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Shadow of Mordor Review - Xbox One
by: Alan Wasserman - 10/20/14
Shadow of Mordor was nominated and won a ton of awards at E3 this year. After playing it for 12+ hours I can tell you that every one of those accolades is deserved. The game was created by Warner Bros.; the same house that brought the Batman Arkham games to life, from the get go you can feel the influence of those games in Mordor’s free flow combat system. The ability to chain attacks together with finishers and takedowns should feel very familiar to veterans of the Batman game. The leveling system is pretty robust; you can level up your character and each of the weapons he uses. While the amount of weapons you can use is limited to a long sword, a bow, and a broken sword .Talion uses as a dagger for executions and silent takedowns, the range of what you can do with them is pretty impressive.
The hero of the story, Talion, is a half wraith/half human anti-hero. After watching his family gets ritually slaughtered at the hands of an Agent of Mordor, Talion is “reborn” as death has rejected him. During this process he is linked to a wraith who shares a similar path and story to his own. Together they launch their plan for revenge so they both can rest at peace and join their families in the afterlife. The interactions between Talion and the wraith are pretty entertaining. The wraith is a central historic figure in the Tolkien universe and plays sort of the moral center of the story, while Talion plays the brute who likes to use force of will and arms to get his way. The creators of the game have taken pieces and parts from Tolkien’s less popular works (like Unfinished Tales, the Silmarillion, etc) and included them in the game to make it accurate and deep without messing with the core story from Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit.
The unique thing about the game is the Nemesis system. Each area of Mordor (there are 2 in the game) has five War Chief Uruks who are super powerful. Each War Chief has 1-2 body guards made up of the lower level Uruk and Orc captains. There are fifteen Orc Captains. When you start out you don’t know who any of the captains or war chiefs are. You have to interrogate lower level orcs or find Intel to uncover who they are and what their strengths and weaknesses are, what or who they are afraid of or what enrages them. The captains hang out in areas called strongholds and sometimes while you are on your way to a mission point or to get a collectible you stumble upon 1 or 2 (I’ve had as many as 3) captains in one area and a huge fight ensues. I literally have been so swarmed by orcs and Uruks that the whole screen is full of them and button mashing ensues to get Talion jumping back and forth chaining together attack to clear out the fodder to take down the Captain.
When you kill a captain you are granted a rune that you can attach to one of your three weapons that enhances it in certain ways. It can increase the amount of damage you do while mounted, or give you chance to regain life on an execution etc. The strength of the rune depends on how he was defeated. Taking advantages of his weaknesses and fears will grant you a higher level rune. Captains are not immediately replaced, but once you are defeated the Nemesis system then goes into action. The Uruk that killed you gets promoted to Captain, then about ½ of the open captain slots are filled by other unknown Uruks or those captains who were present at your defeat are majorly promoted to elite captains.
The purpose of the Nemesis system is that my game should be slightly different than anyone else’s. The Orcs that defeat me in combat will not be the same as the ones that get you. As mentioned each of the captains have a specific weakness, one that I love to exploit is that some of them can be killed with a single headshot. The bow in the game fires pretty far and its awesome and hilarious to shoot a captain from 200ft or more away, follow the arrow as it kills them and the watching all the orcs in the area run away like cockroaches with the light turned on.
For completionists the game has a ton of collectibles and things do to do outside of the main story line. You can roam the lands of Mordor and find hidden artifacts that provide backstory to the world and the characters you encounter throughout the game. Furthermore there are elven inscriptions called Ithildin, collecting each one completes a doorway similar to the one seen in Lord of Rings that leads to Moria. Each area, flora, fauna, and person you discover unlocks more lore about the world of Lord of the Rings giving it a robust and deep backstory that you can explore at your leisure.
The games achievements are pretty straightforward. Some are related to story missions, others to collecting items or completing side quests. They pop with fair regularity so you’re each session you feel like you are moving toward full completion.
I rate games based on how much I enjoy them and how challenging they are. But I also take into account how eager I am to dive back into the game after I have been away. This game has me completely engrossed and each time I turn off the counsel to go to bed I think about when I’ll get to turn it back on again.I give this game 9.5 out of 10.
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Game of Thrones: Episode One "Iron from Ice" Review - Xbox One
by: Alan M. Wasserman - 12/11/14
Ever want to be on the receiving end of the ice cold gaze of Queen Regent Cersei Lannister? How about going toe to toe with bastard born psychopath Ramsey Snow? How about trading quips with the cerebral and troublemaking Tyrion Lannister? Telltale Games latest installment into narrative driven games allows you to do just that.
Iron from Ice starts during the now infamous Red Wedding. During the festivities House Forrester is attacked by the double crossing (that’s a pun for the ages for Game of Thrones fans) Freys at the Twins, where most of the participants at the party are holistically slaughtered while drunk and unaware. You start the game as Gared Tuttle a squire to Lord Ironwood who fights as a Bannerman to the King in the North Rob Stark. True to a chapter in J. R. R. Martin’s books or an episode of HBO show; things go from good to bad to horrible in the matter of a few minutes. You are immediately thrust into action where the first choice you have to make is to warn Lord Forrester of the impending attack or help his first born son and heir to safety.
The game presses on just like the books or show by integrating several key characters into the narrative. After starting as Gared, you play as Lord Forrester’s third son and fourth child Ethan who at a tender young age is now the ruler of the Forrester family. The game then shifts to his older sister Mira who is working as handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell in Kings Landing. The first episode of the game alternates the narrative of these three characters and the events surrounding House Forrester after the Red Wedding.
Like all Telltale Games the choices you make determines the story you experience. Choose to defy Cersei and you can find yourself in serious trouble with House Lannister. Stand up to Ramsey Snow and end up a flayed man next to a campfire in the middle of the Iron Wood. The game distills down the agonizing options into two or three equally valid choices. Sometimes they are timed and your answer or lack of answer can influence how other characters respond to you. Other choices are given to you with no time limit. Making the choice that much harder.
The voice acting, character facial capture, and feel of the game make it feel like you are in control of an episode of the show. It’s amazing that Telltale was able to get the actual actors and actresses that play these deep, easily recognizable characters into the game. Telltale’s The Walking Dead game had shout outs to the TV cast; Game of Thrones has the actual characters in the game!! The jibs and jabs between Cersei and Tyrion feel a little stiff and not as natural as they do on TV, but the experience of being in front of the Iron Throne listening to them go back and forth is almost mind blowing.
The graphics and animation are slightly better than the last gen titles The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. But TellTale Games focus on the story and the choices you make and how they impact your story over the course of multiple episodes and I hope seasons, and I can tell you these choices, as small as they seem at the outset, are going to make for huge plot swings in the later chapters. The animation and art almost takes a back seat.
I cannot wait until the next chapter comes out! This game gets 10 out 10 and I may play it again to see if I change the choices I make how different the game feels at the end. Excellent narrative, good mix of some action sequence and Peter Freaking Dinklage!!! Valar Morghulis! A review code was provided for this story.