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shadow of mordor blade

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor PC Impressions

I’ve played Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor for a whopping 115 minutes so far, and while that’s obviously not enough time to judge the game, it does mean I can give you some preliminary thoughts and tell you how well the port works.

First thoughts: fucking hell. 33 gigs? Get out.

Second thoughts: okay, this is actually one of the best PC versions of a game in recent memory.

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Options! Explanations! Hooray!

It seems to be fairly well optimised, it lets you set your own FPS cap, it has a whole lot of tweakable graphic options, and – perhaps most impressively – it actually tells you what those options do. I will concede that this isn’t necessarily a major thing, but I daresay it’s going to be fantastic for anyone who’s wondered exactly what tessellation or ambient occlusion do; if you’re unsure of how each setting will impact the game and you’re trying to tweak things to make Shadow of Mordor look good but run smoothly, this will help. A lot.

I mentioned that it seemed pretty well optimised, but some more detail is probably in order. Right now I’m running the game with what it auto-detected as the optimal settings for me (which you can see in the screen above – I haven’t touched them) and it appears to be running perfectly smoothly. About the only time I’m seeing slowdown is right after I jump into control of the game (after loading or after a cutscene) which is presumably while the game is loading most of the assets in. This lasts a few seconds, and then everything’s silky-smooth again.

As for the controls… well, I tried playing with mouse and keyboard. I did, really! And I fully believe that Shadow of Mordor is entirely playable with mouse and keyboard, assuming you rebind a few of the controls (CTRL is interact, and Shift is stealth? What?) to something that makes a bit more sense. Controlling Talion does feel a little bit sluggish on keyboard, possibly because the free running key defaults to Space and holding down the space bar makes me feel a bit odd, but like I said – it should be perfectly playable if you don’t have another option or if you’re willing to spend a bit of time configuring the controls to something sane. It’ll probably also make ranged combat a bit easier, too.

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Possibly the best stealth tutorial I’ve seen in awhile.

However, gamepad is probably the way to go. With a gamepad plugged in everything is basically Batman: Mordor Asylum, with X doing your attacks and Y doing your counters and B doing your cape stun– er, sorry. “Wraith stun.” It’s all very comfortable and familiar.

Extra brownie points are awarded for letting you seamlessly swap between the two control options, too. Both appear to be active at the same time, and pressing a key on the keyboard (when taking a screenshot, say) switches all the contextual help to refer to your bound keys rather than to the gamepad. Again, nothing overly revolutionary, but one of those nice little touches that make me suspect some time actually went into the PC version.

All of this would mean nothing if Shadow of Mordor itself is pants, of course. As said above I haven’t even hit the two-hour mark yet, so I’m not in any position to judge, but right now I’m having a pretty good time.

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Okay, that’s also kind of neat.

The easiest way to sum it up is Batman: Arkham Whatever has been transported to Middle-earth after an all-night session with Assassin’s Creed. It’s got the former’s controls and combat but the latter’s fully open world, free-running, and ludicrously numerous side-quests. It’s not as good as either game at their respective things – the world isn’t all that spectacular, the free-running is a little bit sluggish, the combat doesn’t (yet) have the gadgets and range of options that Batman had. I expect all of this will expand before long, though, and at its absolute worst it seems entirely competent.

It has a few neat touches of its own, too. I’m a big fan of the “Last Stand” mechanic, or whatever it’s called; if an enemy drops you to zero health then you have one final chance to survive. If you complete a fairly simple QTE, you can redirect their killing blow and regain half of your health. You can only do this once in any given fight, though, so while it gives you a (rather cinematic) second chance, it’s not a perpetual life-saver. It also makes vague thematic sense, if you recall Boromir’s last stand.

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As with Batman, chaining together your attacks and counters lets you perform takedowns. Unlike Batman, most of those takedowns involve decapitation.

I’m not such a fan of the plot or characters at this point, though. They’re all well-voiced, certainly, but… man, Talion seems to have fairly rapidly accepted that his family was butchered and that he’s been resurrected by a wraith. I mean, he treats this stuff as a vague aside to the main business of killing Orcs and Uruks. I’m happy that I don’t have to sit through fifteen minutes of angst after every story mission, sure, but it still feels a bit odd.

But what you really care about is the Nemesis system, that amazing method of inadvertently crafting your own recurring villains. Bear in mind, again, that I haven’t played enough of the game to determine how “unique” my experience is, but…

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Yes, my nemesis’ name is a homonym of “douche.” Yes, this means that his name is basically Douche of the Stench. Yes, I know.

Well, my current Nemesis is a guy called Dûsh of the Stench, which is maybe not the most fear-inspiring name or title. Nonetheless, this arsehole has been a repeated thorn in my side.

He’s the first named enemy who managed to escape my mass-murder; he fled when I dropped him to low health, and as I was surrounded by enemies at the time, I didn’t have the chance to chase him down and hack off his head. No problem, though. To paraphrase Dr. Claw: I’ll get him next time.

I did not get him next time, because “next time” he ambushed me when I really wasn’t in any condition to fight him.

I’d just been wandering around a Caragor cave (Caragors being giant murder-cats), and when I stepped outside, he was searching for me nearby. Mr. of the Stench has the “Tracker” trait, which means he’s very, very good at finding me, and hiding from him is not a thing I can easily do. Fighting against Caragors had left me on low health, with very little ammunition for my magic wraith bow, so taking on this guy was not something I wanted to do.

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I am riding a giant murdercat through the power of mind-control, and this may be the greatest sentence I will ever write.

He found me in about five seconds flat. Things looked extremely grim, right up until the point some of the unslaughtered Caragors came out to see what was going on.

See, one of Dûsh’s other traits is that he really fucking hates Caragors. On seeing them he flew into a berserker rage, forgot about me entirely, and ran at them. Unfortunately, he’s also capable of killing them in a single hit, so they weren’t going to be much use in winning the fight. They were useful in causing a distraction so I could run like hell, though.

Since then he’s risen in the ranks of Sauron’s army and become considerably more dangerous than he was before. I was going to track him down and murder him, but then I got ambushed and killed by a different captain (death isn’t actually “death”; it just returns you to the nearest magic wraith tower), so first I want to go and get revenge. Then I’ll deal with my Nemesis. Then I’ll get on with the plot.

Assuming I don’t get distracted by something else along the way, anyway.