Gaming

Middle-earth: Shadow of War review — System overload

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Three years after Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor broke ground with how video game systems can tell stories, its sequel Middle-earth: Shadow of War builds on that foundation and more. Do these new layers elevate or encumber the experience?

With a twist of his hunky wrists, Ur-Hakon Brawlmaster extinguished Bugu Flame Monger’s ambitions of becoming warchief. The 15-foot Olog berserker separated the fiery terror’s head from his body, showing every orc in the ice cavern Fight Pit of Seregost what he’d do to challengers. It was an impressive audition for a spot in my army that would face Sauron’s siege. Ur-Hakon just didn’t know it yet.


Prestigious legacy

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was a revelation for video games in 2014. On the surface, it looked like a cash-grab mash-up of The Lord of the Rings, Assassin’s Creed, and the Batman: Arkham series. Technically, it was, as it used the LOTR universe as well as the combat and stealth mechanics of the two aforementioned video game franchises.

What made it special though was the Nemesis system. Basically, it generated enemy orcs with randomized sets of various strengths and weaknesses that would grow stronger if they killed the player or survived the encounter. They would remember how the encounter with the player ended, commenting on it through voiced dialogue if they’d meet the player again. These orcs would also fight with one another, with or without the player’s input, and the winner would also become stronger.

This system facilitated all sorts of unique stories, and was the number one driving force for all the accolades the game received.

The sequel, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, expands on the Nemesis system with a lot more traits assigned to orcs, novel ways they can react to the player’s actions, loot drops, and a whole new fortress capture-and-defend element.

Despite winning with relative ease, Ur-Hakon sustained enough damage in his duel with Bugu that it would not have taken long for me to Dominate him. Just a few more strikes from my sword, and he would’ve been ready to submit and join my legion of mind-controlled orcs. So I leapt into the pit, eager to replace my now headless captain with this hulking behemoth, right into an ambush by Horza, Feral Tracker.

More mechanics

There are four areas to conquer, each with its own host of orcs that have different attributes and equipment they can drop. The gear you can pick up is sorted in a separate menu, listing their statistics along with bonuses you can access by completing small goals and wearing a matching set. Runes can be slotted into your equipment for buffs, and runes of the same kind can be upgraded by combining three similarly leveled runes to form one stronger rune. You have more skills to unlock compared to Shadow of Mordor.

The game introduces these mechanics over time so that it’s not overwhelming. It’s pretty easy to get immersed in exploring how they interlock. Does this polished vitality rune go better with the rare longbow that restores health with every headshot over the regular chest piece that gives a flat increase to your life bar? Would this ability to freeze multiple baddies at once be effective against this orc captain that always has a pack of caragor-riding hunters with him? Perhaps pairing this sickly warchief with an orc bodyguard that gets stronger when poisoned would do well against an enemy orc that can summon venomous spiders for this one fortress siege.

And it’s in those fortress sieges that Shadow of War shines.

Ur-Hakon’s might should have been mine. Complications by way of several blades to my back courtesy of Horza led to this death. Well, deaths, as I did get rid of the meddling party after chopping off the Feral Tracker’s limbs. Ur-Hakon, taking advantage of the distraction, pummeled me into the ground. “I’ll get him on the next life,” assuring myself upon seeing the Brawlmaster’s power grow for ending me.

Compelling complexity in chaos

Opposing orc forces smash into each other on screen by the dozens. Siege beasts hurl explosives over spiked metal walls. Gigantic Graugs and club-wielding Olog-hai batter the gates as toxic fumes blow out of spouts, choking would-be invaders trying to scale the perimeter. Fire rains from a drake circling the skies. Warchiefs face assault leaders in strategic areas, their powers and weakpoints laid bare in pitched combat.

And there’s you, right in the middle of everything, the one X-factor that can change the tide of battle.

Depending on how much you planned prior to engaging, these sieges can be quick, calculated affairs under 15 minutes or wild and protracted struggles that have you teetering on the edge of defeat for 30 minutes or longer. Whether you’re seeing a sound strategy swiftly executed or barely surviving a slog of a brawl, it can be exhilarating.

Up to a point.

It didn’t take long finding Ur-Hakon at the edges of Seregost’s snow-capped mountains. He was fresh this time, unburdened from the tolls of a pit fight. Before I could get close though, a snarl behind me snapped my attention to Tuka the Machine. I burned him to death once. Half of his face was steel now, and he had a gang to back him up. We fought, unfortunately, in front of Ur-Hakon. The Brawlmaster killed us both.

The weight of war

Beating the game requires you to do about 30 fortress sieges, 20 of which come back-to-back at the end, and that’s if you don’t lose. Of course, each one gets harder than the last, as the orcs you face have progressively higher levels. The higher their levels, the fewer weaknesses they have and the more immunities they possess. By the last 10 sieges, most orc bosses you have to defeat are invulnerable to a lot of techniques and can also kill you in a couple of hits, even when you’ve reached the max level of 60 and have powerful gear.

The orcs you’ve put in charge of the fortresses from naturally playing the game get outpaced in level by the enemy orcs when you reach this point, too. How do you keep up?

You either slowly level up your army through the Fight Pits, or you buy loot boxes that contain more appropriately leveled orcs. The former takes forever as you can only do it for one orc at a time, while the latter just feels icky with how blatantly it takes you out of the experience and pressures you to pay up.

Granted, you can buy a basic loot box with in-game currency that you’ll have probably amassed enough of by this time from completing quests.

Did I mention there are quests?

This was it. I tracked Ur-Hakon to a nearby cavern. There was no one else around to interfere. I would best him in one-on-one combat and have him under my command. I attacked. My sword was but a needle poking at his tough leathery hide. He would not succumb. His brute strength humiliated me. I fell to my knees one last time, his fist raised and ready to crush my skull. It fell past my head, as Stakuga the Knife came to my side at the last second, his blade catching Ur-Hakon’s blow, severing the arm from the elbow down. Stakuga saved me. He demanded a promotion, which I was more than glad to give.

Leaden narrative

I almost forgot about the quests because of how utterly unremarkable they are. They’re short, plain, and repetitive, asking you to accomplish one or two goals in the most straightforward manner. The Nemesis system doesn’t apply at all. No orcs can wander into the missions you’re on to surprise you. You die, you’re treated to a game over screen. Talion AKA Bargain Bin Boromir is as boring as video game protagonists come, and the rest of the cast is dour and unlikable, save for the handful of orcs that have way too minor roles.

The only notable thing about the narrative is the complete disregard of the canon and tone of the original Lord of the Rings stories. The first game certainly wasn’t the most respectful use of the LOTR license, but Shadow of War straight up retcons the lore to a ridiculous degree. Its attempt at commenting on the nature of evil clashes with how it rewards the player literally enslaving others.

By tying the completion of this forgettable story into the fortress sieges in the final act, Shadow of War burdens the one clearly enjoyable thing about it and turns it into a chore.

There’s fun to be had in Middle-earth: Shadow of War, for sure, but it’s all in the dynamic mechanics divorced from the plot. Feel free to drop it when finishing it starts fatiguing you. That release is worth more than enduring the nigh endless endgame for a predictable ending.

I tasted steel, and then dirt. I got up. Again. I assembled what was left of my troops. That fort in Gorgoroth had to be retaken. I had lain waste to that invading force before that stray arrow caught me in the melee. I only needed to storm the throne room. Stakuga died defending the courtyard. Some nameless goblin cut him down as he ran, afraid for his life. I envied his escape from this mortal coil. I reclaimed the fortress. Four more to go. 

SEE ALSO: Indygo: A game that talks about depression

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Gaming

The Nintendo Switch Lite is coming

For on-the-go gaming!

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It has long been rumored that Nintendo will launch a more affordable version of the Nintendo Switch and now, the company has more than confirmed that the rumors are true. Enter the Nintendo Switch Lite. It’s a smaller less featured-filled version of the hit console from Nintendo.

The Nintendo Switch Lite is smaller and lighter. It sports a 5.5-inch touch screen display against its big brother’s 6.2-inch display and is projected to last a little longer at three to seven hours of playtime.


The primary difference though is that it is a handheld only console. Which is why it doesn’t support Joy-Con controllers. It also doesn’t come with a Switch Dock. You can essentially play most titles available on the Switch, but there’s no option for you to play on a bigger screen.

Pricing and availability

The Nintendo Switch Lite will launch on September 20 and will retail for US$ 199.99. It will come in three colors: Yellow, Gray, and Turquoise. Are you gonna get one?

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Gaming

A non-Potterhead’s verdict on Harry Potter: Wizards Unite

Use your phone, Harry!

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More than a week has passed since the global release of the mobile game Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and we’re ready to give our thoughts. As the title states, I’m not into the franchise that much although I’m a big Pokémon Go player. It basically has the same gameplay as they’re under the same developers — Niantic, Inc.

That being said, I won’t be diving too much on the lore and will instead focus more on gameplay and its overall experience.


For those unfamiliar, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is a location-based AR game that requires you to go out of the house in order to get more experience points, unlock special items, and advance in the game. The same goes for Pokémon Go and the game before that, Ingress. While PoGo, in the real world, has PokéStops that give out PokéBalls, HP:WU has Inns that you get Spell Energy from. This is then required so you can cast spells and return Foundables to their rightful place and time (the game’s version of catching different Pokémon in the wild).

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ALSO READ: A beginner’s guide to Harry Potter: Wizards Unite

During the first day of release and being curious as to how the game works, I went out and tried to “catch” as much Foundables as I can and just like PoGo, it gets you in the momentum of just wanting to go around and get as much as you can. I initially noticed the wider array of different “species” you can come across with on HP:WU as compared to when PoGo first launched. I remember all I did back then was to catch Pidgey and Rattata because that was pretty much everything that was available. This was also the main reason why most players quit back then.

You get to choose your house, profession, and design your wand

Back to Wizards Unite, the similarities it has with PoGo made it easy for me to get a grasp of its general gameplay even though I have no idea who most of the characters are. The idea is to basically level up by grinding for experience points in the most efficient way. This means planning where to go and making sure the place is populated by in-game stops and spawns — usually parks and shopping malls are good choices.

Comparison of HP:WU’s UI vs PoGo in the same area

While it parallels Niantic’s other games in many levels, Wizards Unite brings its own charm through its visuals. The environment of HP:WU is simply more immersive than PoGo‘s and even the encounters have more detail in them. It could get distracting at times since there are more elements in HP:WU, but is overall nicer to look at.

A unique aspect from the company’s games is that unlike other multiplayer games where you meet your friends online, you actually play with them in real life and this is also the case for Wizards Unite. These games basically build a community that helps each other accomplish in-game tasks that are usually challenging to accomplish alone. What HP:WU did better, though, is to go for a more immersive gameplay by making you trace different patterns on your screen as if waving your wand as compared to the tapping mechanics of PoGo.

Overall, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite could be a more enjoyable game for some players who are not big fans of the Pokémon franchise. I personally enjoy it enough to switch between HP:WU and PoGo whenever I play out. It will keep you walking around drawing on your screen and pretending to wave your make-believe wand.

It’s a game that’s far more complete than Pokémon Go at launch, that’s for sure. Although, it’s still far from reaching its full potential since there are things that could still be added to the game like a dueling system, for example.

If you want to try the game and get some cardio while casting spells, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is available on Google Play and the App Store.

 

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Gaming

Spider-Man: Far From Home suits coming to PS4 game

Ready to do some more web-slinging?

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In case you needed a reason to play Marvel’s Spider-Man on PS4 again then here it is.

With Spider-Man: Far From Home hitting theaters this week, Insomniac Games announced that the costumes heavily featured on the trailers of the film are making their way to the 2018 hit game.


The announcement first came from PlayStation Japan’s official Twitter account which was then swiftly followed by a post on the PlayStation Blog in the US.

The new threads are called Upgraded Suit and Stealth suit. Both will be available immediately as soon as players build the Advanced Suit in-game.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is the second full-length film in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) starring the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler. The film  picks up right after the events of Avengers: Endgame and will wrap up the third phase of MCU.

Marvel’s Spider-Man for PS4 came out in late 2018 and was a strong contender for game of the year. It received rave reviews from critics and fans thanks to how it captured the essence of Spider-Man.

SEE ALSO: Marvel’s Spider-Man Review: Spidey in all his glory

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