. took a good look at the legacy console adaptions of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and declared "You shall not pass!" At least, not for a few more ...
Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor's campaign digs into Middle-earth's past


Origins of the rings
Sep 01
// Abel Girmay
[Writers Note: The original story was amended because of number of factual inaccuracies. My sincerest apologies to anyone who was confused by the original article.] It won't be long now until Middle-earth: Shadow of Mord...
Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor looks good but is it Lord of the Rings?


No hobbits here, sir
Aug 12
// Alasdair Duncan
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor has gotten a lot of people excited because of its seemingly great combat and interesting reputation system but is it me, or does it just look like a generic dark fantasy game? I'll be honest, m...
Middle-earth photo
Middle-earth

Engage in psychological warfare with Shadow of Mordor's Wraith


Dominate and terrorize, you hellion
Jul 31
// Brett Makedonski
You might've thought that Orcs were all fleshy and a good ol'-fashioned sword through the squishy parts would be enough to take care of them. False. Some might fall to the blade, but you'll need something decidedly more cere...
Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor shall not release on October 7 anymore


It's September 30 now
Jul 25
// Brett Makedonski
October is going to be ridiculously packed with high-profile videogames, so the news that Warner Bros. has decided to fast-track Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor's release from October 7 to September 30 is certainly welcom...
Xenoblade Chronicles X photo
HNNNNNNNG!
Epic space battles. Huge mecha. And a gorgeous Xenosaga-style art direction. Monolith Soft's new game is called Xenoblade Chronicles X and it looks absolutely stellar. Do want. Hiroyuki Sawano, composer on numerous anime series like Attack on Titan, is handling the music on the upcoming Wii U project, which should be launching sometime in 2015.

Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

New Shadow of Mordor trailer moves like a ghost, fights like a devil


Stabs like a Lord of the Rings character
Jun 05
// Brett Makedonski
We spend so much of our lives working. When I die, if there's some sort of afterlife, I want to just chill out. Make it look like a never-ending Corona commercial or something. Doesn't that sound nice? That's not a position ...

First hands-on of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor won me over

May 22 // Dale North
[embed]275215:53980:0[/embed] Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC [previewed])Developer: MonolithPublisher: Warner Bros. GamesRelease Date: TBA 2014 (For the full rundown, see our initial preview on Shadow of Mordor.) One does not simply walk into Mordor for the first time without understanding of the game’s structure. Ranger for the kingdom of Gondor, Talion, is well-equipped to do battle Batman-style chops and new Wraith powers. But he can’t do it alone. He’ll need to influence Orcs to take Sauron’s army at its heart, turning it inside out. So while this is a third-person action sandbox, there’s an ongoing strategy game tied to your choices. Using the power of Wraith you’ll build up, orc by orc, until you have own own sizable army. Or tear Sauron’s army down, orc by orc, until you can properly take it down.  What’s interesting is that you’re completely free to decide how you’ll go about achieving this ultimate goal. Every enemy in this huge world can be a part of your army if you work hard enough at it. A screen with orcs laid out by rank lets you dig down and gather intel so that you may use its strengths and weaknesses to your advantage. You can mark any enemy from this screen and then jump into the world to hunt them down and use them as you will. I started out by trying to take out one of the bodyguards of a captain that I wanted to control. Hunting him down could have been easy, but he was completely surrounded in an orc camp, and one mistake could have the entire camp coming down on me. Using fast travel, I got close to the camp’s gate, letting me use some of my Wraith powers to scan through walls to find my target and mark him. Going in, I used stealth to sneak around the walls of the camp, staying close to the leftmost mountains, moving as slowly as possible. Hidden in the grass, I happened upon a platform where my mark just happened to be taking a break, urinating against a camp wall. I thought it would be a perfect time to take him out. I used stealth to sneak up behind him but my takedown attempt was unsuccessful, which had him sounding the camp alarm to warn of an intruder. Suddenly I was running for my life, using Shadow of Mordor’s free traversal to get as far away from the camp as possible. I had several on my tail, so I took advantage of verticality to hop over the camp walls, scramble up in the mountains, and let my health uncover. Eventually I got back in and found the target mostly alone. Instead of sticking to my original plan of capturing him, I killed him on the spot. That felt good. I picked another bodyguard from the army screen with the hopes of taking over his mind with Wraith powers to use him against his boss. This hunt was a bit easier, and it let me try out Shadow of Mordor’s Batman-like combat system. Hard hits, combos, blocks, and parries are all here, but the Wraith powers add another dimension with ranged and psychic attacks. All of this at your disposal makes Talion feel like a walking army. It’s no problem for him to take a small group of orcs out on his own, and with careful approaches and proper use of the Wraith powers, he could probably take out a sizable unit alone.   This bodyguard lived — I took his health down just enough to be able to dominate him, making him a follower. From there I was able to command him to go after his boss, the war chief, my ultimate target.  I followed my new underling to oversee his mission and saw that while he was strong enough to make a dent in his boss’ life bar, he would die if I left him alone. So I joined the fight and took him down to next to nothing. But instead of killing him, dominated him as well, saving him for an even bigger takedown later. A Monolith rep told me that it’s possible to take a large group of captured orcs together to form a small army to take out a bigger target. Or you could just use their bodyguards to help you kill them all. Or, if you’re good enough, use stealth and/or brute force to take them all out on your own. It’s totally up to the player on how to approach the overall goal, with missions opening up along the way to let them create their own stories. Ridable beasts, customizable weapons, and a world so big that I can’t imagine seeing it all will make this one heck of a sandbox to get lost in.  If you're a fan of Assassin's Creed's open-style sandbox play, know that this takes it and turns it up a few notches with better combat and an underlying strategy side. Again, less than an hour of play had me wanting more.  Look for more coverage leading up to its release worldwide on October 7, for PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.  
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First-hands on
I had absolutely no expectations for  Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. I’ve never played any of the franchise games, and I knew very little about the upcoming title. But my first hands on was a very pleasant surprise. A mere 45 minutes of play of its sandbox game got its hooks in me and now I'm totally sold.   

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