If you’ve only seen some footage of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, you’d be a little forgiven for thinking it’s just like every other big-budget game out there. Its movement is lifted straight out of Assassin’s Creed and its combat is taken right from the Batman: Arkham games. The story is some generic revenge fantasy that video game writers seem really into these days. I don’t think that does a good job of selling this game, because as bog standard as I’ve made it sound, it’s actually great.
On top of the game’s risk-free open-world structure, is a system that has brought about equal amounts of frustration and satisfaction. Basically it’s what has been described as the “Nemesis System”. For those unfamiliar amongst the orc enemies around the game are named captains and war chiefs. They can pop up at any time, like when you’re just wandering around, or even during a main mission. They’re hard to take down, and if they kill you they will let you know about it the next time you come across them. They’re persistent too, if you take them down they could potentially come back to fight again.
Each time you die against an orc it’s annoying because they get more powerful because of that, but it was such a good system because I felt that fuelled my desire to fight back. The one guy who kept killing me would be my target, but there was always a small feeling of panic when they would turn up out of nowhere. It also made dying in the game a lot more meaningful, it was punishing as opposed to being just a temporary roadblock. Each of the orcs were likely randomly generated out of certain elements, but there was enough unique about each of the ones I encountered that I always recognised my worst enemies.
This system elevated the game to be much more exciting than similar ones out there. It’s great how one aspect can change how a game flows, but wait I’m not quite done yet.
About 2/3rds of the way through the game you get the ability to ‘brand’ orcs and make them fight for you. It’s thematically problematic (you basically enslave them) but mechanically satisfying. You could sneak up on orcs, brand a few and have them fight each other while watching from the shadows. I personally found it much more fun to charge in head first into a big battle, fill up my combo meter so that I could brand them mid-battle, and gradually turn a huge crowd that was all against me into my own army. And yes you can take over the minds of captains and war chiefs too, which you can command to take out other orcs in the hierarchy. At this point it has some light strategy elements as you pit captains against each other. It’s just a shame that you have to get through roughly 60% of the game to get to the best part.
These extra layers make Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor one of the most interesting games to come out this year. I couldn’t care any less about the story but just the act of playing it was really fun, and in a big-budget game like this one I really appreciated that.
It’s fairly common for people to overstate how difficult Dark Souls is. In the past couple of weeks I managed to finish both games in the series. They’re fantastic games, but really not as rock hard as people make them out to be. As long as you’re cautious, observant and learn how to create a decent character build, then the game gets much easier. Not to say it becomes super easy, but it becomes manageable.
There are certainly moments where I felt frustrated because I was losing a fair amount of times, but then I would slow down, and keep an eye out for what was killing me. After doing that I wasn’t dying so much. Most of my deaths were down to rushing in and over-estimating my own abilities.
I even managed to get my younger brother to sit and play the game, he mashed buttons through most of the combat and ended up losing very quickly. He didn’t enjoy it. To be fair he doesn’t play video games much.
But really, Dark Souls might just be one of the greatest video games I have played recently. Once I figured out how to handle each enemy, it became very satisfying, not because I was winning by blind luck, but because I earned those victories. It doesn’t stick you in a room full of fast enemies and expect you to deal with it quickly, Dark Souls works at your own pace. You can avoid being overwhelmed by picking off enemies one at a time. That might sound very easy but don’t let your guard down too much around a single enemy.
When I finished the game a friend said to me: “Every other game is going to feel a lot easier now.” I said not if I play Dark Souls II next, which is exactly what I did.
Dark Souls II is even easier, mostly because a lot of the bosses follow the same patterns as each other, healing items are in an absolute abundance, checkpoints feel closer together and your character levels up a lot faster.
There are a few points where the game feel a bit harder, but not fair. You are forced into combat situations where you have to take on multiple enemies at once, which is not suited to some of the mechanics of the game. The lock on targeting isn’t really made to deal with more than two or three enemies at a time, which is why it becomes a bit of a hassle in large combat situations where you have to take on five or more enemies at once. And when there are so many enemies, you have to wait for a lucky chance in which one of them isn’t attacking, which can sometimes take a fair bit of waiting.
Then there are moments where it just feels rougher around the edges. The hit-boxes in the game don’t feel consistent, some of them are about three times the size of what you’d think they would be. Sure you can get used to it eventually, but it’s not fun to be suddenly magnetised into an enemy’s instant-kill grab attack.
I wouldn’t say that this makes it a bad game because it’s still better than a lot of games out there. At its greatest it still has the same satisfaction you would get from besting an area in the first game, it just doesn’t feel as refined in spots.
Which is why I would seriously recommend trying these games out if you haven’t, they might not be for you, and it’s possible you could get frustrated from losing so much. But I haven’t felt as satisfied by a game recently as when I did when I took down some of the more challenging bosses.
It’s unusual to say you get excited for big 1-2 hour compilations of adverts, but E3 gets people hyped, myself included. This time of year is an indication of whether we should be caring about what the big companies have to offer, and I’m currently looking forward to playing a lot of video games shown at the event.
If any were a bit lacklustre, it would be Microsoft and EA. Microsoft put together a confident showing, with detailing what exclusives they’ve got that do look fairly cool. However a lot of what they showed were things that could potentially be a game. There were a few too many CG trailers, as opposed to real footage of the game. Real games they did show were Call of Duty, Halo, Fable and Assassin’s Creed. All games that I’ve seen before and don’t really show much that’s new and exciting. I was happy to see more of The Witcher 3 though.
EA was the same, at least they showed early in-game footage, but what they had was a ways off. It’s difficult to muster up excitement for ‘conceptual prototypes’ when others are showing the real games that are coming out. Mass Effect and Star Wars Battlefront are both games I’ll be happy to see more of though. We did see some good footage of Dragon Age: Inquisition, which is out in October (I suppose I’m certainly looking forward to dark fantasy video games). I did get into the Battlefield Hardline beta, and it honestly does not feel significantly different enough from a standard Battlefield.
Aisha Tyler keeps getting better as a host for Ubisoft, but I can never get excited for Ubisoft video games, their games tend to blend together as they share a lot of gameplay systems. There was a bit too much fake-sounding “voice chat” over certain games.
Sony had a mostly great showing, though they spent a little too much time on dull TV and hardware talk. NOBODY EXPECTED GRIM FANDANGO! It’s something I’ve never had a chance to play, and I’ll be glad to pick it up on Vita. No Man’s Sky, Mortal Kombat X, Batman: Arkham Knight, Destiny are some of the games that actually had in-game footage, and I want to play them.
Nintendo’s was just the most fun to watch, especially with a cringe-worthy fight between Reggie and Iwata being hilarious. And again they showed games I want to play. Mario Maker seems like it could be a really fun thing if it gets a good community behind it, and Splatoon looks like Nintendo’s take on a competitive shooter, complete with their standard of charm and fun new mechanics on top. It’s nice to see a third-person shooter where the goal isn’t kill everyone.
All things considered it’s been a pretty good E3 so far, and I look forward to seeing some of these games in action, and can’t wait to get them in my hands.
What can I say? I’ve had a lot of games to choose from that I almost struggled to fit them into a top ten list. DmC: Devil May Cry, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Guacamelee, Gunpoint, The Stanley Parable, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Bravely Default, are all brilliant games that came out this year, and they aren’t in the list of the ten best below. I’m choosing not to number them, as I consider all of the games in this list worth checking out.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (360/PS3/PC)
A ridiculous character action game that just goes a long way in making you feel powerful. Not just through it’s use of scale, but the game’s lack of a far-reaching dodge move means that you have to stay up close to fight, and block the attacks yourself. It just makes you feel that much more proud of winning.
Persona 4 Arena (360/PS3)
Forget Divekick, I found that game’s over-abundance of in-jokes and characters with all kinds of differing moves betrayed it’s premise of simplicity. As a fighting game novice, this I felt did a better job of helping me get more into fighting games. Also it contains more story in the Persona universe, and while that story is inelegantly told through long visual novel-style cutscenes, it still is a great ride.
Cart Life (PC)
It sounds boring, a game where you run a newspaper or coffee stand. But really it’s great, it managed to make me stress and worry over it’s characters, and purely through it’s use of game mechanics.
Papers Please (PC)
Similarly to Cart Life, I was emotionally invested in the characters, but not as strongly. That said it’s still a great game, and at times can feel more “fun” than Cart Life.
Gone Home (PC)
This and a few other in the list have really proved that games don’t have to be about crazy escapist fantasy to be brilliant. In this you play someone returning to their family’s home after a long absence. You find the house empty and search it to find out what happened in the lives of the family. It’s as grounded as game stories come, but it’s still incredibly compelling.
Grand Theft Auto V (360/PS3)
I just liked driving around the big open world this game had. Sure the game’s story is a bit of fun (though a bit flawed), but I found more joy in grabbing a car or motorcycle and creating my own mayhem. Though I suppose that’s like any other Grand Theft Auto game.
Depression Quest (PC)
Most blockbuster games would be focused on escapism, being the bad-ass, this small browser-based game made me think about myself and others. While it has a simple choice based interface, I made those choices based on my own views, and felt I really came to understand myself a little better.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
This was certainly a big surprise for me, especially after Skyward Sword being such a terribly controlling, badly paced game. At least with this one it feels like it controls perfectly, with the sword seemingly swinging one-to-one with as fast as you can press the B button. They’ve made it a much leaner adventure, and with the polish that you should expect from a Nintendo game it absolutely shines.
Rayman Legends (VITA/360/PS3/PC/WII U)
It feels as though people at Ubisoft got into a room and asked each other “What else can we do with a platformer?” While it feels easier that the previous game Rayman Origins, it really makes up for it in sheer joy and variety. It also contains the entirety of Rayman Origins as unlockable levels, so it does offer better value.
Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)
I’ve never gotten into turn-based strategy games before. The only games of Civilization I’ve won are because I cheated, and I found one of the first few levels in Final Fantasy Tactics much too overwhelming. I picked up this game assured that it would be great for newcomers to the genre, and it really is great. It’s integration of character relationships is just fantastic too.
Traditional is what you could call most Dragon Quest games. There’s not a lot that changes between the games, only small things, the mechanics change a tiny bit, the stories differ. That said they are fun, and in a way like comfort food, the kind of thing you want to stay consistant each time you have it. The music is consistantly good too.
This track was not in the original version of the game, this one was. In my personal opinion Koichi Sugiyama, composer of the Dragon Quest games, is better suited to working with an orchestra. Yet in all initial releases of Dragon Quest games are put out with music sounding like it comes from someone’s keyboard. The music is still nice, since it’s still all the same good songs, but it doesn’t sound as good as it could be.
That’s why I applaud the localization team that worked on this game for switching the keyboard-tunes for a fully orchastrated soundtrack that just lends this big fantasy RPG an epic feel. An orchestra can just do that, make something feel just bigger. I don’t think films like Star Wars would have the same impact if it was filled with cheesy pop music. Orchestras can feel like a powerful thing in music, and if used effectively can be brilliant.