JBH’s Holiday Season Preview

Assassin's Creed Unity

In celebration of the end of the dreaded summer gaming drought, and in anticipation of the glut of releases scheduled for the rest of 2014, here are three titles I am personally looking forward to, why I’m excited about them and what to expect.  

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

As an avid fan of Tolkien, I’m sure I’m not the only person disappointed by recent video games inspired by The Lord of the Rings. Despite a successful spree on the PS2, The War in the North was an exemplar of the word ‘mediocre’. Monolith has to deliver with the upcoming action-RPG Shadow of Mordor.

In terms of gameplay, it doesn’t appear as if Monolith are going to try to reinvent the wheel. The protagonist ‘Talion’, a twisted undead ranger at large in Mordor, will utilise stealth and intimidation to best his enemies. Think the Arkham series but fantasy. Talion will have an array of ‘Wraith-like’ abilities at his finger-tips, such as the ability to force orcs to do his will, which should spice up the combat.

However, as well as being able to explore Mordor between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Shadow of Mordor will also feature an exciting original mechanic in the form of the touted ‘Nemesis’ system. The orcs have their own social structure, with stronger orcs in charge and weaker orcs at the foot of the food chain.

Each orc has his own name and personality and responds accordingly to the player’s actions. If the player is defeated by an orc in battle, that orc will rise in fame. Said orc will remember the player, making their next encounter something of a ‘grudge match’. It promises a sense of depth to the enemies beyond the normal mindless A.I. that dot most games.

Offering the choking wastes of Mordor as a vast open-world, the latest Tolkien-esque video game has the huge weight of dissatisfied LOTR fans on its shoulders. With tried and tested mechanics refreshed with original flourishes, I believe Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor has enough to go the distance.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

Isn’t it entertaining sprinting around the mountains in Skyrim, shooting fire from your fingertips at massive trolls whilst carrying a hundred pounds worth of precious metals in your backpack? As fun as it is, haven’t you ever yearned for an RPG that meticulously sticks to the truth of the real world it is depicting?

Kingdom Come: Deliverance, which was successfully kickstarted earlier this year, promises to be a first-person ‘non-fantasy’ RPG set in a historically accurate depiction of medieval Czech Republic featuring an immersive and interactive open-world wrought with the limitations of the era. The player has to sleep and eat good food regularly in what sounds like an ultra-realistic version of Fallout: New Vegas’s hardcore mode.

The combat will also be historically accurate, meaning that whether or not a sword-swing will strike true depends on the type of sword wielded and the armour receiving the blow. It implies incredible intricacy in every encounter.

Kicking against the norms of the genre, Kingdom Come: Deliverance will feature a classless system, giving each player a blank slate to roleplay with. Skills are not gained by completing an arbitrary number of tasks, but through practice and application. If you want to be a thief, you can be a thief. If you want to be a noble knight, you can be a noble knight. If you want to be a noble knight who occasionally robs people blind to fund his armour needs, then so be it.

It suggests a focus on emergent gameplay, giving the player a huge, complex world in which they can craft their own truly unique experience. Each NPC interaction has ramifications, affecting the player’s reputation through-out the land and changing the opportunities open to each adventurer.

If you have a keen interest in history and love a good RPG, then you’re probably as excited for Kingdom Come: Deliverance as I am. However, if your eyes glaze over when Time Team comes on, it probably won’t be for you.

Assassin’s Creed Unity

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was a highpoint for Ubisoft’s lucrative series, focusing on sailing and plundering in a beautiful depiction of the Caribbean. It reinvigorated what had started to become a tired formula. However, with Unity the series is giving up its sailing and retreating back to the comfort zone of a city in the throes of historically-based change.

As a result, Ubisoft have to work double-time to make it interesting. It’s set during the French Revolution, arguably the most tumultuous and interesting period of history in the last thousand years. As well as being as significant as it was bloody, it also perfectly suits the themes of the series in general, i.e. the powerful attempting to control the unruly masses, only this time, the masses are storming the gates, beheading aristocrats without mercy.

One thing that has always annoyed me about Assassin’s Creed games is that the line between hero and villain is clearly defined, when in-reality the issues of whether or not humanity needs direction and the sanctity of human life aren’t so easily answered. With brutal peasants guillotining most of the rich people in France, Unity has to be far more morally grey than its predecessors, offering a more meaty affair.

As I stated earlier, the concept of having a powerful assassin plying his trade in an historically accurate city is a tired formula. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations proved that. To make things interesting again, Unity will feature a truly bustling Paris, crammed with stories for the player to be a part of. However small the task at hand might be, each will be an integral part of the immense social change occurring in the city, featuring real people from history.

As well as being able to enter buildings at will, Unity should offer a new dimension to the already successful Assassin’s Creed recipe. The four player co-op could be an unwanted fly in the ointment or a successful evolution in the gameplay, but the chance to explore Paris, the most beautiful city in Europe, in its most exciting state is too tempting to deny.

About Joseph Butler-Hartley
A jaded horror enthusiast, I get my kicks hiding in cupboards from whatever hideous creatures happen to be around. However, I'm more than happy playing a wide range of genres on both consoles and PC. Apart from writing for Z1G, I'm also a History student.