I like these open world games, like Assassin’s Creed (AC), where I am constantly being pulled away from the main story. They feel most MMO like to me, and I like that. I’ve noticed that in the last two AC games I’ve played (AC3 and AC4), I’ve burnt out mid-way. It seems that the glow of all the objectives is too strong, and it feels like I start pixel-bitching instead of playing. Run, run, run get the objective ad infinitum. The core of the AC games is either story missions or parkour “exploration”. There are some side missions too, of course, but when I am not in a story mission it feels like I’m just running around to the next glowy point.
The core of Shadow of Mordor (SoM) is much different. SoM definitely owes tribute to AC, and it does have a few glowy point objectives (herb gathering). However, my choices do not seem to be gathering herbs or doing story missions. The brilliance of SoM comes in the orcs.
Middle-Earth orcs are one of the most Nazi-like enemies I’ve encountered. Here I am, a bad-ass Ranger possessed/cursed with an elven wraith that gives me immortality. Here I am, behind enemy lines with thousands of orcs to kill in the most gratifying ways. In AC, I sneak up and slip my hidden blade in to some British guy’s kidneys and saunter on like nothing happened. In SoM, I grab the orcs mouth while slashing across his belly, drop the poor sap to the ground, and run my knife across his throat like I am sawing through his entire neck. In fights, my combos turn in to head-decapitating executions.
SoM could be considered as Assassin’s Creed: God of War: Middle-Earth Edition for all its brutality.
But like I said, it’s like killing Nazis. There is no mercy. There is no hope. These orcs deserve to die. They are there for my “dagger”, my dead son’s broken sword, to go through their head.
The other brilliant part, now having no qualms to kill them, is that a few of them become actual targets. These orcs found some spiky armor and became captains to all the mooks. They have a power structure. They fight each other, and they remember you. The captains have a sheer will to live, and if I don’t decapitate them, they might stick a piece of iron in the eye I shoved my “dagger” in to and come after me. So, it’s good fun to kill them again.
This system of going after captains has sidetracked me more than anything. “Having a feast for your orcs, are you?” I say to myself as my map tells me Gruzag the Worm-Eaten or some other silly orc name is holding a feast for his minions. That’s when I send a wraith arrow in to their grog, burning them all alive, and giving Gruzag a fear of fire as I humiliate him at his feast. It is so satisfying.
The emergent gameplay of this is just excellent. Plus, I’ve been enjoying the story so far. I’ve read reviews saying the story was “meh”. I think it’s pretty good all told including Gollum, Ratbag your friendly orc who is your “inside man”, and the Outcasts (humans) of Mordor who are the guerilla fighters. The Middle-Earth lore is very strong. However, it’s the chance meeting of two captains along my way to a shiny glowy objective that keeps me just poking around the entire map.
If you like AC and like God of War, I can heartily recommend this game.