Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Sunday 15th October 2017.
The Bright Lord Returns
ANDY Salisbury reckons Monolith have gone supersize with Shadow Of War. The community manager reckons gamers are in for a fight fest when they fire it up. He told me:
“We looked at expanding the game in every possible dimension we could. Take the Nemesis system — first time around it was really intense one-on-one stories and rivalries. It was you and this one bad guy who chased you all over the world. We have expanded that so there is a tonne of new combat roles. There are Orc tribes which all the Captains and War Chiefs belong to. Then we expanded the followers. In Shadow Of Mordor you could send guys on missions, but now they will remember the interactions they had with you. If you let them bleed out on the battlefield then they may not be happy about that. It all comes together with the big new fortress assaults because each region in Mordor is ruled by a fortress.”
Salisbury also liked the challenge of working to the JRR Tolkien blueprint then adding their own twist. He said:
“The story has grown so much from the first game and we have made a great new cast of characters but it’s still rooted deep in Tolkien lore. We actually have a Tolkien scholar on staff and the team are hardcore fans as well. I think one of the greatest things we have done between games is hire an in-house team of incredible writers who focus on the main story. It’s interesting how they will sit with the team and add little footnotes while watching us play.”
Salisbury insists the new game is rougher and tougher, but in an ingenious way. He added:
“Celebrimbor has put all his power into making the new ring, so you start the game with a fresh slate. We realised that the best players from Shadow Of Mordor didn’t always have the best time. They would work out how to defend a captain then just rise and respect that over and over again. We knew we had to up the difficulty so we diversified a lot of the combat elements. The enemies have a lot more dimensions. You really need to get intel on them this time round.”
And the game will fight back. Salisbury laughed:
“When you take over a fortress, Sauron won’t just sit by and let it happen. There is a war raging in Mordor, so who you put in charge of the fortress is just as important as the army you use to attack it. They may have to defend it by themselves or you can step in and help, but ultimately it’ll be up to the overlord you put there.”
Middle-earth: Shadow of War (Xbox One, PS4 and PC, £42.99)
TOLKIEN’S vision of Middle-earth was heavy duty stuff so any game was always going to be a challenge. But Monolith Productions out-did themselves with Shadow Of Mordor. They got stuck into the Tolkien lore then went one stage further. They gave us the Nemesis system — where you risk making your enemy stronger by losing a fight. and he remembers that you were beaten. So there must be something in the water at Monolith Towers, because they are back with Shadow Of War and it takes a Tolkien-style twist on the Hobbit-obsessed wordsmith.
This is the first time the tale ISN’T lifted from the pages of Tolkien’s epic fable and that may rile some fans. The game picks up from the first game as Talion is still infused by the spirit of elf lord Celebrimbor. He thinks it’s a good idea to forge a new ring of power. Unsurprisingly, it all goes Pete Tong from there, but you get what feels like a greatest hits of Lord Of The Rings as you fight the Witch King and Balrog, ride fire-drakes and get to be an all-round bad boy in Mordor. The scale is epic, with five different regions to gain control of. The gameplay is fast and frantic in a Batman Arkham style. Timing is the key to a perfect strike.
The biggest new feature is the ability to capture fortresses. You get epic siege battles with an army of Orcs you have built up. That all adds a depth to the game because the make-up of your army will determine the fortresses you can attack. There are different types of fight — from breaching the walls to rushing the throne room — before the brutal battle the Overlord and his captains. Remember Nemesis? It’s bigger and bigger. No two players will have the same game because each battle shapes the fight you face. So you build your tale almost outwith the main story.
The graphics are mostly excellent. The mix of backdrops in the regions and the Orcs are great, but there are a few rough textures along the way. The soundtrack adds to the Tolkien vibe and the voice acting is solid but orcs steal the show. They are the real characters of the piece. The unlocks mean you can beat the game fairly easily and the micro-transactions mean you can pay real money for loot. There is enough going on, so why bother with that? The game has ramped everything up from the first game. The main story struggles to last the course, but there are plenty of highlights along the way.
Cuphead (Xbox One and PC, £16.74)
WHO thinks up the names for gaming characters? I am sure they just wake up and go “Yeah, that will do”. Take Cuphead and Mugman — how many beers were behind that night out? But take that out of the equation and you have one of the most eagerly-awaited indie games of the year. Start playing it and you soon realise Studio MDHR have crafted a winner.
Cuphead has a classic tale where our hero and his brother Mugman enter the Devil’s Casino and get on a winning streak. Suddenly the stakes are raised and the brothers face losing their souls to the bad man. He says he may let them off the hook if they collect outstanding contracts for him. The game is a boss rush with a few platform Megaman-esque levels thrown in — a Dark Souls level of challenge. Boss fights are made up of three or more stages where you fight the “easiest” form before it morphs — like a giant potato or a house made of candy. The platforming stages are rare but are still a welcome break from the boss slog. You get to run-and-gun your way around and you’ll also get a few levels in a plane which is some shoot-em-up fun. You can attack the game in co-op with a friend. They will be Mugman. But that actually makes the game harder. If it gets too much there is a “simple” mode but that prevents you from facing the final fights.
The game has a great cartoon look straight out of the 1930s. There is a great depth and detail to the set and the soundtrack reinforces the vibe with blend of songs from the 30s. The epic jazz and swing is a real treat. Cuphead has a few issues — getting your power-ups explained through vague descriptions is a pain because you never know how powerful they really are. But this is a mega challenge, even if Mugman and Cuphead are still bizarre names.
On The Stream
DAN Ellis has been a gamer for as long as he can remember and refuses to be pigeon-holed into one type of game. From competing in CS:GO tournaments with the Blackout Gaming community to chasing that No1 spot on Fortnite or failing to score a goal in FIFA Pro-Clubs, it’s on his Twitch channel She’s Not Worth It. The name comes after gaming got him over a couple of bad relationships. Dan’s main gaming aim is fun.
“I do it because I love it and I adore the reactions I get.”
FAIR play to The Gear.club. The mobile app game has produced one of the stars of the Mclaren fastest Gamer competition. Danish doc Henrik Christian Drue has beaten over 600,000 gamers to qualify to for the next stage. Now he will face the fastest gamers in Forza, iRacing and rFactor. The overall winner has the chance to become a Formula 1 test driver for the McLaren F1 team. Drue says:
“I downloaded Gear Club about five days before qualifications started.”
The final is at the McLaren Technology Centre next month.
I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border, catch ye’s…