"We don't kiss our loved ones in the same way we kill our enemies". It's true. We also don't open our doors the way we use our computers, or drive our cars the way we walk down the street. These contradictions have all managed to fit into our controller, so why not include kissing?
In the post I quoted above, Zach Gage, conceptual artist and game designer known for his work on games like Spelltower and Ridiculous Fishing, describes this tutorial segment as a joke.
I imagine that, after a lifetime of reviewing AAA games, it must be nice to catch an accidental little fourth wall break joke once in a while. I mean, it would have been a great joke about AAA videogames — "push button for emotion, push the same button for murder"
I'm not sure if it was intended to be a joke, but let's say it was. Why would that be the joke? The game is being made for a mainstream audience, and I've never heard a joke like that that wasn't being made by a dev or a critic. Maybe the joke was a far more common one, "explain buttons that the player already knows from playing dozens of other games". Think of Wheatley asking you to speak in Portal 2, or the intro to Far Cry Blood Dragon, or countless FPS games where you run a "calibration test" or hear "I can't believe you have to run this training course". I think that joke is not only more likely, it's also much better.
Even if the intent was serious, that also works. If anything, I would have liked to see them do more with it. But let's look at why. Here are the relevant bits of gameplay.
First we have that quote: "It is here that for two and half thousand years the Rangers of Gondor stood watch, guarding against a nameless threat they had all but forgotten".
So you have this whole garrison of soldiers whose only job is to sit and guard this wall that hasn't been attacked since long before they were born. They train to be incredible soldiers but have no real opportunity to use those skills. I can't speak for anyone else, but that sounds boring. I would certainly be using my stealth skills to play pranks or sneak wife kisses.
Then there's the next section where Talion is training with his son. They're using real swords and I'm swinging with full force against my defenseless son. Where's the button to pull my punches? We don't train our family the way we fight our enemies either. But yes, this is closer to a combat situation so we can excuse it.
Next is the stealth section in question. First, Talion appears holding flowers where his sword would be. R2 puts him into sneak mode, square button makes him put his arm with the flowers around in front of his wife. In the next part, you see him actually stealth killing orcs, and the mechanism is the same — R2 sneaks, square uses item in right hand. Is it really that different?
Zach says there is a difference, in the emotions:
Imagine being in a situation where you are sneaking up on someone you love. Imagine doing that in real life. Feel the emotions going through your brain. Look at how you hold your body. What are you thinking about in the moments before you make contact?
Now imagine being in a situation where you are afraid for your life and are sneaking up on someone you need to murder or they're going to kill you and your family. Feel those emotions. Think about how your muscles would be bunched, how you'd try to control your breathing. Your teeth would be clenched. You jaw might hurt. It's completely different in every way.
"In every way" here actually refers to a collection of internal changes that would be mostly invisible in a 3rd person game like Shadow of Mordor. Even if they weren't, they'd change nothing about the mechanical issue at the core of this. Has there been a AAA game with a button to clench teeth? I've certainly clenched my teeth at games, but it happens naturally when in a stressful situation, like being attacked by 5 orc captains. Sneaking up on Talion's wife wasn't stressful, so I was relaxed. Is that difference not exactly the same as it would be in real life?
I think what summed this article up best for me is the link to the "What is Bayhem?" video. I love Michael Bay's films, and I also love this video that breaks them down. But it ends on a very condescending note. It says "This might sound a little weird, but the person who loses the most here is actually Michael Bay". This is a video that just spent eight minutes explaining how Michael Bay is the best at the summer blockbuster, and then ends by saying he's somehow missing out by being really good at it. As Bay himself has said "I make movies for teenage boys. Oh, dear, what a crime". So the game didn't establish a strong mechanical relationship with the woman they were about to shove in a refrigerator? Color me surprised.
Yes, there are more effective ways to establish a loving relationship through gameplay, but they don't fit here. Shadow of Mordor is not Cart Life. It isn't Spec Ops: The Line, where the protagonist's dialog and animations evolved to show the progression into madness. It's a game where the bad guys named Kaka Giggles do wrestling moves, and I'm happy they tried to include a cute moment instead of a completely tired tutorial.