Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

A splinter of procedural creativity keeps this derivative open-worlder feeling fresh.

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VideoWatch: Grief and video games

Low Batteries episode six.

Digital FoundryLast-gen revisited: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Is this the worst-performing PS3 game of recent times?

Digital FoundryFace-Off: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

With or without ultra textures, it's a close tussle between PS4, Xbox One and PC.

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Warner Bros. "misled" with paid-for positive Shadow of Mordor videos

UPDATE: Pewdiepie responds to allegations.

UPDATE 13/07/2016 11.07pm: Popular YouTube personality Felix "PewDiePie" Kjellberg has addressed Warner Bros.' Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor YouTube promotion controversy in a new video where he explained that he fully disclosed his relationship with the game publisher and believes he is unfairly being singled out.

It started, fittingly, with the nemesis system, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor's most interesting design feature, which, perhaps for the first time, brought emergent storytelling to the forefront of a mainstream blockbuster video game. "We were just a tiny skunk-works team to begin with," explains Michael de Plater, design director at Monolith, who joined the studio in December 2010 around the same time the first prototype emerged. "Because we were small we knew that we had to take a systems based approach to the design; we were just not going to be able to compete with other open-world games in terms of scale."

In the grand and miserable act of homogenisation that is open world game design in the early 2010s, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is as guilty a project as any Assassin's Creed or Far Cry. It presents an amalgam of now-frayed ideas lifted from its close (if thematically dissimilar) rivals. There are the equidistant towers, that staple of Ubisoft's greedy stable, which, once scaled, remove the fog of war from a portion of the map to reveal another psychically draining nest of side-quest markers. These vie for your attention, hoping to distract you from the game's core missions and thereby artificially bloat what would otherwise be a slighter game.

Last-gen revisited: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Digital FoundryLast-gen revisited: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Is this the worst-performing PS3 game of recent times?

We did it because no one else would. Paying a total of 80 from our own pockets for Shadow of Mordor on PS3 and Xbox 360, expectations weren't soaring to begin with. Based on the blank Metacritic scores for both versions at present, it's clear that Warner's marketing efforts and review copy distribution have been focused elsewhere. The obvious inference is that neither version is as good as the PS4 and Xbox One releases, but the gulf in quality seen here is, to put it frankly, absolutely colossal.

For the PS4 and Xbox One's first year, cross-gen titles like this at least give us a barometer of technical progress. The generational leap is vivid for Watch Dogs, for example, a decent sandbox title that causes Sony and Microsoft's older platforms to struggle to deliver the same experience. Meanwhile, Destiny gives the opposite view: its adaptable engine swiftly jumping from PS3's multi-SPU design to the many-core CPUs of current-gen consoles, with solid visuals and performance all round - though of course, the preference is still clear.

Shadow of Mordor is in the former, less favourable category. Meshing Assassin's Creed's open-world design with Tolkien's fiction, and built on a modified LithTech engine, the current-gen releases look stunning in motion. But for better or worse, the massive install bases on PS3 and 360 can't be ignored this upcoming holiday season, with many still preferring to squeeze value from their existing consoles. Basic economics dictates that last-gen versions must exist to check these boxes, and in Shadow of Mordor's case, we're left with fundamentally disappointing ports.

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Shadow of Mordor Lord of the Hunt DLC details

Shadow of Mordor Lord of the Hunt DLC details

Mounted warchiefs, and new mounts.

New details for Shadow of Mordor's Lord of the Hunt DLC - due "later this year" - have been released.

The new beasts you'll tame and ride are the wretched graug - a graug that spits poison; a caragath - a stealthier caragor; and you'll also be able to control and dominate ghuls - the game's zombies - calling hordes of them upon request.

Your new targets will be Beastmaster Warchiefs, AKA uruks on mounts. Kotaku heard that there will be specialised showdown missions for each, and you'll need to de-mount the bosses before taking them on. Kotaku also heard that any ranked nemesis will also now be able to climb aback a mount.

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Shadow of Mordor patch adds versatile Photo Mode

Shadow of Mordor patch adds versatile Photo Mode

But you can't actually take the precious pictures on Xbox One.

Mordor, an inspiring landscape, a land of love, hope, beauty. Only fitting then that developer Monolith has added a Photo Mode to Shadow of Mordor with which you can capture it.

Photo Mode came in a new patch released the other day, which measures around 600-700MB depending on platform (PS4, Xbox One).

It's activated in the game by clicking the left thumbstick, and offers versatility and a range of options to customise your shot. YouTuber Avialence put together a good video demonstrating it.

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Let's have more games that show rather than tell

Shadow of Mordor becomes great, but introduces itself poorly.

The success of games like Far Cry 3 and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor suggests that emergent possibilities arising from a clash of systems are becoming a bigger deal in open-world games, something that Chris Donlan wrote about earlier this week, and I imagine anyone who's ever been asked to follow someone from a rooftop is delighted to hear it. But while Shadow of Mordor is a fine game in many respects - and seemingly destined to become that weird rarity, the cult blockbuster - it does suffer from one disease of the modern open-world game that I wish designers would try to cure.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a delight. It's also one of the most derivative games I've ever played. And this feels a bit confusing, really. Some of us spend a fair amount of time worrying about the steady convergence of so many big-budget blockbuster games into one hyper-dense open-world singularity of levelling, stealth kills, rhythmic combat and map-unlocking. And then something like Mordor comes along and fits this profile perfectly - something that takes the iterative template laid down by publishers like Ubisoft in particular and cranks it up to the point of parody. And yet somehow, the end result is, well... Somehow, the end result is a delight.

UK chart: Shadow of Mordor biggest launch for a game based on Lord of the Rings

UK chart: Shadow of Mordor biggest launch for a game based on Lord of the Rings

Forza Horizon 2 third. Super Smash Bros. 3DS fourth. FIFA 15 still top.

Monolith's open world action game Shadow of Mordor has entered the UK chart in second place with the biggest launch for a game based on The Lord of the Rings in the UK.

Sales are split 56 per cent on PlayStation 4, 41 per cent on Xbox One and 3 per cent on PC. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions launch on 21st November.

Official sales data from Chart-Track shows EA's behemoth FIFA 15 still comfortable in first place despite a 70 per cent drop in sales. Remember, Chart-Track does not include downloads.

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Face-Off: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Digital FoundryFace-Off: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

With or without ultra textures, it's a close tussle between PS4, Xbox One and PC.

Considered a curveball for PC users, Shadow of Mordor's whopping 6GB video memory requirement for ultra textures makes it - at first blush - appear the version to beat. On the other hand, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One releases boast graphics settings tailored to each platform in order to squeeze the most consistent rate of performance. Visual features are cut back to this end - to varying degrees for both - though curiously we see certain visual effects exclusive to console. But on balance, does Sony and Microsoft's hardware realise the same satisfying, open-world Middle-earth experience?

Built on a new revision of Monolith Productions' LithTech engine, the commitment to the new wave of consoles is evident. With PS4 and Xbox One alike patched up to version 1.02, the differences at first glance are few owing to a heavy use of pre-rendered cut-scenes of matching compression settings. As is often the case, resolution is a divisive point on the console front. The Xbox One release is immediately on the back foot, with our pixel count tests highlighting an upscaled 1600x900 resolve for the platform. In contrast with the full native 1920x1080 output on PS4, it's undoubtedly a downgrade that echoes the state of many multi-platform releases this year. However, catching this disparity does take very close attention to side-by-side shots - in part due to both versions' use of a heavy post-process anti-aliasing effect.

Curiously, this post-process setting is entirely absent from the PC version's menus. Instead, PC users are left with a raw image, which in our comparison shots is set to output a straight 1080p. As a net result, PS4 and Xbox One are able to reduce flicker when panning across foliage, while these elements appear harsh and pixelated on PC. As a fix, it's possible to set the PC resolution to 3840x2160, allowing the game itself to super-sample the image down to a pristine 1080p output, but given how GPU-intensive this is, a less taxing, console-style AA option would have been welcome.

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VideoVideo: Shadow of Mordor live stream

Join Ian's Fellowship from 5pm and win a PS4 copy of the game.

As Gandalf once said, all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. And if Aoife's take on Shadow of Mordor is anything to go by, some of that time would be wisely spent in its company, sneaking around and subverting the Ork hierarchy with combat borrowed from Batman.

Digital FoundryEyes-on with PC Shadow of Mordor's 6GB ultra-HD textures

UPDATE: Video added comparing PS4 with the PC game running ultra textures.

The PC version of Monolith's Shadow of Mordor features an optional, ultra-HD texture pack that requires a graphics card with a colossal 6GB of memory for best performance. It's an option that restricts the game's absolute high-end experience to a tiny minority of PC gamers - so the question is, to what extent are the graphics compromised for everyone else? And how does the console version fit in?

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor review

Despite a myriad of sources to draw from, few games have brought Tolkien's Middle-earth to life. There have been many attempts, from the ZX Spectrum text adventure The Hobbit to endless film tie-ins, but none have quite recreated the spectacle of steel sparking steel, nor the smell of blood and dirt and sweat-through leather in your nostrils as an orchestra swells triumphantly at your back and you charge valiantly towards almost certain destruction. Far from getting there and back again, most games set in Middle-earth fall before they've even left The Shire.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, however, begins where most other Lord of the Rings games meet their end. When the Ranger Talion and his family are slaughtered by uruks under Sauron's command at the Black Gate, he is resurrected and his body bound to wander Mordor, the wretched region home to orcs and uruks where the very air, thick with ash and sulphur, chokes the life from lesser mortals. But not all who wander are lost. Now sharing a physical body with the Elvish Wraith Celebrimbor, and with naught but revenge on both their minds, Talion is set upon stirring trouble behind enemy lines.

Initially, this means using a combination of stealth and melee combat to assassinate low-ranking Uruk captains within Sauron's swelling ranks. Talion can move swiftly and silently through Mordor, slipping his dagger into enemy backs unseen. Or he can stroll right up to his foes and face them head on, triggering the game's brutal rhythmic combat system, which combines Batman: Arkham-style striking and countering with racking up high enough kill combos to initiate instant executions and other special abilities.

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Shadow of Mordor release date moved forward

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor will be released a few days earlier than expected, on Friday, 3rd October. It was originally due 7th October.

Shadow of Mordor is showing signs of real promise. It's a moody third-person action game set in The Lord of the Rings fiction, with a sandbox world you're invited to mess with. Think of yourself as a cat toying with your prey - that's by design.

You're like Batman - another of Warner's licenses, and it's no surprise to see a hefty dose of inspiration from Rocksteady's Arkham series here - sewing fear among the enemy who are intimidated by your power. Those enemies can run and hide and spread fear further, or, if you let them kill you (you're immortal), can level up and become leaders in their own right, offering much bigger spoils the next time you meet.

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Gragnor - I think I've remembered the name correctly - was afraid of beasts. Specifically, he was afraid of caragor, the thuggish cat beasts who roam the scrubland of Mordor, displaying surprising litheness when it comes to climbing walls, pouncing on foes, and ripping the throats of their victims open. Gragnor was a captain in the Uruk army, one of two personal bodyguards to the warchief I was ultimately gunning for. To make that final confrontation easier, my plan was pretty simple: brainwash the bodyguards and use them to undermine the warchief himself. Once he was weakened by their betrayal, I could kill the chief, replace him with one of my own guys - hey, maybe Gragnor? - and move on to my next job.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor announced

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor announced

Next-gen Lord of the Rings by Monolith.

Warner has announced a next-gen Lord of the Rings game.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a third-person action game in development for PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Wii U wasn't mentioned.

The game is set between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. You play Talion, a ranger who is murdered the night Sauron and his army return to Mordor. He's resurrected by a Spirit and given Wraith abilities and goes on a revenge mission. Along the way he learns the origins of the Rings of Power, apparently.

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