Tolkien’s fantasy universe of Middle-earth has captivated and inspired generation after generation. We’ve seen his works translated to the big screen, the small screen, and even video games before. Usually these adaptations are retreads of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a completely original game set during the time in between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, in Mordor, near Mount Doom.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is primed to be to the Tolkien universe as the Arkham games are to Batman. Warner Bros. Games may just have another huge licensed game hit on their hands.
It didn’t begin in a Hobbit hole…
The game stars Talion, a ranger that is assigned to guard the Black Gate in Mordor. It has been thousands of years since Sauron’s death, and since then the lands around Mount Doom have started to become full of life again. The people there remain at guard just in case the enemy of old returns, and that is what Talion’s job is as a ranger.
It is at this point in the universe that Sauron is starting to mount his comeback. The One Ring has been stolen from Gollum, the dragon Smaug has been decimated, and the humans, hobbits, elf, wizard, and dwarf that will one day forge the Fellowship have not even met each other yet. Mordor is not yet the smoldering wasteland that it is near the end of The Lord of the Rings, but it is getting there thanks to all sorts of evil things being attracted to Mordor due to Sauron’s slowly reemergence, and the orcs native to the area have started to rise in number yet again.
Talion and his family are murdered by Sauron’s forces. However, Talion is resurrected and bound to a vengeance wraith, a ghost that is cursed to roam the lands until it completes its unfinished business.
Part of Talion’s quest will be discovering who the wraith was when it lived and what Talion’s purpose is now that he has been brought back from the dead. But because this is a video game, the story and the characters inhabiting the story will largely be influenced by player choice.
Shadow of Mordor will also feature an extensive amount of side missions. These side missions will star their very own characters and tell their very own stories as well. They will feature a variety of different objectives, from freeing slaves to taking down orc encampments.
Combine this with the fact that one of the lead writers that worked on Red Dead Redemption is writing the story for this game, and we have the recipe for what could possibly be the greatest game based on the franchise to date.
The enemies are the characters that are going to be most influenced by the players throughout the game. This is accomplished through the Nemesis System, which is a new mechanic built into the game engine that allows every single enemies to be completely unique, with their own name, rank, actions, backstory, and everything you would associate with someone being their own individual instead of just another face in a mob.
The primary antagonists throughout the game will be orcs. There will be different types of orcs encountered, but the orcs all operate under a hierarchy that can be greatly altered based on how Talion interacts with the creatures. For example, if Talion attacks an orc and badly injures him, if that orc is left alive and encountered later on in that game, the orc might be afraid of Talion. This is because, thanks to the Nemesis System, all the enemies essentially have their own memories.
As time goes by in the game, the hierarchy of orcs will change a lot. If players kill one of the orc leaders, then they will be replaced by the next orc in the change. Over time, different orcs can be promoted, demoted, killed, and more as the game goes on, so paying attention to that hierarchy of orcs is an interesting part of the experience.
Of course, there will be other enemies besides orcs encountered in the game. The typical cast of Tolkien monsters will be available to do battle with, plus there are some brand new enemies that are being created by the development team that will debut in the Tolkien universe for the first time in this game.
A Jackson sort of look
Before the Peter Jackson films, there were many different ways to imagine Middle-earth in your mind’s eye. Now that the films have been released, it’s hard to go back to the books and see Middle-earth any different. Because of this, the basic visual style from the films will be used in the game, but honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The locations around Mordor haven’t been seen in any way other than being smoldering and dangerous. Because of this, the development team had to get creative when designing the location. They looked to real life locations to inspire them during the development process.
But back to Peter Jackson’s influence, we know that at least one character from the other media will be showing up in the game. The character is Gollum, and by all accounts, it will be the same looking and sounding Gollum that we are used to in the films. No word on whether or not Andy Serkis will reprise the iconic role, but with gaming becoming more and more relevant to Hollywood (with the likes of Keifer Sutherland, Ellen Page, Gary Oldman, and more actively appearing in games), I wouldn’t even come close to ruling out the possibility.
Talion’s Uncharted Adventure
But how will Shadow of Mordor play? This is the most important question. It is a video game after all, and the most important aspect of any game is the gameplay. Shadow of Mordor will be played in the third-person. And it is also being described as an open world action game.
What makes the gameplay interesting in Shadow of Mordor is definitely the wraith. The wraith will add a new wrinkle to the gameplay. For example, Talion will be able to enter the “wraith world”, the spooky realm that is shown whenever someone puts on the One Ring in the films.
By entering this world, Talion is able to track down enemies or slow down time to help him in combat situations. A variety of other wraith abilities related to combat can be unlocked later in the game as well.
The wraith will also allow Talion to put his “mark” on orcs. By doing this, the orcs basically come under Talion’s control. This can be used to have the orcs kill each other or surprise an orc chieftain by turning all of his men against him.
The wraith will also have an influence on how the game handles death. Talion cannot die, because whenever he does die, he is simply brought back to life by the wraith until the two of them are able to fulfill their earthly duties to earn their way into the afterlife. However, whenever Talion dies, time moves forward significantly. This can have a big impact on the enemy hierarchy discussed earlier, as a time gap can lead to all sorts of changes in the pecking order for the orcs.
The ranger’s life is the life for me
Objectives in the game can be handled in a variety of ways, in typical open world fashion. For example, if Talion’s goal is to assassinate an orc leader, he can either fight his way through the hordes and try to kill him with a head-on assault. Or Talion can choose to slowly take over the orc hierarchy and have them all turn against the leader. Furthermore, Talion can take a stealthy approach and sneak his way to a kill.
The play style in the game will determine how Talion levels up. Runes are rewarded to the player based on how they handle the different situations presented to them. These runes can be equipped to weapons and offer various stat boosts to Talion. For example, the aggressive hack and slash player will receive runes for the sword, while the stealth player will receive runes that upgrade Talion’s ability with his dagger.
XP and leveling up in that regard is also handled based on the way the player plays the game. Different XP rewards will be granted based on the skill it takes to defeat certain enemies, the level of certain enemies, stealth, combos, and more.
XP is used to level up Talion and pursue his various skill trees. Unlocking new abilities within these skill trees will unlock new attacks for both Talion himself and his wraith powers.
Combat in the game is directly inspired by the Arkham games, fitting since WB publishes both titles. The Arkham games use a very impressive combat engine made up of strikes and counter attacks, though Shadow of Mordor dials up the violence to 11 and will have a much more LOTR flavor, obviously, with swords, bows, and more used in combat.
The combat combined with the extensive RPG elements makes me feel like Shadow of Mordor could be a brilliant mix of Skyrim and Arkham City. Just writing that sentence gives me goosebumps. It is clear that the folks at Monolith have something special on their hands, and it could honestly be the next big thing in gaming if they execute it properly. However, I have seen plenty of games come and go that sounded fantastic before release, only for sloppy execution to completely derail the experience at the end of the day.
There and back again
My only concern with the game is that it is cross-generational. Instead of being a full-fledged next-gen game, Shadow of Mordor is also releasing on the last generation systems. This is disappointing, as it will obviously hold back the game’s true potential, both when it comes to graphics and gameplay mechanics.
Of course, it is possible that the last-gen version will just be a significantly watered down version of the “real” version of the game, which would be the Xbox One/PC/PS4 version of the game. If this is the case, we could see a Titanfall-like situation where Shadow of Mordor is clearly a next-gen game, but some of the experience can still be had on last-gen consoles.
Shadow of Mordor is releasing at an unspecified time in 2014. With the third and final movie in The Hobbit trilogy releasing next December, I would think that the developers and WB would want to take advantage of that fact and use the popularity of the films set in the same universe to boost the sales of the game.
Stay tuned to Cheat Masters for everything on Shadow of Mordor as we near release at some point next year.