Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Review

An Untamed Review of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

In recent years open-world games have become a dime a dozen. However, amid the many Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto sequels that have been coming out recently, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor stands out from the sea of similar titles. This is not to say that the game completely turns the genre on its head – it still has fighting and movement systems that anyone familiar with the Assassin’s Creed games or the Batman series will instantly recognize. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, the developers at Monolith Productions have really shaken things up by implementing a system that creates interesting and unique world encounters rather than relying on having scripted boss fights and story segments do most of the leg work in keeping players engaged. It is this system, the Nemesis System, and the uniquely appealing setting of Tolkien’s universe that serve to set Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor apart from the innumerable other open-world action games.

Mordor's not all swamp and volcanic ash!

Mordor’s not all swamp and volcanic ash!

The first thing that must be said about Shadow of Mordor is that the game looks fantastic. The design of Mordor itself feels spot on and even displays a section of Mordor that is green and flourishing with life which provides great contrast to the bleak and mountainous Mordor portrayed in the movies and other Lord of The Rings games. In addition to this, the look and personality of the humanoid enemies in the game, the Uruks, seem to vary greatly and each encounter I had seemed to be comprised of aesthetically different enemies. The animations of the main character, the enemies, and even the variety of wild creatures found in Mordor all look top notch and combat looks fantastic with moves that seamlessly play into the next. The game seems to be fairly well optimized, as my computer, which is now a couple years old and probably in need of an upgrade, was able to run it perfectly on medium settings and could even manage high settings albeit with a bit of screen tearing involved (if you want to know my computer specs they are on the about me page of untamedgamer.com).

My favorite Uruk. Only a total lunatic would wear that on his head.

My favorite Uruk. Only a total lunatic would wear that on his head.

Despite the quality of the game’s graphics, it is really the influence of the setting that makes Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor’s world come together. Players take on the role Talion, a Ranger of Gondor, who, because of circumstances that I will not divulge in respect to those avoiding spoilers, ends up having the spirit of a mysterious dead elven man suffering from amnesia entrapped within his body and bound to his soul. There is a fairly traditional storyline at work here that centers around loss and redemption, but the way the story is told is pretty tactful and the voice acting is all around top notch. Adding to the Tolkien vibe that the game gives off is the appearance of certain characters throughout the story that will certainly be recognizable to anyone who has seen the movies or read the books. Overall, the combination of solid storytelling, pleasing graphical aesthetics, and classic setting really make the world of Shadow of Mordor feel interesting and lived in.

A barrel of Orcs.

A barrel of orcs.

The quality of the gameplay found in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor only serves to further reinforce the fantastic sense of immersion the game offers. Talion moves around the world nimbly and the variety of ways to approach any given situation which the map design affords gives players an incredible sense of freedom. Whether you want to climb to the tallest point in an Uruk stronghold and look down to find your target or raise hell by unleashing trapped caragors (large, dog-like beasts) and wait until your target comes to you, Shadow of Mordor ensures that you have the option to do so. Stealth gameplay feels tight and you have a variety of options at your disposal for dealing with unsuspecting targets that go beyond the usual “take out quietly” options. When you inevitably do end up in a sword fight, you will find that the combat is silky smooth and relies on a counter system much like the one found in the Batman series of games. The added twist here is that many times Talion will find himself facing a seemingly never ending stream of Uruks if he allows alarms to be raised and that dealing with the captains and war chiefs of Sauron’s army brings unique challenges that serve to keep combat fresh.

A captain I happened to meet while fighting the above group of orcs!

A captain I happened to meet while fighting the group of orcs from the previous picture.

Speaking of keeping things fresh, even after spending 28 hours with the game, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor still feels fresh. This stems from the fact that there are collectibles in the game that add to the background of the story and characters, and the Nemesis system. The Nemesis System is the main muscle behind Shadow of Mordor’s long-term appeal. It generates an army structure for the Uruks consisting of captains and war chiefs that will evolve over time and is unique to every playthrough. These captains and war chiefs all have their own names, weaknesses and strengths, and personalities. They can be found in the world taking part in a variety of tasks that range from hunting wild animals to fighting with their fellow Uruks. Even if Talion is killed by a nameless grunt, that grunt will be given a name and a chance to become a captain in the army, thus allowing players to keep track of the Uruk who gave them a hard time and possibly exact vengeance upon them later. If and when Talion does run into them again, they will remember that they defeated you previously and usually make a rather rude remark about it or mention how you set them on fire before being taken down. Making death seem even more like a fun way to spice up your game and less of a punishment is the fact that when you die in Shadow of Mordor time passes and the constant power struggles found in Uruk society make changes to the command structure of Sauron’s army even without your input. You may find upon coming back from the dead that the Uruk you were so intent on hunting down has now gotten himself promoted to the title of war chief or you may find that he was already killed off in a confrontation with a fellow Uruk.

This is the structure of Sauron's army. The 5 Uruk at the back are war chiefs while the rest are captains of varying influence.

This is the structure of Sauron’s army. The 5 Uruk at the back are war chiefs while the rest are captains of varying influence.

It is because of the great mixing of the combat, storytelling, strong lore foundation and emergent enemy design that Shadow of Mordor is easily one of the best games found in the open-world action rpg genre to date. The game has a distinct Tolkien feel that makes it easy to lose hours wandering the plains of Mordor and hunting despicable Uruks. The fluidity of the combat and world exploration does exactly what it needs to do to support the feeling of being in Talion’s shoes. It’s not often that a game can nail both a feeling of having a well-crafted world to play in as well as giving the player unique encounters that are not hand crafted by a developer, but Shadow of Mordor manages to do both in spades. If you are at all a fan of Tolkien’s universe or of open-world action rpgs, then this game is a must play.

I give Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor an 94/100.

First thoughts on Super Smash Bros. for 3DS

Hello everyone!

This is my first post in quite a while but I hope many more will follow as I now have the time, as well as the motivation, to really get this thing going.

I picked up the new Super Smash Bros. today for my Nintendo 3DS and as I was bringing it home I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this really going to feel like a true Super Smash Bros. game?” I’m sure this question popped up in the minds of many skeptical fans of the series as soon as the game was announced.

After playing an hour or two, I have to say the answer to this question is an emphatic YES. The game feels like Smash Bros. and looks fantastic on my Nintendo 3DS XL’s screen. The biggest concern many people had is that it would feel unnatural playing a Smash game on a handheld instead of a more traditional controller (in other words, for the vast majority of players, a GameCube controller). While in my first couple of rounds the controls felt a little wonky I have since adjusted and now feel like I have nearly as much control as I would playing with my preferred controller.

The second major relief is that the game is truly a full featured Smash Bros. offering. There are all the game modes you would expect and more, such as Smash Run, a mode in which you fight classic video game enemies to acquire stat boosts and eventually face off against your opponents in a randomized contest a la City Trial mode from Kirby Air Ride. In addition to this, the roster is pretty fleshed out with more than 36 characters and a host of new characters that all have unique feels and seem to fit in perfectly to the preexisting roster. Not to mention that this time around we get a good online play system which includes ranked competitive matches!

I am only a few hours into Super Smash Bros. for 3DS but I am already just as enthralled by the title as I was by its console predecessors. I must say that the game has met and surpassed all expectations I had for it. Given the quality of this release I can’t wait to experience the Wii U version of the game.

Well played Nintendo, Well played.

Tomb Raider Review

Tomb Raider (PC)

Square Enix

Meet the new Lara Croft

Overview:

Tomb Raider is the newest installment in the Tomb Raider video game franchise. While it retains the beloved Tomb Raider exploration and adventure feel, the game is in truth a rebirth for the franchise. Gone is the busty and confident Lara Croft from the movies and environment puzzles whose difficulty stemmed more from wonky character controls than anything else. Instead, Tomb Raider introduces us to a more realistic Lara Croft, whose mental vulnerability and, while still pleasing, more believable body proportions allow gamers to bond more with the character. The game’s story, while being slightly on the predictable side, is extremely satisfying to go through and is supported by the game’s incredible presentation, which melds gameplay with cutscenes as well as any game I’ve ever played. On top of this, exploration and combat have been significantly smoothed out which, combined with the astounding quantity and quality of collectables to be found and hidden tombs to be raided in the extremely well-crafted game world, result in the best Tomb Raider experience yet.

 

An example of a hidden tomb. They all look great and feature a generally simple to solve puzzle which must be solved before Lara can reap the sizable experience and upgrade rewards in the recesses of the tombs.

Play this game if you:

-Like collectables (many even come with voiced-over texts which tie in to the game’s story!)

-Enjoy platforming exploration and puzzles with a little well-designed combat mixed in

-Enjoy large scale vistas

-Want a decent story that integrates well with gameplay

Don’t play this game if you:

-Are looking for an extreme gaming challenge in either combat or puzzles

-Are expecting a heavy focus on combat

-Hate collectables and can’t stand cutscenes

-Can’t stand a few quick-time events

-Want a strong multiplayer offering

Set pieces are frequent and explosive! Buildings will explode and crumble around you as you scale them, and Lara will be visibly staggered by strong winds and other environmental effects.

Gameplay: 9/10

Great combat, fun weapon and character upgrade system, and addicting exploration

Graphics: 8/10

Awesome large-scale vistas and detailed textures are only slightly marred by sometimes funny looking animations

Presentation: 10/10

Fun but somewhat predictable story is moved along by fantastic pacing and perfect transitions between cutscenes and gameplay. Cutscenes are never long enough to get boring and are well produced. Set pieces are large and exciting.

Lasting Fun: 7/10

The story is a decent length although if you completely avoid the optional hidden tombs and collectables it may feel short. Could take a while for a perfectionist to completely explore all areas of the world and achieve 100% completion. Multiplayer is fun but won’t be stealing any players from their favorite FPS and I found it practically impossible to find a match on the PC.

Overall: 9/10

Tomb Raider is a fantastic piece of gaming art and it is obvious the dev team put their hearts and souls into the game. Even the credits ooze personality, featuring a bunch of great pictures of the beaming development team and a message thanking you for taking the time to complete their game.

Play or stay away?

DEFINITE PLAY

League of legends mid-july patch thoughts

So the new League of Legends patch was  released a while back! It brings a host of overall tweaks to the game as well as some big changes for a couple champs!

For this article I would like to focus on the changes to the champions because those the most game-impacting changes made this patch.

So what are these changes? A quick recap of the biggest ones!

 

Evelynn (Remade)

  • Shadow Walk (Passive)
    • Evelynn fades away into the shadows. She can only be seen by nearby enemy Champions or true sight
    • While in stealth, Evelynn regenerates 1% of her max Mana every second
    • Casting spells, taking damage, or dealing damage unstealths Evelynn for 8 seconds
  • Hate Spike
    • 19/23/27/31/35 Mana, 1.5 second Cooldown
    • Evelynn fires a line of spikes through a nearby enemy, dealing 40/60/80/100/120 (+0.45 Ability Power) (+0.4 bonus Attack Damage) magic damage to all enemies in its path
    • Hate Spike prioritizes what Evelynn has attacked recently
  • Dark Frenzy
    • No Cost, 20 second Cooldown
    • Passive: Evelynn’s spell hits on enemy Champions grant her 4/8/12/16/20 Movement Speed for 3 seconds (effect stacks up to 4 times)
    • Active: Evelynn removes all slows affecting her and gains 30/40/50/60/70% Movement Speed for 3 seconds
    • Champion kills and assists refresh Dark Frenzy’s cooldown
  • Ravage
    • 50/55/60/65/70 Mana, 9 second Cooldown
    • Evelynn slashes a target enemy 2 times, dealing 35/60/85/110/135 (+0.5 Ability Power) (+0.4 bonus Attack Damage) magic damage with each strike
    • Evelynn then gains 60/75/90/105/120% Attack Speed for 3 seconds
  • Agony’s Embrace
    • 100 Mana, 150/120/90 second Cooldown
    • Evelynn impales all enemies in the targeted area, dealing 15/20/25% (+1% per 50 Ability Power) of their maximum Health in magic damage and slowing their Movement Speed by 30/50/70% for 2 seconds
    • Evelynn siphons their pain, gaining a 150/225/300 health shield for each enemy Champion hit which lasts up to 6 seconds

Malzahar

  • Summon Voidling (Passive)
    • Voidlings prioritize enemies Malzahar is autoattacking if Malefic visions isn’t present
    • Voidling pathing and general AI improved
    • Voidlings will now hide in brush and won’t attack if Malzahar is in brush and not in combat
    • Voidling dance animation added
  • Call of the Void
    • Delay is now consistent at 0.6 seconds
    • Now deals damage in a single hit – rather than two separate hits
    • Now grants vision along the entire line path – rather than only at the two end points
    • Now deals damage to units surrounding the end points
  • Null Zone
    • Cast time removed – Malzahar may now cast this ability while moving
    • Damage now starts 0.25 seconds after casting the ability
  • Nether Grasp
    • Malzahar ignores orders that would cancel his ultimate within the first 0.5 seconds of Nether Grasp
    • Voidlings prioritize champions immobilized in Nether Grasp above all other priorities

Twitch (Remade)

  • Stats
    • Attack Range increased to 550 from 500
    • Base Health increased to 389 from 356
    • Health per level increased to 81 from 78
    • Base Mana increased to 220 from 180
    • Mana per level increased to 40 from 35
    • Base Attack Damage reduced to 47 from 51.56
    • Attack Damage per level reduced to 3 from 3.3
    • Attack animation improved
  • Deadly Venom (Passive)
    • Damage reduced to 12/24/36/48 per stack from 15/30/45/60
  • Ambush
    • 60 Mana, 16 second Cooldown
    • After 1.25 seconds, Twitch becomes invisible for 4/5/6/7/8 seconds and gains 20% Movement Speed. Twitch gains 30/40/50/60/70% Attack Speed for 5 seconds after revealing himself
  • Venom Cask
    • 50 Mana, 13/12/11/10/9 second Cooldown
    • Twitch hurls a cask full of venom to target area that slows targets by 25/30/35/40/45% for 3 seconds and adds 2 stacks of Deadly Venom
  • Expunge
    • 70/75/80/85/90 Mana, 12/11/10/9/8 second Cooldown
    • Deals 20/35/50/65/80 plus 15/20/25/30/35 (+0.2 Ability Power) (+0.25 bonus Attack Damage) per stack of Deadly Venom as physical damage to all nearby enemies affected by Deadly Venom
    • No longer removes Deadly Venom stacks
  • Spray and Pray
    • 100/125/150 Mana, 120/110/100 second Cooldown
    • Twitch’s basic attacks become powerful piercing bolts with 300 bonus range, and Twitch gains 20/28/36 Attack Damage. Each bolt deals 20% less damage to subsequent targets down to a minimum of 40% damage. Lasts 7 seconds.

Xin Zhao (Remade)

  • Stats
    • Base Attack Speed increased to 0.672 from 0.658
    • Attack Speed per level increased to 2.7% from 2.5%

    Challenge (Passive)

    • Xin Zhao challenges his target with his basic attacks and Audacious Charge, reducing their Armor by 15% for 3 seconds. Only one target can be challenged at a time.
  • Three Talon Strikes
    • Now reduces his other ability cooldowns by 1 second with each strike
    • Attack Damage ratio increased to 1.2 from 1.0
    • Cooldown reduced to 9/8/7/6/5 seconds from 10
  • Battle Cry
    • Passive: Heals Xin Zhao for 26/32/38/44/50 (+0.7 Ability Power) every third basic attack
    • Active no longer reduces other abilities’ cooldowns
    • Cooldown reduced to 16/15/14/13/12 seconds from 24/22/20/18/16
    • Mana Cost increased to 40 from 35
  • Audacious Charge
    • Now challenges the target
    • Damage increased to 70/115/160/205/250 (+0.6 Ability Power) from 70/110/150/190/230 (+0.4 Ability Power)
    • Slow increased to 25/30/35/40/45% from 20/25/30/35/40%
    • Slow duration increased to 2 seconds from 1.5
    • Range reduced to 600 from 650
    • Cooldown reduced to 13/12/11/10/9 seconds from 16/15/14/13/12
  • Crescent Sweep
    • Now knocks all unchallenged targets back
    • Now has a 1.0 bonus Attack Damage ratio
    • Cooldown increased to 100/90/80 seconds from 75
    • Armor and Magic Resist bonus adjusted to 15/20/25 per champion hit from 25 + 7/10/13 per champion hit
    • Now has a new particle

So I have played all of these champs except malz a bit post-patch and will go through my impressions on them separately.

 

First up is Eve. She received a major rework this patch and it really shows. Her spammable q now damages enemies in a line and appears to have slightly better range. This I feel is a major buff for her because pre-patch she had a lot of trouble chasing fleeing champions and the upgraded range on her q now allows her to secure some kills she previously would not be able to. Another addition to her ability to chase down targets is her new w! It gives a nice burst of movespeed and has proved very useful in the games I’ve played her. Her e has not changed much, but a notable plus is that it gives her a nice attack speed buff after use. Her ult has received a total rework as well. It now is an aoe with pretty nice range while also providing a sizable shield to Eve which scales depending on how many targets she hits. Finally, her new passive completely enhances her stealth gameplay! It now puts her into a “stealth” 8 seconds after combat and makes her regenerate 1% of her total mana every second. However, unlike conventional stealth she will become temporarily revealed if she strays to close to an enemy champion or pink ward. Overall, it feels like she is a brand new champion and appears to be performing much better than she used to. I feel like her stealth when she is jungling or roaming really adds to a team as the only wards that are really effective against her are pink wards, which add a good amount of extra cost to purchasing wards.

 

Next is Malzahar, who has received some minor changes that seem to have made playing him a bit more enjoyable. The most important change is that they have upgraded the AI of Malzahar’s viodlings. They now prioritize targets much better and will now even hide in a bush when Malz is attempting to be sneaky instead of always awkwardly standing wherever they please. The second interesting change is that Malzahar’s aoe pool ability can now be cast while moving without a cast time, which will hopefully allow him to better combo his abilities. I haven’t had a chance to play him much post-patch so let me know what your impressions are down in the comments!

 

Twitch is finally back! He has received a couple changes to his kit that don’t change him to the extent where he is unrecognizable, but changes the feel you get from playing him. He no longer scales harder than any other AD carry in the late game because of his ult. It still provides good team fight damage but is now more about the application of his poison passive in preparation for the utilization of his improved expunge. This slight late-game change has been balanced out by making his abilities much better in the early game and improving a lot of his base stats. He is now a good competitive pick with other AD carries and does well at his role!

 

Xin has received a couple slight changes that I feel were nice but have not changed his overall feel too much. He now has a new passive which makes his auto-attacks mark targets and lower their armor. The healing from his old passive has been moved to his W and the former cool-down reduction from his W’s active has now been placed on his three hit Q. On top of this, his ult now knocks back all targets not marked by his passive. These changes have made xin a bit more bursty and have brought him to a level where he can now be considered a decent pick (especially for top lane, though his jungling feels slightly weaker now).

 

And there you have it! Riot has released another awesome patch and have shown their player base that they not only plan on releasing new champions, but also go back to fix champions that need some love.