My video game tastes have been changing slowly over the last 10 years. When I say tastes, however, its not so much styles or types as it is gameplay and difficulty. Over the past few years I've struggled to come to terms with these changes, and the genuine emotions around them. In the end, however, I've found relief and comfort as I've finally settled on what I'm feeling and why. I don't have time or patience for bullshit.
Now, bullshit, in this case, is being used broadly. Bullshit in a game can be anything from poor/incompetent design to diffulty and annoyances that I'm just not going to put up with. There have been bits and pieces of this in a few games I've abandoned over the years, but they all came together most recently with Shadow of Mordor.
I'd been sitting on Shadow of Mordor for about a year. Like most games in my "Pile of Shame" I picked it up on a steam sale, likely $10 or less. I got it mostly because of the positive reviews that pinned the combat to "very much like Batman Arkham Asylum". The nemesis "system" was also widely liked/praised for what it added to the game. As it turns out I both of these things led directly to my reasons for dumping it.
The combat has elements of fun, but it's lesser in many ways, not really a refinement or even a betterment of what was in Batman. Aspects of it are inconsistent. It's hard to know when certain finishers can be used, the tells just aren't there (or I was completely oblivious). Aspects of the timing were sluggish, I didn't always feel a failure was my fault, where in Batman I always knew that was the case. Without the tells you try to rely on button hints, which were also inconsistent. They came up more as occasional reminders when you didn't seem to be doing something after several opportunities, where in Batman, if it could be done the hint was there every time. I couldn't trust the system, and that just made things frustrating when something wouldn't work the way I was expecting it it.
The nemesis "system" is a very cool idea, frustratingly implemented. At it's worst are aspects of the way it works, the most frustrating of which revolves around the named Orcs/Uruks that can show up at any time. This can add a level of challenge, one showing up in the middle of a battle or while approaching a target area. Challenge I'm okay with. What makes it frustrating is when you get 2, 3, or more that all show up at nearly the same time, sometimes each their own crew of Orcs. What kills it for me is when this happens not only repeatedly, but when you're in a triggered quest/event and trying to take down a harder boss enemy while already surrounded by a group. You jump in expecting one challenge and it triples in difficulty within 30 seconds. This happened to me several times throughout my 8 hours of play. I'd just had enough of it.
The game had other flaws, like repeating envirionments layouts and common design throughout, and effectively nothing but combat as the only gameplay element. When you're fighting the same enemies with only minor variance in look and attack style, coupled with several very similar environments and structures, abilities that didn't always play together, and the aforementioned frustrating nemesis tactics and combat mechanics, it just became not worth the frustration. Also, what the hell was going on with the story?
The point of the past few paragraphs was not really to review the game, but to point out things that, say 5-10 years ago, I would've powered through to complete the game. Even so, I did play with that frustration longer than I'd wanted to. I thought about quitting at 4 hours in, and again at 6, but it was finally around the 8 hour mark that I just said to myself this wasn't worth it. I have plenty of other games I could play, other uses for my time. Yelling at my monitor/TV was once a cherished pastime, but not any more.
This isn't the first game I've abandoned in recent years, but it's the one that finally made me completely okay with the concept. I tried to play Doom 3 a few years ago and gave up. Gave Rage a try. Even ended up abandoning Fallout New Vegas, which was a personal surprise being both an RPG as well as a setting I loved in Fallout 3. Even dumped Batman Arkham Knight after loving the first and mostly enjoying the second. Perhaps it helps that a lot of these games I've picked up on a sale after the fact, much easier to abandon something that was $5-10 versus $40-60.
I think part of what happened with Shadow of Mordor had to do with my love of Horizon Zero Dawn. HZD is a beautiful, fun, challenging game, that I consider nearly perfect despite a list of little annoyances. HZD shows how to do gameplay and combat right, as well as story, wrapping it all together in a package that has kept me enthralled through almost 3 complete playthroughs.
I think the most direct comparison I was making, internally, between SoM and HZD was the combat. In HZD you're always in control. If you fail, you know it's because of something you did. You always know your limits, and you can usually find a way out, if not a way to win. Some of the combat scenarios in HZD are very challenging, and I've died a few times, but I always knew it was becuase I did something wrong. In fact on my 3rd playthrough I'm playing it on Ultra Hard. It's hard, but I love it, again because I know my limits, I know when something is possible or doomed to fail, and I can chose to stick it out or to escape and try again later. There is always a level of fairness to the game, even at it's hardest points. There are always several clear, defined ways of attacking each battle, and plenty of skills/tools to mix and match for the scenario and how you like to play. Everything works together so well. Many times while playing SoM I asked myself why didn't I just shut it off and go play HZD instead.
There are too many great games to play, many of which I've owned for some time (HZD, Forza Horizon 3, Diablo III), and others I have yet to sink my teeth into (my Pile of Shame). It's just not worth it anymore to sink time into experiences that just aren't fun. If I'm cursing at the game more than once for something that the game is doing wrong it's time to uninstall it and walk away.
Going forward I'm probably going to stick to extended gameplay investments, such as racing/space sims and other long-term multiplayer experiences. Games I can enjoy at a leisurely pace, and games that I can enjoy with my family and friends. They're going to be better value ($ spent versus time played), and in most cases I'll be buying into companies/francises that are well established so I know what I'm getting into.
#HZD #HorizonZeroDawn #ShadowOfMordor #VideoGames