Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
For those of us sick of gritty first-person shooters and those who love them, games like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor are just what we want to see in development for our new next generation consoles. So grab your sword-belt and let’s see what we can expect from this promising action role-playing title from Monolith Productions.
The whole story takes place between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. You slip into the role of Talion, a ranger tasked with guarding the Black Gate of Mordor. As Sauron’s armies begin their sweep across the land, they kill everyone in their path, including Talion’s family. Here is the interesting part, though: they kill Talion too. He is mysteriously resurrected with wraith-like abilities and decides to exact his revenge using these newfound powers. You range your way across the land, tackling new challenges and meeting new foes. No hobbit hijinks here, this is a very dark business in the shadow of Mount Doom.
Every time a game specifies that it is open world right from the beginning, I get a little shiver of excitement. It just feels right that a LOTR game works this way because you have to get the sense that Tolkien’s world is big – very big. And forget about Mordor being the barren wasteland you see in the films. This is just before Sauron and his armies destroyed all of it so you’re bound to see some variance in the terrain and different communities. You’ll even get to meet Gollum! Of course, this particular story isn’t even mentioned in the books at all but there has been a lot of work put into making sure that it fits with the canon and possible creatures existing in that universe.
I can’t imagine Talion’s quest for revenge leading to a storybook ending. This is part of the LOTR franchise after all and we all know what Sauron does later on. How will his ending reconcile with the plot that follows? It’s a pretty big thing to speculate on. Lead writer Christian Cantamessa hinted that interacting with Gollum might be a turning point for Talion, as he recognises something of himself in this sad creature.
By far the most touted feature of the game so far is the Nemesis system. As you fight certain foes, they learn how you operate and will change their behaviour accordingly to have a better chance at defeating you. The question is how noticeable that will be. Some early previews suggest that it really works and creates foes that you will really despise and want to defeat. Something like this could really set it apart from anything around right now and just push the game from great to outstanding.
Talion will be able improve his skillset through two skill trees, ranger and wraith. The ranger side are more standard abilities, necessary combat skills and stealth. Wraith abilities will be more interesting to play with, such as imposing your will on enemies and teleporting right in close for the kill. How you choose to upgrade him will depend on how you like to take down enemies. The Nemesis system will no doubt add another layer to the importance this already has within a game. If you always use the same method and put everything you have into that, what will you do when the enemy adapts to it and keeps taking you down? It will be a delicate balancing act and one that I suspect MMO fans in particular will enjoy.
Games from the Lord of the Rings franchise occupy a strange space when it comes to expectations of greatness. We can easily expect that a game released as a tie-in for a movie is going to be bad but games that have been in the works for a while and stand on their own can be good. With the Hobbit trilogy making big bucks at the box office, it’s no surprise that more games have been planned. As far as I can see, though, this one isn’t about garnering more interest in movies. It might just be one of those rare games based on a book or movie that is worth playing. Another romp around Middle-earth is always welcome.