Tag Archives: Sauron

2017 Game Review Haiku, #117 – Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Ranger-Elf combo
Out to avenge deaths, make ring
Combat mash, plot trash

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

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Back to Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, where the shadows are

I acquired a digital version of the Game of the Year edition of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor at the same time I got Dragon Age: Inquisition, which was last Black Friday. Not a full year ago, but somewhat close. Still, knowing that both were big, meaty adventures with intricate systems, I decided to start one over the other and promised not to diverge from that plan until credits rolled. I went with Dragon Age: Inquisition and greatly regret that decision. I had played inferior versions of both games, click here for whinging about glitches in Ferelden and click here for whinging about insufferably long load times in Middle-earth, but I was more interested, at that time, in a traditional roleplaying adventure that was all about managing stats and less about quickly climbing up rocks and sticking daggers in necks. If only I knew then what I know now.

Moving along, I’m now working my way through Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor at the same time as I tackle the open wilderness in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, at more or less the same pace as I did with the Xbox 360 version, even tackling the side missions and collectibles similarly. What can I say, I’m a creature of habit. The only difference really is that this GOTY edition provided me with some extra special weapon runes from the start, one of which lights my sword on fire after a long combo streak. I’m usually not a fan of pre-order bonuses that dramatically make things easier for the player, but this time I’m not complaining. Also, it looks cool as heck, the kind of effect that Beric Dondarrion would quietly appreciate.

The ho-hum plot takes place between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. You control a ranger called Talion, who was killed by the Black Hand of Sauron alongside his wife and son. The wraith of the Elf Lord Celebrimbor bonds with Talion’s body, and together they set out to avenge the deaths of their loved ones by taking down every goblin, orc, and troll in their way. Also, there’s Gollum, because of course there is, and his missions often have him leading you somewhere and then following hidden tracks to trigger an event. I’m a little further story-wise than I was during my first go at Talion’s take on revenge, and I’m not finding it all that thrilling, and this is from a guy that has played a lot of Lord of the Rings games, including sub-par ones like The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Aragorn’s Quest, both from the PlayStation 2 era.

Gameplay in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, which one could easily call a third-person open world action-adventure thing, is basically the Assassin’s Creed series with big improvements to mobility and combat. You run around, you climb, you attack swarms of enemies, you collect collectibles, and you level up your weapons and abilities by gaining XP. You can be a stealthy ranger or an action-first ranger or, most likely, a mixture of both. The combat is rhythmic in the vein of Batman: Arkham Asylum, and it feels good to be in complete control of a mob of Orcs, keeping the combo chain high and mighty. There’s no surprises here so far, but a lot has been streamlined to feel better or make things easier, such as not taking fall down from high heights or being able to get a burst of speed after mantling an object. My favorite is a new ability I just got that lets Talion immediately warp to a selected enemy’s location; Tolkien sure did love his teleporting rangers.

Obviously, the biggest hook in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor‘s arsenal is the Nemesis System, which tracks any non-generic Uruk that the player comes into contact with, either through story beats or simply by killing Talion or surviving a fight with the ranger. These Uruk will be promoted into captains, and defeating these leaders helps weaken Sauron’s army. On the flip side, being killed by a named Uruk will cause the current mission to be cancelled, and the victorious Uruk will gain additional power, making him more difficult to defeat in the next encounter. This system was not fully implemented on the previous generation version, and I definitely missed out on a lot of personality, character, of really feeling like these Uruks were living, breathing, vengeful monstrosities traipsing around Middle-earth according to their own schedules. See, each of these named Uruks have a range of strengths and weaknesses that Talion can exploit in combat to quickly take them out, such as a fear of explosions or invulnerability to ranged attacks, and you can gain this type of knowledge by draining and interrogating marked enemies, systemically removing the leader’s bodyguards and barriers.

I’m mildly enjoying Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, but in bite-sized chunks. Hop into the game, find a collectible or two, take on a story mission, and close out, as the combat can become quite button mashy and my thumb often needs a break by the time Talion is done beheading his fiftieth orc. The stealth, when successful, is great and makes you feel pretty powerful, but I’m not invested in the story bits…one bit. As this is the GOTY edition, there’s plenty to see and do, with DLC included, and I’ll probably keep plugging away at this while everyone enjoys Middle-earth: Shadow of War next month. Thankfully, I’m in no rush to see Sauron’s army fall, especially knowing that it will just rise up again, bigger and stronger, in the forthcoming sequel.

Hacking and slashing goes ever on in Lord of the Rings: War in the North

I pretty much lean very close to all things related to Lord of the Rings, but the real reason I picked up War in the North was because I wanted more hack-n-slash action after the disappointing Aragorn’s Quest and knew exactly where to get it. See, I had previously bought War in the North for a single buck way back in the day when OnLive was having some kind of crazy sale. I played it for a little bit, only to quickly realize that playing streamed videogames over a shaky wireless connection was not ideal, especially when timing attacks and rolling away from enemies is vital to digital breathing. And so I never went back, but I also never forgot. Cut to scene of me picking up a used copy for the Xbox 360 for relatively cheap.

Like other videogames set in a popular, fictionalized world heavily licensed and thus restricted on various elements–think Game of Thrones: The Game, Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, Jurassic Park: The Game–you are there, but not as the main characters. Or characters you even know. Chances are high you’ll see the real stars as you journey along, but you will be secondary to the end. For War in the North, you control one from a trio of familiar looking characters: Eradan, a ranger from the North; Andriel, an Elven loremaster from Rivendell; and Farin, a Dwarven warrior from the halls of Erebor. They are basically Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, respectively, and yes, I find it amusing that the effeminate Orlando Bloom got a gender swap. Their own journey takes them across Middle-earth, and their actions and results thereof help the Fellowship–you know, the real heroes–without ever getting in their way. Sauron is commanding his minion Agandaur to conquer the North for the Dark Lord. It is up to the magical trio, and some helpful, colorful allies, to put an end to all that, so that Frodo and company can do what really needs to get done.

So, you do all this by hacking and slashing your way across large levels broken into small sections, defeating a lot of Orcs, Uruk-hai, and spiders, as well as minibosses and bosses alike, restocking on health potions back at town and picking up side missions, looting chests and skag piles of bones, and strengthening your character’s skills as your level increases. It’s a fairly typical action RPG, with bonus limb severing and buckets of spilled brown-red blood to liven things up. Action skills are assigned to the face buttons, there’s a roll mechanic, and you can chain attacks together, increasing the damage you do and the amount of XP you earned. If you’ve played games like Champions of Norrath, Daggerdale, or DeathSpank, this adventure won’t surprise you too much in the mechanics department.

I played the whole campaign as Farin, the Dwarf. He’s a tough little bugger, which is to be expected, but it felt great rolling right into the thick of things, sweeping around in a full circle with a shiny, sharp axe, and then finishing off each fallen enemy with a cinematic stab to the throat. That said, he’s slow everywhere else, and his ranged attacks, from a crossbow oddly enough, something a true Dwarf would never use, are rather useless, even if you spend points on upgrading abilities there. His main ability is War Cry, which strengthens you and your allies for a limited time. I used it a lot to good effect, especially when going against two trolls. Something I will always love: loot you pick up changes your appearance. Hopefully long gone are the days you get a sick magical set of armor, and it barely looks like you changed shirts.

The story, which granted does come from the actual source material, is a bit dull. It’s of this ilk: see bad guy, chase bad guy, fight swarms of disposable grunts, just miss the bad guy, chase bad guy, and repeat until you get to the final level, and the bad guy is out of running options. Strangely, most of the regular fights against dozens of little enemies proved much easier than any of the boss fights. Oh well. My favorite story moments involved talking animals, like Beleram the Great Eagle and making a deal with a dangerous dragon. Everything else just kind of stretched on or screamed of sidequest-ness, and I will openly admit that towards the end I was just mashing the “skip dialogue” button because I can read a whole lot faster than I can listen. The voice acting is decent, though weakened by the fact that character models of Elrond, Arwyn, Frodo, Aragorn, and so on look like their movie counterparts, but are obviously not voiced by them. At least Aragorn’s Quest had the real Samwise Gamgee in it.

Once you beat the game on Normal difficulty, you can play again in a New Game+ mode on a higher difficulty called Heroic. Normally, I skip New Game+s–that’s a longer post down the road–but I still needed to ping a few different Achievements and thought this was a fine way to get them. I played as both the Elf and ranger for a bit, getting up to a level that has you guarding a door from attack. The door has a life bar–or maybe the Elven brothers protecting it do–and so it can only sustain so much damage. This part was no problem on Normal difficulty, but Heroic proved undoable, no matter who I controlled. Attempted four or five times. Seemed like if one enemy slipped by me, they’d break that door down in a matter of seconds. And so ends my attempt to beat the game on Heroic difficulty. Honestly, no big deal.

Finished the game with 40 of 46 Achievements unlocked, which is a much higher  rating than other games I finish. Not sure if that’s do to skill or if the game just gives them out like candy, but here are a few I’m proud of:


Keen-eyed Marksman (20G): Kill 50 enemies with headshots in a single playthrough.


Victorious in Battle (25G): Complete a playthrough on at least Normal difficulty.


In the Dragon’s Den (20G): Meet a dragon and survive.


Sudden Fury (10G): Perform 3 critical hits within 10 seconds.

As we loom closer to the release of LEGO Lord of the Rings and part one of forty-seven for The Hobbit, I’m really jonesing for some more LOTR videogames. Yes, even more. Told you I lean real close to it all. I got a few in my collection. Don’t be surprised if I bust out The Third Age again and begin blathering about it here. Also, don’t be surprised if I don’t. My gaming whims fluctuate by the minute, and words are wind.

2012 Game Review Haiku, #28 – Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Sauron’s allies swell
A shadow from the North spreads
Set, three pledge to fight

For all the games I complete in 2012, instead of wasting time writing a review made up of points and thoughts I’ve probably already expressed here in various posts at Grinding Down, I’m instead just going to write a haiku about it. So there.