Monday, 20 October 2014

Shadow of Mordor: Enraging not enjoyable!

Middle Earth : Shadow Of Mordor is one of those rare games. It's a game that I had absolutely no idea was in development until AFTER it had been released! Not only that, but when I heard about it from a friend and looked it up I discovered it was getting rave reviews. This is something very unusual given that my on-line social networks revolve mainly around gaming. Therefore it was without hesitation that I purchased this game on Steam without a second thought. This was my first mistake!

I'd heard it was very similar in style to the Assassin's Creed and Batman games, I have played both these games and they have given me varying levels of enjoyment over the years as different versions have been released. I was happy to hear this as I'd read that Shadow Of Mordor improved on the ideas and mechanics of those games, so I was very eager to see what was in store for me.

The first hour of playing felt extremely confusing, I didn't know what I was supposed to be doing, I didn't know who I was or where I was going. I looked at the map and didn't really understand anything on it. So I started to explore... and that's where things started to go wrong! I was attacked by Orcs.. or is that Uruks... I'm still not sure I understand the difference, or if there even is one.

Inevitably I died as the 5 or 6 creatures bludgeoned me to death in a fairly swift and efficient manner. It seems the one who killed me got a promotion, but that wasn't really explained very well. I repeated the same process about 4 or 5 times, each time I'd try to explore the map and each time I'd encounter a group of enemies who would dispatch me back to the afterlife/wraith/ghost tower. Eventually I managed to survive long enough to figure out the ranking/army system used by the hordes of Uruks. I even managed to kill a captain at one point!

For the most part though, it was a case of trying to figure out where to go, ending up in a fight and dying... rinse and repeat for an hour or so. This, I'm sure you can imagine, became somewhat of a chore so I quit.

Not to be outdone, I returned to the game an hour or so later having read more reviews to try and figure out exactly what the hell I was supposed to do to survive for longer than 5 minutes. I thought I had some ideas, stay hidden was one of them. It worked to a degree, but eventually you have to emerge from hiding and as soon as I did, I'd get slaughtered again.

The thing is, Shadow Of Mordor does a good job of ticking just about all the boxes on the list of things I hate in a game. The principle one being re-spawning enemies. I will often quit a game without hesitation if a game introduces re-spawning enemies. Boderlands 2 was a classic example of this, I missed the first game but purchased the second one on the recommendation of friends. I didn't realise the game involved a lot of backtracking and retracing your steps, which the developers figured would be more fun if you had to kill the same groups of enemies over and over again. Not even randomly generated ones, they were the exact same characters in exactly the same locations every time. Needless to say that game lasted a couple of hours before it went in the trash.

Normally, if I know about it in advance I won't bother to buy the game, but I didn't in the case of Shadow Of Mordor. The argument goes that giving you endless enemies to fight enables you to level up your character by grinding away. My argument is that it's a lazy game mechanic that enables the developers to add several hours to the game play without having to make any additional game! If I clear out an area, I expect that area to be clear when I return, unless there is a valid reason for re-enforcements in the story as a one off. But in Shadow Of Mordor, you can be fighting a group of 5 or 6 Uruks, and as you're fighting them, 5 or 6 more will just appear from nowhere, and then another 5, and another 5 until you are totally overwhelmed and dead!

On the occasions that I found a Captain (or one just randomly appeared in the middle of a fight), I would already be in a weakened state with no way of regaining any health. So inevitably the captain would kill me, and he would level up. That's one of the "clever" things in this game and what it's being given huge credit for. As enemies kill you, they level up, become more powerful etc.. they also remember their past encounters with you. The problem with this, as I've found out, is that it sort of breaks the whole difficulty progression.

You see, every time a Captain kills me, he levels up, but I don't. This means the next time I encounter him, he's harder to kill, but I'm still just as weak as the last time I fought him and lost. Do you spot the flaw in this design? It means the game gets harder the worse you are! That's some screwed up logic right there isn't it?

I guess you could just spend even more time grinding the endlessly re-spawning grunts, but even they kill me after a while, and frankly it's just boring.

You start the game seriously under-powered to face the enemies around you and trying to escape that at the start is very difficult. The game at the beginning is punishingly hard and I rage quit countless times. I kept coming back though because the reviews were all so glowing, I couldn't find a bad one! I thought I must be missing something and it would all come together, I can tell you now that it didn't.

I now have 8 hours of play time registered on Steam and I don't think I've actually managed to get anywhere! I think I've completed maybe two missions so far, and that was only through endless repetition and eventually getting lucky. Certainly not because I was able to accomplish it through any skills I'd developed.

I like a game that presents a challenge, but that challenge has to be enjoyable. I don't think I can honestly say I've enjoyed any of the time I've spent playing Shadow Of Mordor, it's just got me stressed and frustrated. I understand that you are supposed to die in this game, that's how the whole Uruk army/nemesis thing works, but I just didn't appreciate being overrun every time I got into a conflict. Essentially, if I started a fight, I'd end up dead!

I felt helpless and powerless to make any progress within the game, you can level up and improve your abilities, but you have to be able to survive some fights to gain the XP in order to do that. I can't!

Now normally a game offers difficulty levels, easy, normal, hardcore etc... and when it does, I invariably chose the easy option. Because I know I'm not that great at games, but I like to experience them and absorb myself in the story and world. If a game doesn't do that, it will usually have some sort of adaptive AI where the fights get easier and it will set itself to be just enough of a challenge to keep you on your toes. Not so in Shadow Of Mordor, it will happily just kill you again and again and again and again. In fact it goes further by punishing you for being bad by making the captains more powerful!

One of the missions I failed numerous times was a stealth mission where if the alarm was raised, you failed the mission (another of my pet-peeves). Well I must have attempted that 30 or more times, eventually getting through to the target, and when I did, I locked on to the wrong enemy by mistake and failed it AGAIN!!!!

The encounters with the Captains are totally random too, I knew the location of one of them as I had him marked. He was the opposite side of the map, but right in the middle of a fight in a camp, suddenly he shows up! That's just stupid and unnecessary.

I can't see any way to escape the misery of grinding hours and hours of grunts to try and match the Captains now. That's my idea of gaming hell and I really wanted to like the game, that is evident by the 8 hours I spent trying to get on top of it. But the repetitive nature of the game play, the endless deaths and retries have finally taken their toll.

The saddest part of all is that I bought the game on Steam so I can't trade it in for something else!

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