Tag Archives: Monolith Productions

The Year in Review: #1 Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

The Year in Review: #1 Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

To talk about Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, I have to first talk about Grand Theft Auto V, which also was number four in 2013’s Year in Review. The Rockstar opus is, perhaps, a game that singularly qualifies what it means to have an open world. It feels unbelievably full, like it’s about to burst at the seams with just stuff.

It is also something they have done before and continued to iterate and improve upon since the first Grand Theft Auto in 1997. More than that, it’s something everyone else has been doing for quite some time as well. The urban fervor is ripe with possibilities in an open world. Steal cars, fire guns, and blow stuff up. The recipe is something we know well à la Mafia II, Watch Dogs, and Saints Row.

Bits and pieces change here and there, but the overall flavor remains the same. Even Red Dead Redemption, one of my favorite games and one set in a rather original time and place, still felt overly familiar. (Not least of all because it was another Rockstar joint, but we can get to that another time.) And then games that remix large portions of the framework like Infamous creates an open world with much to be desired.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Here is where we find Shadow of Mordor. It stands tall among others who attempt to imbue a digital landscape with some semblance of life by doing things drastically differently. Leaving the clichés of inner city freedom behind, we are in a wholly fantastical place of orcs, elves, and possessive yet empowering ghosts. The closest we had before this was the Assassin’s Creed series (which, admittedly, is structurally similar to a fault), but those were still tied to a reality of physical consequences and historical architecture.

A city is easy to fill, albeit if only in concept and not execution. Civilians freely wander the sidewalks, drive their cars, and go about their day. Cats, dogs, and birds can turn a park from an empty lot to a visual treat as you plow through on your blood-soaked rampage. Gin up some construction and place some choice incidents and you have a town that feels lived in.

A different time and place for Shadow of Mordor does not guarantee a better open world, as proven by The Saboteur (decent, but not great). In fact, filling up a fantasy world does not give you the opportunity to stuff the turkey with all the usual suspects. And if not a vibrant social or wildlife infestation, interesting gameplay has to make the sandbox compelling.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

This is why Shadow of Mordor is so interesting and so well worth playing. It makes its world of dark fantasy feel alive and worth exploring because its gameplay and mechanics make it feel alive and worth exploring. Its Nemesis system creates an entire living, breathing network of militant dynamics and social hierarchies. It injects your otherwise run of the mill encounters with fodder enemies something personal and unique.

Other games create a facade of a beating heart. Those people you run over with your car and buildings that you blow up with your bombs mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. You outrun the cops and you marvel at the indestructible construction of fictional cities. Most games are, if nothing else, but a facade for storytelling.

But Shadow of Mordor takes one more layer away from that mask by creating these customized and deserving foes. For each fellow that strikes you down, you create someone with a name, but it feels like he was there all along. As he rises through the ranks with each battle you fight, it becomes something perverse, drawing inklings of pride for your repeat offender.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

It is something that, programmatically, is nothing overtly memorable. Data like names and fight results are stored and analyzed by the terabyte every second in the fighting game community. But the presentation makes it so special. They hate you. They kill you. They remember you. It feels very much like you are walking a deadly walk into a world that existed long before you ever came around with your sword and dagger (which is also really just a sword, the second best part of the game).

By breaking the mold of what makes an open world feel like an actual locale of people and places and things, Shadow of Mordor creates something special. It’s unique for the genre and it is felt as unique by you and me as the players. The world doesn’t just feel alive but it feels like it is something that exists just for you. And it’s why Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is my number one game of the year.

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Trailer Roundup: Tekken 7, Battleborn, and More

Trailer Roundup: Tekken 7, Battleborn, and More

Okay, we can all admit it: I’m terrible at keeping a schedule. I mean, you don’t have to admit it, but it really makes me feel better not doing it alone. I missed a week and now I’m doing this on a Tuesday. I know you all normally set your clocks to when a Trailer Roundup goes up, but let’s just go with it this week, huh? Can’t we all just get along?

Besides, there are some, like, big announcements that happened. Let’s get to it!

Tekken 7

Here’s another confession: I lost the thread to the Tekken story so god damn long ago. I only have the faintest idea of what is going on in this trailer, but I do know that based on the reaction from when it was announced at Evo 2014, people are excited for Tekken 7. Also, major props for sticking with the straight numerical naming scheme for all these years. No timeframe specified, but it will be coming to next-gen consoles.

Battleborn

I am, like, 90% sure that Mikey Neumann had 100% to do with the song in this trailer for Battleborn, the upcoming game from Gearbox Software. While you can’t really tell from the video, Battleborn is an FPS with co-op, loot, and RPG-style growth mechanics. It sounds an awful lot like Borderlands, especially when Gearbox President Randy Pitchford describes it.

However, it really sounds more like a MOBA that happens to be from a first-person perspective, but don’t tell them that. Creative director Randy Varnell sounded weirdly defensive about being called a MOBA in this Polygon piece. Doesn’t matter, though. Gearbox seems to have a pretty good handle on the co-op shooter thing. It will launch on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in 2015.

The Wolf Among Us

If you haven’t been keeping up with this first season of The Wolf Among Us, you’ve been missing out. It’s not quite the groundbreaking or genre-redefining experience as The Walking Dead, but it’s still quite the harrowing collection of episodic content. The last episode came out last week, and seems appropriately titled as Cry Wolf. Hopefully I’ll blow through it tomorrow and then we can talk about it!

Back to Bed

Here’s what I know about Back to Bed by Bedtime Digital Games: it looks…unnerving. I mean, just look at that weird cat thing. Would you trust it to exist? I’m just kidding, though; I know a bit more about the game. It started as a student project in 2011 and then went to Kickstarter last March and is now about to see the light of day this August as a 3D surrealist puzzle game. But seriously, fuck that cat thing.

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

I feel like I need to apologize. But I won’t. I never got around to playing this when it came out back in 2012 for the PSP, but now it’ll be making its way to the PS Vita on September 2, and I actually know where I put my Vita, so chances are good I’ll finally be able to play this weird visual novel murder mystery thing.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

I really don’t know why Troy Baker isn’t a movie star yet. Perhaps he doesn’t really want to be one, but he’s got both the chops and the looks, and he’s good at giving PR-fueled answers in interviews. Either way, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is really quite the interesting game from what I’ve played, and I really can’t wait for the full release on October 7.

VizionEck

I mean, it’s possible that VizionEck is a competitive first-person shooter. Hell, it might even be a game, but just don’t tell this inscrutable trailer that. The website does a slightly better job of describing what the hell it is you’re seeing, but it doesn’t really matter. I’m already intrigued. It’s headed to the PlayStation 4 sometime this year.

Assassin’s Creed Unity

Gosh does Ubisoft know how to make gorgeous cutscenes. And now that technology is catching up with their visual aspirations, their games are becoming equally beautiful. If only they could make a mechanically fun game, too. At this point, I feel like any sufficiently large production will garner a bevy of E3 awards, which of course isn’t anyone’s fault in particular. More money means a more polished and idealized vertical slice, and that’s how you win those awards. Find out if Assassin’s Creed Unity deserved them on October 28.

Hyrule Warriors

I’m still not wholly convinced about the idea of Hyrule Warriors, but I will say that with each trailer that comes out, my interested is piqued just a little more. I appreciate the layers that the fantastical seems to add the Dynasty Warriors formula, but I don’t know if it’ll carry my interest for longer than an hour or two, and it doesn’t seem like Nintendo is very much invested in it (the website is a freaking product page, and Nintendo’s official channel is super behind on its trailers). Releases September 26 for Wii U.

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