Mid­dle-earth: Shadow Of Mor­dor

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Warner Bros De­vel­oper Mono­lith Pro­duc­tions (PC, PS4, Xbox One), Be­hav­iour In­ter­ac­tive (360, PS3) 360, PC, PS3, PS4 (ver­sion tested), Xbox One Out now (PC, PS4, Xbox One); Novem­ber 18 (NA), 21 (EU)

360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One

YAs pow­er­ful as the Neme­sis sys­tem is, the many op­tions avail­able when you clash with orc chiefs are what drive home the as­sas­sin fan­tasy. Sup­pose there’s a pow­er­ful Warchief who has killed you mul­ti­ple times in open com­bat. To face him head on again would just risk fur­ther death and likely buff him ahead of fu­ture en­coun­ters. You need to mix up your ap­proach. ou’d have to have passed out of all knowl­edge for 2,500 years – OK, seven – not to find Warner’s Tolkien tie-in rem­i­nis­cent of a cer­tain Ubisoft fran­chise. Rugged ranger Tal­ion is a wrist blade away from an ac­cep­tance let­ter to As­sas­sin’s Creed’s tit­u­lar guild, bound­ing across rooftops and clam­ber­ing up out­crops with all the ease of Ezio, Al­taïr and the Ken­ways, if not their fluid an­i­ma­tion. De­spite this, Mono­lith’s at­tempt to tap into the open-world stealth genre han­dles the business of as­sas­si­na­tion much bet­ter than any game with ‘As­sas­sin’ in its ti­tle.

Atop the foun­da­tions of the fa­mil­iar freerun­ning lies the Neme­sis sys­tem. Across Mor­dor, the armies of Sau­ron are be­gin­ning to muster, per­son­i­fied by the orc lead­ers you’ll find ran­domly dot­ted about the maps. A lin­ear story threads around your over­ar­ch­ing ob­jec­tives, which in the first of the two ar­eas is to take on five Warchiefs, a task that re­quires cre­ative think­ing.

Open the Sau­ron’s Army menu screen and you’ll see a web of in­ter­re­la­tion­ships spread out. The min­ions of the Dark Lord don’t al­ways mix well, and you’re able to ex­ploit th­ese quar­rel­some con­nec­tions to play havoc. Mugdûsh The Sneak, for ex­am­ple, may want to ex­e­cute Bolg The Tiny in a bid for power or to keep his own fol­low­ers in line. Tal­ion can up­set his plans by show­ing up at Bolg’s be­head­ing, and ei­ther stealth­ily set him free, or use the dis­trac­tion to give Mugdûsh a thrash­ing.

In short, you be­come the ful­crum for Mor­dor’s hier­ar­chi­cal ma­noeu­vring, but you’ll have to know your en­emy to pre­vail. Orcs are only vis­i­ble as sil­hou­ettes in your Sau­ron’s Army web un­til you’ve been out into the world to gather in­tel by cap­tur­ing and in­ter­ro­gat­ing their com­par­a­tively frag­ile sub­or­di­nates. Orc lead­ers, mean­while, re­main frozen in sta­tus and power un­til you taste bit­ter de­feat and res­pawn. (As the un­will­ing ben­e­fi­ciary of a wraith curse, Tal­ion is un­able to die per se, in­stead find­ing him­self re­gen­er­ated at a nearby tower after the pass­ing of time with each rout.) Your ac­tions – or, in some cases, in­ac­tion – dur­ing each ‘life’ will cause cas­cad­ing shifts in au­thor­ity. If you leave a cer­tain Uruk to carry on his re­cruit­ment, feast­ing or trial by or­deal events unchecked, he’ll con­tinue to as­cend the ranks un­til you do some­thing about it. The re­sult is a pal­pa­ble sense that you are at the cen­tre of this world shap­ing events, and hear­ing en­e­mies share sto­ries of your deeds around a camp­fire is all the more sat­is­fy­ing for set­ting your own ob­jec­tives.

Stealth and in­trigue should be your start­ing points, the lat­ter en­tail­ing fa­mil­iar in­stances of hid­ing in fo­liage, hang­ing from ledges and press­ing up against walls to taunt nearby en­e­mies be­fore you slip a dag­ger into their ribs. It’s in­vig­o­rated, how­ever, by the ad­di­tion of in­spired wraith abil­i­ties. Elf-ar­row ranged at­tacks, for in­stance, al­low you to in­stantly tele­port to dis­tant foes, lend­ing a Mar­vel su­per­hero sen­si­bil­ity to pro­ceed­ings. With each named orc also boast­ing a se­lec­tion of strengths and weak­nesses, learned by clamp­ing your palm onto the face of a min­ion, you can start to fig­ure out how to hit them where it hurts. Next time you fight that Warchief, you’ll know you’re bet­ter off with fire at­tacks, avoid­ing ranged com­bat al­to­gether or rid­ing into bat­tle atop one of Mor­dor’s mon­strous mounts, de­pend­ing on what your tar­get is in­vul­ner­a­ble to or what he fears most. And while in­sti­gat­ing power strug­gles be­tween orcs can also chip away at the prob­lem, in the lat­ter half of the game Tal­ion un­locks the ca­pac­ity to brand and com­mand foes, forc­ing them to in­cite ri­ots, be­tray their lead­ers or mur­der their fel­low of­fi­cers. The choice of ap­proach is yours.

If it comes to draw­ing your sword, how­ever, another in­flu­ence be­comes clear: the Arkham games. Tal­ion’s sword-swing­ing skills feel nei­ther as smooth nor as flow­ing as the Dark Knight’s moveset, while screen­fill­ing hordes can make quick work of your health bar and ob­scure much of the ac­tion. The lat­ter at least works in Shadow’s favour, en­sur­ing its stealth isn’t un­der­mined by Tal­ion be­ing a com­bat jug­ger­naut.

It’s com­pe­tent enough, but the lure re­mains the abil­ity to in­form your ap­proach to the more dif­fi­cult sce­nar­ios of the late game through imag­i­na­tive play, rather than walk­ing the line of mis­sion flow­charts that usu­ally leads you to your tar­get in less open-ended stealth games. When you even­tu­ally best a Warchief, us­ing knowl­edge you have gath­ered and as­sets you have cul­ti­vated, the sense of achieve­ment is pro­found.

It’s a shame, then, that the ter­rain you wan­der through as you do all this is so vis­ually sub­stan­dard. Tex­tures are murky, and not just in a de­lib­er­ately op­pres­sive man­ner. Nei­ther of the two maps has any par­tic­u­larly mem­o­rable lo­ca­tions that you’ll take with you from the 20-hour story. Also, while the orcs them­selves look fan­tas­tic, with the pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated mod­els cap­tur­ing tiny lit­tle af­fec­ta­tions (a col­lec­tor of ears wears his hoard around his neck, for ex­am­ple), Tal­ion and his fel­low hu­mans are as wooden as Gerry An­der­son pup­pets.

But when you’re blade deep into a darkly vi­o­lent ad­ven­ture of your own mak­ing, you’ll be in­clined to for­give th­ese visual mis­steps. That goes dou­ble for fans of the source ma­te­rial who, after so many medi­ocre ti­tles that have un­der­cut the fran­chise at large, fi­nally have a videogame worth fight­ing for.

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