Middle-Earth: Shadow of War Review [Xbox One] – Bold New Heights?

Cast your minds back a few years – not to the Third Age, but instead to 2011 – and you’ll undoubtedly recall the release of a licensed superhero epic going by the pseudonym of Batman: Arkham City. Developed by British studio Rocksteady and published by Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment, the follow-up to 2009’s Game of the Year award-winning Arkham Asylum set itself quite the audacious task, aiming to better its forebear via a larger yet densely detailed open-world, enhanced combat mechanics, a wider array of enemy types and above all a canon-eschewing but captivating core storyline.

An Unenviable Challenge

If this unenviable challenge seems vaguely familiar, then it’s with good reason. Fast forward half a dozen years and we find Monolith Productions – again with WB’s stalwart backing – taking much the same approach with their latest project, and surely hoping to reap similarly copious critical praise to that which Rocksteady received upon succeeding in their endeavours. Just as Arkham City took every element of Asylum which worked – the gratifying Freeflow combat, the fascinating exploration of Batman’s psyche and countless other USPs – and expanded upon them tenfold, so too does Monolith’s second action RPG foray into the world of J.R.R. Tolkien up the ante on every front.

Whereas 2014’s largely acclaimed Shadow of Mordor confined the escapades of its half-Ranger, half-undead Elf protagonist, Talion, to a couple of grimly-lit cities based within the titular region, Shadow of War takes us from Seregost’s snow-capped peaks to the precipice of Mount Doom in Gorgoroth, from Minas Morgul’s sinister cityscape to Núrn’s open forest plains. Whereas Mordor’s intoxicating Nemesis System showed huge signs of potential, War develops this intricate mechanic exponentially, adding dozens upon dozens of extra enemy classes, arenas where victorious Orcs can become spies for your army and seismic fortresses in dire need of new management.

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Elevating The Middle-Earth Saga?

But can this unquestionably ambitious follow-up match City’s next-to-universally renowned success in taking its franchise to bold new heights, elevating the Middle-Earth saga to the video game industry’s Hall of Fame? Not quite, yet one can’t possibly accuse Visceral of resting on their laurels either. For instance, aesthetically speaking, some of the human character models – including that of Talion, along with the courageous soldiers he encounters – appear bland and unfinished in cut-scenes, their facial animations a little undercooked. Yet the open-world regions themselves brim with graphical pizazz, Seregost’s snowfall a mystifying beauty to behold and Mount Doom a pitch-perfect copy of that seen in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film adaptations.

Missions prove equally mixed when it comes to variety and unpredictability. On the one hand, many of the main campaign’s quests prove disappointingly mundane, centring on generic follow-the-AI-leader, stealth antics with none of Metal Gear Solid’s scope for anarchic chaos should the player get spotted or repetitive Nazgul boss battles. On the other, venture off the beaten track and you’ll discover electrifying side ventures such as Balrog showdowns, voyages into Mordor’s past and future via the visions of spider-turned-temptress Shelob or attempts to wrest back control of Middle-Earth’s status quo with its equivalent to Mother Nature (yes, really), to the point where one craves for the core campaign to offer the same level of structural creativity at times.

Simplified Narrative Approach

Indeed, while we’re on the subject of the campaign, the eagle-eyed readers among you might’ve noticed that this reviewer hasn’t dedicated much time to War’s narrative as of yet. Suffice to say that in the wake of having forged a new Ring as the credits rolled last time around, Talion wastes little time – barring a frustratingly inconsequential detour to meet Shelob early on – kick-starting a Mordor-wide resistance to Sauron’s rule, rallying hundreds of possessed Orcs to his side in order to take back each of the realm’s lofty fortresses before overthrowing the Dark Lord once and for all. Now, that might sound like a premise for the ages, particularly to the Tolkien avids here, but unfortunately said plot receives scarce attention throughout War, largely taking a back-seat while you influence the foes of each region, topple its Overlord, rinse and repeat for hours on end.

This simplified narrative approach – or indeed the obvious constraints placed upon Monolith by having War take place within reaching distance of The Fellowship of the Ring – wouldn’t matter so much if the script at least dedicated more time to fleshing out the supporting characters like Gondorian soldiers Idril and Baranor, returning fan favourite Gollum (whose needless cameo barely registers), or even the head Orcs whom Talion possesses like the hilarious Bruz. Instead, those looking to see their relationships with the similarly soulless – no pun intended – Talion developed had best look to the aforementioned side missions for further meat. Acts III and IV reveal how our hero’s antics factor into the events of LOTR, in what frankly comes off as one of the most ridiculous fan faction-esque retcons in recent memory, but little else of note actually happens to any of War’s ‘key’ players, protagonistic and antagonistic alike.

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A Dense Open-World

Perhaps story depth isn’t what many fans hoped for here, though, with War’s main draw of course being its overhauled Nemesis System. If LOTR fanatics want to immerse themselves in Middle-Earth, then here lies the most substantial means by which to do so, with the contrasting Orc cultures, fortress defences, enemy weaknesses, tribe dynamics and Warchief challenges of each region providing more than enough of an excuse to plunge hundreds and hundreds of hours into this sprawling RPG’s rich world and become its eventual commander-in-chief. For reasons we shan’t spoil, there’s ample incentive to become an expert in these minutiae by Act IV, where further conflicts mounting in each of your conquered domains put that knowledge fiercely to the test.

With Shadow of War, then, Monolith have largely fulfilled their lofty goals, delivering a dense open-world filled with aesthetic and enemy variety as well as numerous opportunities for total immersion via its staggering Nemesis system and engaging array of side quests. That said, whether its immense strengths on a technical and replayability level are enough to compensate for the disappointing lack of focus paid to crafting a layered fantasy storyline, or multi-faceted characters worthy of Tolkien lore, will depend on what you look for first and foremost out of your gaming experiences; personally, this reviewer could’ve done with more of the latter in order for the second and likely final Middle-Earth outing to stand a chance of topping his Game of the Year shortlist.

It would appear, then, that one developer cannot simply walk into Mordor without struggling to balance the competing elements which they bring along for the ride. Nevertheless, if Shadow of War’s promising improvements upon Mordor’s already potent gameplay formula are any indication of what’s next for Monolith as a studio, then should they choose to return to the world of men, corruptive Rings and cave trolls in the near future, the LOTR franchise’s Arkham City equivalent could lie just around the corner.

A Visceral End? Thoughts On The Studio’s Closure

Irony’s a cruel mistress and make no mistake. Just last week, we thought indie platformer Cuphead’s near-unprecedented smash success might signal a welcome change in the air for the gaming industry, particularly during a year abundant with studio closures.

But if the latest development in publisher EA’s fraught era at the helm of licensed Star Wars IPs reminds us of anything, it’s that some trends aren’t so easily bucked as one might hope.

Yes, Visceral Games, the studio behind the hit sci-fi-turned-horror FPS saga Dead Space as well as divisive but diverting spin-off Battlefield Hardline, has officially closed its doors on the orders of its EA overlords.

Before this troubling turn of events, the team was hard at work on a new action-adventure set in the universe of Jedi, Sith and Gungans, first teased as a “story-driven” IP upon EA announcing the project in 2016.

Work on said untitled licensed effort will still continue beyond Visceral’s shutdown, however, albeit in the hands of EA Vancouver and with an apparently revised modus operandi: expect less of a “story-based, linear adventure game” and more of a “broader experience that allows for more variety and player agency”.

That’s according to EA’s executive VP, Patrick Söderlund, and while we’ve no idea precisely what he means either, apparently a core focus of the refreshed project will be providing an experience that encourages players to return “for a long time to come”, presumably with extra content atop its “stunning visuals” and “authenticity”.

Shifts in the ‘marketplace’?

Given Söderlund’s emphasis on how much of the rationale behind EA’s tweaked approach has come thanks to the publisher “closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace”, that the move has already prompted more than a few grumbles should come as no surprise.

Relying on focus groups and market trends has its benefits, of course, as anyone on the marketing team for 2015’s controversial Battlefront reboot will surely attest today, but allowing that to hamper creative vision carries equal risks, not least if it means we lose the opportunity for a Last of Us-rivalling tour de force of Star Wars storytelling as a result. And guess what? We like single-player games.

With all that said, it’s worth remembering that we only ever saw brief glimpses of Visceral’s IP in EA’s E3 showreels, so we’ll never know for sure whether the developer’s approach to the project would’ve born fruition or proven misguided in hindsight.

For now, then, let’s keep our thoughts with the enviably creative minds at the fallen studio who’ll now need to seek gainful employment elsewhere. No doubt they’ve bright futures ahead at EA or elsewhere, and we wish them the very best of luck en route.

Two raving heads trump one – Mario + Rabbids adds co-op with premium DLC

As with their widely praised fantasy RPG The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild earlier this year, Nintendo isn’t skimping on post-launch content for their similarly acclaimed – and surprisingly complex – puzzle platformer, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle.

Players who Koopa-shelled out $20 for the universe-colliding adventure’s season pass last month will doubtless have wondered since what they’re getting for this princely sum of hard-earned cash; well, they’ve now got their (first) answer…

Takeaways:

  • Cue the Ultra Challenge Pack, a DLC pack out now which features five original maps to wage Raving Rabbid-induced war upon in an array of co-op challenges.
  • The missions awaiting players and pals are sure to be just as eclectic as Mario + Rabbids’ explosively whimsical main campaign, with the line-up of adversaries for the eponymous plumber and crazed animals to outwit including Chain Chomps, Tornados, Boos and Pyroclasts.
  • For those seeking an even greater trial than these initial tag-team offerings, though, eight Ultra Hard challenges will additionally crop up as part of the secret chapter hidden within each of the Switch exclusive’s diverse world hubs.
  • As Season Pass owners would expect, all of this won’t set them back a penny, although those who’ve yet to pick up said Pass can still access the pack for $7 too.

One can hardly blame Nintendo for wanting to push this ambitious expansion out of the gate sooner rather than later, since their main mascot’s other highly anticipated epic, Super Mario Odyssey, will no doubt come to dominate the headlines come its release at month’s end.

Hopefully, the DLC won’t find itself too lost amidst the marketing maelstrom, since titles championing co-op play in a market laden with 20v20 competitive multiplayer modes should be truly welcome, especially to old-school gamers who spent half their childhoods blasting through Halo’s legendary modes with mates. (Not that we’d know, obviously.)

Stay tuned to D-pad Joy for all the latest news on Mario + Rabbids’ upcoming DLC, Ultra or otherwise.

Play it again, Sam – Cuphead stokes global nostalgia with over 1m sales

Regular D-pad Joy followers will recall that our own Alisa Hail called Studio MDHR’s eclectic hand-drawn platformer Cuphead “a devilishly good time” in her review this month, awarding the studio’s stellar debut effort a perfect 5/5 score to boot.

Well, if the digital sales it’s racked up since its September 29th launch are any indication, Alisa’s been far from alone in taking great delight from this nostalgic throwback to a bygone age of gloriously ridiculous platforming challenges…

Takeaways:

  • After spending just a fortnight on the Xbox Store and PC marketplaces, Cuphead has over a million unit sales to its name.
  • It’s no small feat when one considers that the side-scrolling adventure currently costs £16 / $20 to pick up, meaning Studio MDHR has at least £16m / $20m to invest in its next – as yet unknown – project.
  • At present, Steam Spy reckons most of Cuphead‘s player base derives from PC hardware, with almost 590,000 gamers already having purchased the tough-as-nails platformer for themselves on Steam.
  • The development team’s Chad and Jared Moldenhauer say they’re “humbled and excited that so many people from around the world” have taken a trip back to the age of 1930s cartoon action with them. They add: “We could never have dreamed of the reception we’ve received from our amazing fans.”

Given how many development studios – not least Guerilla Cambridge and Lionshead – have fallen by the wayside of late due to diminishing demand, that Cuphead looks set to buck this trend will doubtless come as a huge relief for first-time devs Studio MDHR.

But complacency can soon breed catastrophe, of course, so the minds responsible for rendering the eponymous nose-laser-blasting protagonist’s psychedelic escapades would do well to brainstorm fresh ideas for further projects rather than resting on their laurels.

In the meantime, though, be sure to let us know your thoughts on Cuphead in the comments section below, as well as what you reckon the storming success of a fledgeling indie title such as this one could mean for the trajectory of our industry.

Ubisoft takes Assassin’s Creed: Origins back to the future with DLC trailer

Future-planning seems at the forefront of Ubisoft’s collective hivemind right now.

For starters, the studio outed the full DLC structure of its madcap RPG South Park: The Fractured But Whole‘s season pass – sentient towels, trips to Casa Bonita and all.

But not content to announce the long-term gameplan for one of their oncoming AAA titles, they’ve also given Egypt-set open-worlder Assassin’s Creed: Origins the same treatment with a new DLC-orientated trailer of its own…

Takeaways:

  • Those picking up Origins‘ premium Gold Edition (£80 / $100) or standalone Season Pass will have two major expansions to dive into after the core campaign: “Curse of the Pharaohs” and “The Hidden Ones”.
  • The former introduces a new open-world region where Bayek must overcome dead Pharaohs and mythological beasts in “a mystery that turns into a living nightmare”. We’re hoping that doesn’t mean re-watching the Assassin’s Creed movie, as the two experiences sound uncannily similar.
  • As for “Hidden Ones”, expect to witness “the next step in the Brotherhood’s story” as the first followers of everyone’s favourite Creed – Bayek included – travel to the Sinai Peninsula to brawl Roman conquerors heralding a threatening new epoch.
  • What’s more, Gold Edition purchasers will also get Horus and Roman Centurion customisation packs featuring new outfits and mounts for our newfound Assassin protagonist and his noble steed.
  • That’s not to say Ubisoft won’t provide those sans Season Pass with free DLC, though. Game director Ashraf Ismail says to expect an “epic challenge” in Trials of the Gods, where Animus glitches pitch Bayek against the likes of Anubis and other fearsome deities.
  • Plus look out for daily challenges at Nomad’s Bazaar yielding secret items, a Photo Mode enabling players to soak in the glorious sights of Ancient Egypt, the near-obligatory Horde Mode and a Discovery Mode framing the open-world in an educational light, all costing £0.00 to download.

Whether dedicating so much effort to developing Origins‘ post-launch content – as opposed to keeping their focus on crafting as groundbreaking an Assassin’s entry as possible for Day 1 – will work in Ubisoft’s favour remains to be seen.

After all, if the finished product coming our way soon doesn’t deliver truly overhauled combat and a compelling core narrative on a par with Ezio and the Kenways’ beloved escapades, then no amount of DLC will necessarily correct this misstep.

At the same time, however, given the extra year of development Origins has had what with the franchise’s 2016 hiatus, one can hardly blame developer Ubisoft Montreal for using that to their advantage, and most fans surely won’t complain at the thought of returning to Ancient Egypt on numerous occasions after the credits roll.

Catch the full trailer for yourselves below, and keep your eyes peeled for our verdict on Assassin’s Creed: Origins when it arrives on Xbox One, PS4 and PC this October 27th.

Gather collectibles, unlock exclusive TV clips? Stranger Things have happened

Once upon a time, movie and TV studios simply hired F-grade developers to produce licensed video game adaptations of their latest IPs in the cheapest, swiftest manner possible. The end result? Nine times out of ten came a mediocre platformer bearing little-to-no resemblance to its source material and retaining virtually none of its merits.

But that era mercifully appears to have neared its end, both thanks to TT Games cornering the market on quality film tie-ins via its LEGO entries and the emergence of viral, often adorably retro companion games like the tense sewer-bound side-scroller released alongside horror flick IT last month.

Since TT are too hard at work on LEGO Marvel Superheroes 2 right now to contemplate other projects, a certain beloved Netflix show has received the latter treatment…

Takeaways:

  • Enter Stranger Things: The Game, an unexpected mobile tie-in to the hit pulp sci-fi show which arrived on the iOs and Google app stores this week, costing only the time necessary to hit download.
  • Should they spare that precious installation time to download this quirky 2D puzzler, players can look forward to travelling through familiar locales like Hawkins, Mirkwood Forest and the ever-deadly Upside-Down in the roles of the show’s core heroes.
  • What’s more, like its source material, The Game pays homage to the 1980s via its quaint 16-bit-esque style, its Normal and tough-as-nails Classic difficulty modes and its abundance of retro collectibles such as VHS tapes, Eggos and Gnomes.
  • There’s ample incentive to hunt down those hidden artefacts of a bygone age too, since doing so will unlock exclusive footage from the TV show’s soon-to-debut second season and “secret characters” to boot.

As with IT: The Sewer‘s limited replay value, we can’t guarantee that this latest endeavour to subvert the scorned norms of licensed film-video game adaptations will ease the wait until Stranger Things returns on October 27th, yet it’d be downright churlish to malign Netflix putting in the extra effort to tide fans over, especially if it’s a sure sign that we’ll never have to play another Thor: God of Thunder-rivalling atrocity again.

Be sure to let us know your thoughts on Stranger Things: The Game and the evolving state of film- / TV-inspired AAA productions in the comments section below.

The Brotherhood is baptised by fire in new Assassin’s Creed: Origins trailer

As if this month wasn’t already fraught enough with AAA gaming experiences between Star Wars: Battlefront II‘s multiplayer beta, South Park: The Fractured but Whole, Forza Motorsport 7, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War and Super Mario Odyssey, Ubisoft has kindly reminded us that another mammoth title lies in wait: Assassin’s Creed: Origins.

The half-helpful, half-infuriating heads-up comes in the form of a new cinematic trailer, “Birth of the Brotherhood”, which both recaps the core tenants of the action RPG franchise’s first Ancient Egyptian outing and teases major set-pieces ahead for players preparing to sink their teeth into its epoch-spanning main campaign…

Takeaways:

  • While just about anyone who’s followed Origins‘ marketing campaign to date will doubtless know as much, we open with steeled protagonist Bayek re-affirming his role as a Medjay, bound to protect Egypt and its supposed “true pharoah” against oncoming threats.
  • Said threats look set to hit the dying Ancient nation with fierce rapidity too, as we’re soon privy to shots of fiery chaos besieging its otherwise gorgeous sand-soaked landscape. Worse still are the hints of all-out war for Bayek to brave, the final scenes seemingly depicting entire legions of Egyptian soldiers marching into battle (for reasons as yet unknown).
  • As if this harrowing vision of a country “on the brink of collapse” wasn’t enough to give the first ever Assassin cause for concern, glimpses of cloaked figures discussing surely unlawful machinations in a shady cavern could well indicate the debut of the Templar Order here to boot.
  • Luckily, though, at least we now know for certain Bayek won’t end up alone on his perilous odyssey to save the world of pharaohs and pyramids, since he’ll apparently conceive the Order as a means to fulfil the Medjays’ untapped potential if his spirited voiceover is any indication.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged by this point that Ubisoft’s marketing team have honed the art of Creed-promoting cinematic trailers to near-perfection, especially after a decade in the business, but whether the final product proves as well-rounded isn’t quite such a known quantity.

For every Game of the Year-nominated masterpiece like Brotherhood or Black Flag which the franchise has produced since its 2007 inception, there’s been a stopgap cash-in like Revelations or Unity forcing fans to question their love for the globe-trotting, time-travelling saga anew, only for the following year’s edition to often restore the faith.

Origins‘ fate lies with the gods – otherwise known as critics – and their worshippers – otherwise known as Creed fans – at this stage, but whatever happens, keep it D-pad Joy for all the news and views on Bayek’s whirlwind adventure in the run-up to its October 27th debut on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.

New Star Wars: Battlefront II trailer reveals maps, modes and Maul (oh my!)

Between director departures, the return of animated TV series Rebels and teases of a new trailer for December blockbuster The Last Jedi, fans of a galaxy far, far away can barely move for major news-bytes right now.

Not content to become lost amidst the maelstrom, however, EA is only adding to the pile with an info-packed new Battlefront II trailer, revealing many of the key details on the sequel to 2015’s divisive multiplayer FPS which sceptics and optimists alike have been waiting for since Day 1.

Takeaways:

  • Anyone concerned the studio would deliver a paucity of launch maps – as was the case with the original Battlefront – can breathe easy, since the follow-up will pack 11 arenas taken from across three eras of Star Wars history this November.
  • As well as reprising the Hoth, Endor and Jakku maps available in the 2015 game, Battlefront II is set to play host to Kamino, Kashyyyk, Theed, Death Star II, Mos Eisley, Yavin 4, Starkiller Base and Takodana, with not a Season Pass barrier in sight for any of those fan-favourite worlds.
  • The interplanetary showcase doesn’t end there, though, since those who join the Empire-enlisted Inferno Squad to bridge the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens in the solo campaign will also visit Bespin, Sullust, Pillio and Vardos en route.
  • Another lesson EA has seemingly learned from the ample criticisms directed at the first Battlefront involves its multiplayer offerings, with a diverse range of gameplay modes present this time around including Starfighter Assault, Galactic Assault, Blast, Strike and the returning Heroes vs. Villains.
  • If the latter  left you wondering precisely which scoundrels and guardians of peace and hope we’ll have the chance to command here, then fret not. Watch the trailer closely and you’ll spot many of the 14 hero characters available such as Leia, Kylo Ren, Boba Fett, Darth Maul, Yoda, Han Solo and Rey, with Captain Phasma and Finn teased as future free DLC.

There’s not long to wait until fans can play-test Battlefront II‘s various maps, modes and Phantom Menaces either, since a multiplayer beta set on Theed will showcase Galactic Assault, Starfighter Assault, Strike and Arcade this Friday, October 6th on all consoles.

They mightn’t have quite shot first what with Lucasfilm and Disney XD having beaten them to the punch on major announcements, but if nothing else, EA seem admirably intent on righting the wrongs of their first licensed Star Wars production here, and we can’t wait to see whether their efforts pay off next month.

Stay tuned to D-pad Joy for more coverage on Battlefront II building towards its Xbox One, PS4 and PC release on November 17th, but for now, be sure to check out the John Boyega-narrated new trailer below for more reveals than you can shake a lightsaber at (trust us, we tried)…

Never mind Avengers: Infinity War – meet Doctor Who: Infinity

They say time waits for no man, but that knowledge hasn’t stopped followers of the BBC’s longest-running drama Doctor Who from getting mighty impatient for new content.

With two months already having passed since the TV sci-fi saga’s tenth season reached its denouement, and only a single Christmas special due to air between now and the Jodie Whittaker-starring Season 11 next autumn, fans are craving other outlets through which to explore time and space.

Enter Tiny Rebel Games, who – off the back of their 2013 gem-crunching puzzle strategy effort Doctor Who: Legacy – intend to provide a worthy stop-gap gaming experience to tide starving Whovians for the next 12 months…

Takeaways:

  • Titled Doctor Who: Infinity, the UK development studio’s second ever mobile outing will – like Legacy – take the form of a RPG puzzle entry focused on the “match three gems” gameplay of its predecessor.
  • Tiny Rebel won’t say much on the core narrative driving Infinity, save for assembling a team of Doctors and companions from throughout the show’s 52-year-history to plough through “comic-book style puzzle adventures” galore.
  • Don’t expect a direct follow-up to Legacy‘s disparate story arcs exploring the various eras of Who either. Executive producer Susan Cummings says “this isn’t a sequel” so much as a “new platform for delivery of stories written by well-known Doctor Who writers”.
  • Speaking of which, expect for Infinity to debut with a Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) adventure penned by regular Who novelist and audio scribe George Mann in the form of The Dalek Invasion of Time, also featuring art by Mike Collins and an appearance by the character’s long-time frenemy Missy too.

Intrigued yet? Join the club – while we’re longing for a licensed Who video game to grace consoles soon (despite the struggles involved, which we’ve listed here), for now any new forays into the series’ vast mythology are welcome, particularly in the midst of its hefty TV hiatus.

Look for Doctor Who: Infinity to get a “soft launch” for a select band of players in Spring 2018, with a full-scale release for mobile devices and PCs on iTunes, Google Play and other digital stories following swiftly thereafter.

In the meantime, be sure to let us know your thoughts on the project’s comic-book-inspired premise in the comments below…

Fragments of Him

Indie title Fragments of Him comes to PS4

Cherish those you love. That’s what Fragments of Him, from Dutch indie developer Sassybot, is really trying to tell us.

Fragments of Him – A Heartwarming Message

The game is about overcoming the loss of a loved one – it presents real emotions that all of us will have to face someday. Don’t fear though, it’s also filled with a bit of joy, (one of the key reasons we play games!), and ultimately has a heartwarming message that might make you think a little.

Without spoiling too much, you travel alongside four characters, learning about their lives through their regrets and treasured moments. You also get to see the final morning of a man called Will and get some insight into his last thoughts before an accident cuts his life short.

Previously released on Steam and Xbox One in May 2016, it’s now being released on PS4 as well – so it’s a great time to pick it up if you haven’t already. Here’s the launch trailer:

Shadow of War ferries late developer to Grey Havens with tribute DLC

Every production cycle brings its fair share of character-testing trials and tribulations for the studio(s) involved, but few quite as arduous as what the team behind licensed fantasy RPG Middle-Earth: Shadow of War has endured in recent months.

Last year saw the untimely passing of leading developer Michael Forgey, who died of a brain tumour at the age of 43. These heartbreaking circumstances must doubtless have knocked everyone involved at WB Interactive Entertainment and Monolith Productions for six, but to their credit, they’ve devised a fitting in-game homage to their fallen comrade-in-arms…

Takeaways:

  • As a tribute to Forgey and a means by which to raise funds for his grieving family, the Shadow of War team has unveiled the Forthog Orc-Slayer DLC, introducing a new supporting character – modelled on the late executive producer’s likeness – who’ll march into battle alongside protagonist Talion to reclaim Mordor from the clutches of the Dark Lord Sauron, mowing down countless hapless Orcs en route.
  • The £3.99 / $4.99 DLC package caused tremors among the Middle-Earth fan community, however, when some spotted small print in the DLC’s trailer (below) hinting that its funds wouldn’t reach the Forgey estate if collected in certain US stores or other worldwide retailers.
  • WB later resolved the matter though, confirming $3.50 of the $4.99 on each sale would go to the family provided the sale occurred in a participating state. “Neither Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment nor Monolith Productions will profit from any sales of the Forthog Orc-Slayer DLC regardless of the territory in which that DLC is sold,” the studio said.

Clarifying their position on what could’ve fast become a contentious and arguably disrespectful dilemma is a wise move on publisher WB Interactive Entertainment’s part, placing the onus first and foremost on individual video game retailers to step up to the plate and participate in this charity initiative, or face the reputational impact should they refuse.

Commemoration

Whether the aforementioned freebie DLC package serves as a satisfactory commemoration, bidding an uplifting farewell to the man who’ll sadly never reap the fruits of his labour, will scarcely affect the finished product’s overall quality, nor the ongoing debates over its microtransactions, but if nothing else, Fogey’s legacy will live on in style this autumn.

You can send a donation to the Fogey family at their Youcaring page here, and check out the gameplay trailer debuting his Shadow of War counterpart in all his Orc-besieging glory below. Stay tuned to D-pad Joy for all the latest coverage on the title’s development and our review as its executive producer’s final project hits Xbox One, PS4 and PC this October 10th.

South Park plunges down rabbit Whole (again) with difficulty slider debate

A new gameplay feature for impending licensed RPG South Park: The Fractured but Whole has – predictably – began ruffling feathers from the moment the news broke online.

Takeaways:

  • The second entry in the series, following The Stick of Truth, will pack a difficulty slider represented by an avatar whose skin tone shifts according to how tough a challenge players want.
  • Move the slider to the left for an easier play experience and said avatar’s skin will gradually brighten until becoming a Caucasian white at its furthest notch, while heading towards the right will have the opposite effect, eventually transforming the innocuous South Park resident into a black kid instead.
  • Thankfully our ever-sensitive ally Cartman provides a rapid consolation on the superheroic battlefield The Fractured but Whole lays before you shortly afterwards, assuring us that the paradoxically inclusive choice “doesn’t affect combat” so much as “every other aspect of your whole life”, in this case meaning the amounts of money available to your character and how other NPCs react to them.

Such ‘gags’ are always bound to split cultural commentators down the middle, eliciting shrugs or chuckles from just as many schools of criticism as they will cries of outrage.

Let us know your thoughts below, and stay tuned for all the gossip on The Fractured but Whole as we near its sure-to-be-explosive-in-more-ways-than-one launch on PS4, Xbox One and PC this October 17th.