J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novels have become legendary in the world of video entertainment, capturing the hearts of millions via film and video games. Okay, the movies are mostly responsible for the Tolkien resurgence over the past fifteen years or so, but the games are starting to come on strong. Take Monolith’s upcoming Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, for instance: They used Batman: Arkham City as a design model, and they don’t hold to the belief that all licensed properties must result in mediocre interactive experiences.
Set between the events of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” Shadow of Mordor focuses on a ranger from the human kingdom of Gondor. His name is Talion and he was a guard at the Black Gates in Mordor. However, one fateful day, Suaron’s forces overpowered the good army and Talion was left to rot among the carcasses of his fallen comrades. But thankfully, the spirit of a Wraith saves his life and grants him new powers and so, Talion sets out for revenge. He also wonders why the Wraith saved his life in the first place, so there are many questions he must answer during his lengthy adventure.
The game embraces the popular open-ended sandbox format, and players can explore Mordor before it was under the control of Sauron. This means the environment isn’t just a barren wasteland of smoking rocks and lava. As for the combat, because the developers took cues from Rocksteady and the acclaimed Batman franchise, battles will adopt a similar free-flowing system. Talion also has access to a set of powerful skills when he transforms into his Wraith form, and he’s faster and stronger when in this otherworldly shape. He can even use his mind to control certain low-level enemies, and that’s just the start of the strategy/RPG elements.
Players will be able to assign tasks, which includes spying, assassination missions, and general exploration and scouting. Your foes are procedurally generated, which makes things much more dynamic: Monolith is using the Nemesis system and so, the Orcs you see won’t be the same Orcs another player sees. The characters are completely randomized as well, so their fighting styles and abilities will be completely different for each player. In other words, this game lets you put your own personal stamp on Tolkien’s magical yet immensely dangerous world. If you’re up for a little more depth than you might’ve anticipated, you should be quite satisfied.
Talion can acquire Intel from his captains, and he can use that invaluable knowledge to formulate plans of attack. Of course, it’s possible that the information he receives is somewhat vague, so you’ll have to take that lacking into account. Even more interesting is what happens if Talion is slain during battle, because the enemy that kills him will be promoted in rank and the morale of Sauron’s forces will rise. Theoretically, this means that the more times Talion dies, the stronger his enemies will become. It’s risky – especially in this day and age – but it should make for a unique and challenging experience. Wow, death actually has an impact!
And if Talion attacks and fails to dispatch a foe, that opponent may alter his tactics when he returns for the second go-‘round. There are so many aspects you must consider if you wish to be successful, and that in and of itself puts Shadow of Mordor leaps and bounds ahead of any other LotR game that has been released to date. Let’s just hope the execution is sound and the developers don’t overreach. It’s an ambitious project, and we’ll always applaud that, but such ambition must be handled with tact and care…
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is scheduled to arrive for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC on on October 7.
4/24/2014 Ben Dutka