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    Feb 14th, 2018 at 01:29:20     -    Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4)

    I almost exclusively spent my time this play session (around 1.5 hours) doing all of the available missions to free slaves in the surrounding areas. In my past couple of play sessions, I had freed the slaves because I felt morally obligated to, but I didn't see how freeing them helped me at all besides earning a (relatively small) amount of experience. However, when I freed another camp of slaves at this beginning of this play session, I unlocked a wide series of slave-rescuing missions and discovered that rescuing slaves put me in their good graces, and by rescuing more I could unlock intel about leaders in Sauron's army. I was much happier to discover that doing something that the game presents as morally good was actually rewarding in a significant way (does that make me a bad person, that I only really want to do the things that the game's ethical framework say are good if I'm being compensated in a large enough way? Probably).

    Another interesting thing I discovered is that the orcs and uruks will have conversations with each other if you eavesdrop on them. The fascinating thing is that the conversations generally aren't boring and inconsequential; instead, they're about the power struggle in Sauron's army and how they feel about their direct superiors. Occasionally, after I'd fought with some of them, some of them would even discuss me and my prominence among the gossip circles. It was cool to feel like the game world was moving constantly, even if I wasn't doing anything. Having this living, breathing game world made it feel so much more real, and that just increased the impact of the story throughout the game (if the world feels real, then the slave within it are, in some sense, real). This whole system was especially enjoyable because the actual main campaign/storyline isn't particularly interesting or nuanced, but the Nemesis system and the way that the characters interact with it has more than made up for it, in my opinion.

    Speaking of, the Nemesis system is the meat and bones of this game, and it's clear to me now why the game won Game of the Year at GDC. Navigating the political nature of Sauron's army, figuring out who to kill and who to target next, gathering intel on your opponent's weaknesses and strengths and how best to defeat them... it's a fascinating, unique approach to gameplay that I didn't expect to find in a LotR game. I think it's interesting to think how similar systems could be used in other genres to great effect. I mean, come on, now I just want to play a House of Cards game with a Nemesis system in place.

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    Feb 13th, 2018 at 00:32:34     -    Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4)

    Got another hour or so of gameplay in today. I'm loving the world the game has set me in -- it feels distinctly Lord of the Rings, and even the fighting system makes me feel like I'm in one of the movies. I think that's one of the games biggest strong points, actually. I've played roughly 3 hours so far, and not once have I ever fought an enemy one on one. At first that frustrated me, but the more I've played, the more I've realized that it's trying to tie into the player fantasy. Because you play as a Ranger, a semi-mythical figure in the LotR universe, fighting a horde of enemies -- and winning -- makes you feel good. It makes you feel powerful and in control while at the same time making every battle, even the small ones, feel tense and chaotic. Also, because of countering and slo-mo critical hits and the ability to flow from enemy to enemy in a stylish way, every fight feels like it could be a choreographed scene from one of the movies. However, the game is set up in such an open-world way that you can often find yourself amidst groups of enemies you're just not equipped to deal with yet, and the resulting deaths feel like the game is punishing you for exploring.

    This concept of exploration punishment was also my first real introduction to the game's Nemesis system, wherein you kill leaders of Sauron's army (or they kill you) and the hierarchy of that army changes. However, dying to one of the leaders increases that leader's power -- and due to my constant (perhaps stupid) exploration, I died again and again to one leader, causing him to be incredibly overpowering. This only means that the Nemesis system is working as intended, and it's really cool in context of the game and world, but it can be frustrating to constantly run into this leader and know that I either run or die.

    I also spent the better part of today's play session ignoring the main story missions and instead freeing slaves captured by orcs. I'm not even sure that the time spent doing so was particularly worth it (I received experience and money for freeing the slaves, but nothing particularly grandiose and nothing that provided any type of narrative), so I'm not sure it was time well spent. The game prompted me to free the slaves and then didn't force me, but that meant that I would've felt like a bad person if I had ignored that hint and not freed the slaves. Interesting ethical situation, there.

    Also, ran into Gollum near the end of my play session? For some reason I thought this game was centuries before the main LotR movies, but apparently not.

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    Feb 11th, 2018 at 01:42:43     -    Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4)

    I played for about an hour and a half today. The game has me incredibly interested, even if I am a bit lost and confused. I thought the developers did a very good and interesting job with the opening of the game, which surprised me. About 5 minutes into the game, I was incredibly frustrated with the opening. I hadn't actually been able to play yet, and all the game had been was cutscenes and voiceovers. I'm a firm believer that games should get you to a playable position as quickly as possible, and it looked like the game was going to go full exposition on me instead. This was particularly worrying because the game kept showing flashbacks of the main character's backstory, but they had little weight to me because I didn't know who the main character was. Thankfully, though, it quickly switched, and I was able to actually play these flashbacks -- and even better, the flashbacks were the tutorial for the game. Learning how to sword fight because I was teaching my son how to sword fight was a genius move, really, and let the game avoid many of the problems of tutorial levels as well.

    Actually getting into the main gameplay has been a lot of fun. The "Nemesis" system that I've heard so much about is starting to peek out every once in a while, but it's currently daunting and has had very little explanation by the game. The fighting is fluid and natural, and the controls all feel very smooth. My one major complaint so far is that the game suffers from some pretty serious map and menu UI overload (unfortunately borrowing a little too much from Assassin's Creed here). There's so many icons on both the map and the menu that navigating them becomes a chore, which should be the exact opposite of what both of those things are there for. The game itself has been fun so far, though!

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    Jan 18th, 2018 at 00:22:45     -    Firewatch (PS4)

    I played a little over an hour tonight. There's still a lot I love about this game, but I'm starting to get frustrated as well. There is definitely a sense of a mystery being at play, and yet it doesn't seem to be headed anywhere. I think I'm at day 63 in the game, but nothing has really developed all that much regarding my ransacked watchtower (besides finding the teenager's wrecked campsite and discovering later that they are missing). I guess I just feel that the game isn't delivering on promises that it made -- or at least, it's not delivering on them as quickly as I would like. I kept expecting the quests that I went on to have some greater meaning or influence on the plot, but instead I just went on another quest to pick up supplies that had little to no meaning.

    My relationship with Delilah, though, is fascinating. I like Delilah -- who she is, how she talks, the way she treats my player character. I enjoy talking with her, and I always choose the nice, friendly dialogue option when talking to her. However, the last 15 minutes or so of gameplay I played turned from being nice and friendly to being flirtatious. I was fine with it for the first few seconds (I like Delilah, after all), until I suddenly remembered that I'm married. Then it all felt wrong, and it felt like I, as the player, had made wrong choices in making what I thought were the right choices. I felt like a bad person for cheating on my ill and disabled wife, if only in thought. Then I realized that none of this was real, but I still had those negative feelings, and the true ethical dilemma of the game started to become clearer to me.

    I also distinctly noticed the audio this time playing the game, which I hadn't noticed or paid attention to in earlier playthroughs. The use of music is very sparse, and only comes up during particularly big reveals or discoveries, such as when you're about to walk on to the teenagers' campsite. The music then stops, and the sudden lack of music becomes just as big of a statement as the music itself. It made everything seem eerie and intense, even though very little about the scene itself was that way.

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