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Middle-Earth: Shadow of War Rookie Review

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First of all, I haven't played the previous Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. I came across Shadow of War on my Firestick via Luna Games and it intrigued me. Nexus has mod support for both Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War but no sub-forum community, so I thought I'd get a conversation going to see who else was playing.

Now, about this game... Wow! Brutally violent! The execution by decapitation move, complete with copious gore, (Did you know Orc blood was black?) is my favorite so far. Speaking of movements and the general feel of the game's protagonist, Talion, it reminded me of Batman initially and it came as no surprise that Warner Brothers has it's stamp on it. I wonder if the game's engine, Monolith, also powers Batman: Arkham Knight? The fight and movement mechanics sure seem to be carried over while still being unique to each character. But I digress.

The movements though are tough to master at times because there's so much going on. For instance, in the Options under Game Settings, you can Allow Saviours. What that enables is a chance for an ally to jump in and save you in your time of need. When you're low on health and your opponent is about to deal the killing blow, a button prompt will appear briefly on-screen and you have to hit the corresponding button on your controller to activate it. This worked for me once so far. I got a little cocky in my abilities and decided I was going to kill one of the Orc captains, Stakuga the Mystic. Checking my mark's vulnerabilities and strengths, I noticed that it was Vigilant against Stealth, meaning that this NPC was Immune to Stealth Executions. Well, that's interesting because I've recently obtained the Brutalize ability from the Predator skill tree which enables the PC to brutally kill an NPC with a dagger from an elevated stealth position, shocking and stunning any Orcs in the vicinity. I wasn't technically going to kill him with an Execution, which is one of Talion's skills, I was going to Brutalize him. A difference without a distinction, as you'll soon see. Anyways... This particular captain was currently leading drills with about 6 or 7 subordinates. I rationalized that if I jump on this fool and kill him, at least 3 or 4 will be stunned or run off, which is the effect the Brutalize skill has on some Orcs. So, like I said, a little too cocky in my strategy. But it's a low-level captain, how hard could it be? I jumped down onto the Orc's back and the bugger immediately proper WWF body-slammed Talion onto the ground and then curiously asks to no one in particular, "Why does everybody keep trying to do that?". I was briefly amused but quickly sobered because I knew I was in trouble. When Talion got to his feet, well... it was a party! I took out those 3 or 4 that I thought were going to run but the others wore me down and when the captain was about to finish me... I'll spare you it's taunts for now. Long story a little shorter, I hit the button in time and one of Minas Ithil's fortress soldiers appeared and gave the captain a killing blow then afterwards asked Talion, "He wasn't bothering you, was he Ranger?" I thought, "Yeah, just a little."

Most times, I hit the wrong button and get killed because I seem to be button dyslexic in the heat of battle. That's my problem though. There's always the option of retreating when low on health because Talion can literally scale walls and bound across elevated positions, leaving most Orcs in his wake. Then you either hide out for a while until Talion's health recovers or you find a solitary Orc somewhere and drain/leech it of it's life force replenishing your own... and pop the Orc's head like an annoyingly painful ass pimple in the process. Something I quickly performed after the above encounter.

One other thing I'm having problems with is the bow targeting system. In the settings, you can adjust sensitivity in increments of 25% only. So, right now, my optimal setting falls somewhere between 25% and 50%. If I was playing this game on my desktop, I could use my Logitech game controller and dial in the sensitivities via AntiMicroX and be good. But, unfortunately, this game is on my TV and being streamed on Luna Games which requires the unadjustable Luna game controller. So... yeah. Sometimes, I think it really is a conspiracy.

What makes this game really intriguing though is it's Nemesis system, which is enabled via difficulty settings; of which there are five modes: Easy, Normal, Nemesis, Gravewalker and Brutal. From what I understand, Nemesis is only partially engaged in Normal mode and fully enabled with the Nemesis difficulty mode and beyond. In short, Nemesis is an AI that influences enemy NPCs, making them more immersive and interesting. For instance, there's in-fighting that occurs among the Orc captain rank, resulting in random strategical opportunities to catch both captains off-guard and kill them both, by the way. Also, if a grunt Orc kills you, it levels up and is promoted to Captain. It will remember you the next time it sees you and use the experience it gained from it's previous battle against you. And in some cases, with the Tracker class Orc, even tracking you down. Apparently, the system was implemented in Shadow of Mordor as well but it's now expanded to include Orc captains that Talion controls with the Dominate ability, ordering them to assassinate other Orc captains, competing in the fight pit to earn rewards for him, to list just a few. And that's how you get followers in this game. You build a frigging Orc army! Even have an on-call Orc bodyguard. Something I'm looking forward to, by the way. There's also other interesting aspects of Nemesis that I won't go into now.

That's all well and good. I feel as if it's a much needed breath of life into the gaming world but something occurred to me when I was browsing the different character skins available for Talion to equip, each one unique and unlike the protagonist in every way. That's cool for folks who want to play as a female or just don't like Talion's cold blue death stare. I personally do. But why invest all of this energy creating an impressive new way to immersively game and still see the same old Talion whenever the game goes to a cut scene? A bit ironic, no? That breaks immersion for me. I know it's no small feat to create video for each of the skins, not to mention the additional videos would create tons more data, pushing game size into terabyte territory and beyond, but you get my point. The Skins feature was a good idea not properly implemented. Pure form over function. Granted, this game was developed prior to and released in 2017. I'm sure advances have been made since in that regard.

The trash talk these Orc captains dish out prior to or if they kill you, after battle, is top notch. Here's an example from an Orc by the name of Goroth the Advisor, which demonstrates one aspect of the Nemesis system: remembering prior battles. "Meet my claw! Perhaps you don't recognize me because now I have a claw where my hand used to be. You took one of my bits, now I'm gonna take one of yours!" Or this one from Ar-Karo the Skinner, "I acquire only the choicest materials. I scour them to strip away fat. Soften them by pounding in dung and soaking them in caragor brains. And when I slip into your cured hide, I make you look good." And finally, a personal favorite from Olrok the Runner speaking to Orcs in the vicinity about Talion. "Look in his eyes and you'll see the true terror of Mordor!" -pauses briefly- "After that, you won't see much." I find it humorous simply for the voice actor's delivery of the line, which is spoken with a British accent, as is all of Orc speech.

But no matter the Orc's trash talk, their size and terrifying appearances or just their sheer bad-assery in general, each captain can be killed if you employ some clever strategy. As mentioned above, each captain has it's own strengths and weaknesses, of which Talion can learn via interrogating weak-minded 'Worm' Orcs, and when exploited properly, Talion reigns supreme. This next anecdote will give you an example. However, it wasn't a planned strategy. It just sort of fell in my lap.

I was skulking about Minas Ithil trying to grind some Mirian, the game's currency, and I was ambushed by a level 11 captain. I forget it's name. But after it gave it's requisite spewing of trash talk, we started the party. In the melee, Talion inadvertently slashes open a barrel containing a flammable liquid. It didn't catch fire but the Orc immediately starts freaking out looking for a place to run and finally does so, running away that is. I dispatched it easily as it ran in terror. Turns out, this Orc was terrified of burning. Just the possibility of that liquid being sparked to flame sent it into a frenzied escape plan.

There's also other entertaining ways to kill Orcs. Some are terrified of Morgai flies. If there's a nest of them nearby, carefully place your shot and the fun begins. Then another might become dazed when you Freeze Pin it's foot to the ground with an Elf shot, making it an immobilized target easily dispatched by sword. My most utilized tactic so far has been the Brutalize from stealth skill, when I find an Orc captain that won't chuck Talion off it's back of course. The move can be executed close-up but I like to do it from an elevated position. Employed properly and any surrounding Orcs, grunts or otherwise, will flee... most of the time. It keeps me guessing, I must admit. But it's good fun.

Back to the game I go. A level 7 Warmonger Berserker Orc by the name of Shag the Chop awaits Talion's blade. Should be quick yet horribly painful for Shag because it can be heavily damaged by stealth attacks... should be.

Edited by UsernameWithA9
Only one typo. That's pretty good!
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No one's playing Shadow of War, huh? I noticed in the Nexus store that it was out of stock of the respective game key, so someone's playing it. Which one of you lurkers is it? Come on, chime in and convince me to play again because yesterday I vowed not to after I was ambushed and killed for the second time by the same captain. Tough bugger, that one. Granted, it was a level 13 captain, now level 15, and I probably should've avoided it altogether the first time with my level 6 Talion, but here I am. After it defeated Talion the first time, I decided it was time for a little practice. Get away from the action and become more familiar with the character's movements. So, I'm over in a relative safe area away from any captains. I was getting better with the bow, practicing on low level Orc grunts when out of NOWHERE, Amug the Brander grabs Talion by the throat and tells him, "I could hear you from a mile away.", and then proceeds to call in reinforcements. Since Amug is also a Commander class Orc, those reinforcements are emboldened by Amug's presence, making them tougher to kill. So they caught me slipping and kicked my ass. Amug's flaming mace didn't help either. It kept lighting Talion's cape on fire, constantly consuming HP. Even if I scaled a wall in retreat, the damned cape still burns for awhile. Stupid flammable cape!

Then there's the elusive captain Khrosh Lucky Shot, who has cheated death three frigging times now by escaping right before I run it through. The bugger keeps ambushing Talion with the line, "Still ALIVE!" Frustrating, to say the least.

This Nemesis system is something else, I tell you.

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