Shadow of Mordor was definitely not a game I was planning on buying. I had played Assassin’s Creed and I had played the Arkham games; there was no reason for me to play a game that conflated the two. But, as time went on and reviews rolled in, my interest started to grow, especially since no one seemed to be able to really pinpoint anything unique about the game despite loving it so much.
The Nemesis system was lauded at first as being something interesting that draws you in but people were really fawning over the minute-to-minute gameplay loop. I didn’t get it. So it’s parkour from AC and fighting from Arkham Asylum? It’s been done! Turns out there was more to it than that.
The truth is, the game really does consist of that satisfying, one-button parkour that first showed up in Assassin’s Creed, and it really does lean heavily on the one-button fighting combos of Arkham fame, but THAT. IS. ENOUGH. Those two mechanics, polished spotlessly in Shadow of Mordor, make it a game worth buying over any of those other games on their own.
“They’re fun because just MOVING in this game is amazing.”
Enjoyable gameplay loops are pretty much the only reason I will continue to play a video game (an opinion that I’m sure most people share). Sometimes a compelling story or stunning visuals can get me to keep playing but that’s rare. No, the real thing getting me to come back to games like Rogue Legacy, Towerfall, and Far Cry 4 is the fact that they’re just so damn FUN to play.
The satisfaction of dodging fifty enemies in Rogue Legacy, absorbing three arrows in a row in Towerfall, or skimming the treetops with a buzzer in Far Cry 4 easily outweighs the lack of original story or creative graphics. So what does this have to do with SoM and side-quests?
Well, like so many open-world games these days, SoM is littered with optional side-quests: free the slaves, find the artifacts, do this stealth challenge, etc. Typically, I ignore these to best of my ability just because they are almost always the most banal and fruitless missions in a game, relying heavily on repetition and near-insignificant rewards. Side-quests are included in games so developers can pad the game and make the whole experience seem richer without actually putting any time into the content or structure of the game.
But dammit, side-quests in SoM are fun. They’re not fun because they are inherently challenging or striking in any way. No, they’re fun because just MOVING in this game is amazing. By the end of the game, killing orcs, running around Mordor, even riding animals around gives you a warm, satisfying feeling (especially when that Yoshi-inspired drum line starts as soon as you mount a carragor).
Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m being pandered to. I KNOW the developers are playing on my “superman” complex where you start out weak and become nearly invincible by the end. I KNOW most of what I’m doing I’ve done already in some form or another. I KNOW this fetch-quest is the same as the last fifty fetch-quests. The difference between this game and any other though: I don’t care if I know all these things because I still get to be a badass while I do it and that’s fun.
I finished every single side-quest in Shadow of Mordor by the way (except the hunting quests because what the hell I can’t even FIND another bat). It’s probably the only game I’ve held off on running the last story mission because I knew I wanted to play this game for as long as possible before putting it down. And even though that last mission is completely, 100% bogus, it was a hell of a ride getting there.