What to Expect from Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
For quite a few years, the Lord of the Rings franchise was as ghostly silent as the Dwimorberg, where the dead spirits of Men of Dunharrow slumbered for years until Isildur’s heir stepped afoot inside their tomb. The books and the films were at the forefront of everyone’s mind and on the gaming front, Lord of the Rings was doing extremely well. A legion of games developers putting out a multitude of games spanning from real-time strategy to action to RPG. But after 2003’s release of Return of the King, the franchise fell to the same fate of the Ring, and “passed out of all knowledge, until when chance came…”
Now since Peter Jackson has taken the helm of the Middle Earth franchise once more, with the Hobbit films having been produced and now sadly drawing to a close, the universe of Tolkien has been renewed with some vigor, and from the ashes a fire has been woken and a light from the shadow has sprung. This is not just for the films and box office sales, this is also for the games. Washington-based game development studio, Monolith Productions, are set to release a new game set in the world of Middle Earth, between the end of the Hobbit and the start of Lord of the Rings. This new epic is Shadow of Mordor. And what are we to expect in this new game and how is it going to fare for Tolkien fans? Read on and you shall find out.
Shadow of Mordor, much like the 2011 epic of Lord of the Rings: War in the North, has a completely separate storyline. It is set in between the end of the Hobbit when Bilbo Baggins returns home to Bag End after the Battle of the Five Armies and the start of Lord of the Rings when Sauron was defeated in the old fortress of Dol Goldur where he was searching for the One Ring and returned to Mordor where his forces were marshaled. The game involves the Rings of Power and Warner Brothers maintains that the stories align perfectly. At some point, we will run into a precious, old favorite from the books.
The game’s tag line perfectly sets the tone for the unfolding events of the game: “orcs are no longer the scariest thing in Mordor.” We are introduced to an avenging, valiant ranger named Talion (voiced by Troy Baker) who is part human, part wraith; Mordor’s new terror. Talion was a Gondorian Ranger and a family man, stationed with his fellow Gondorian Rangers and his family at Gondor’s outpost on the border to the barren wasteland of Mordor, where one does not simply walk in. His family is killed by servants of Sauron, the enemy of the free peoples of Middle Earth. Resurrected by a Spirit of Vengeance, Talion is empowered with wraith like abilities and does what one does not simply do, vowing to destroy his enemies and revenge on those who destroyed his family. While being kept from the afterlife by the mysterious spirits, Talion is able to swap into the world of the Wraiths, the same world that Frodo and Bilbo enter when they wear the One Ring. Middle Earth’s new protagonist is new to Tolkien’s lore and for a new gaming protagonist, Talion is the perfectly tailored for it. Even so, having a story about the protagonist’s personal life makes for epic action and plot, and allows players to build a connection to the character.
The barren wasteland of Mordor is an open, expansive world, like Batman’s Arkham City, and is focused on Monolith’s new nemesis system. The world is teeming with high Gondorian ruins to climb and enemies to kill. With the Nemesis system, some enemies will survive encounters with you, run away before you can kill them and possibly kill you. In some cases, the surviving enemy can rise through the ranks, recruit followers and hold the biggest grudge ever against you. Nemeses get new names, titles and appearances. They may have half their face burnt off the next time you meet them or be even more scarred and have lost an arm. This is a fabulous system put together by Monolith that builds history between player and enemy.
Even so, some enemies are afraid of certain things, such as fire, trolls, or betrayal and some enemies even have built in immunities to ranged attacks or even have a mob of bodyguards accompanying them. Getting involved in this new nemesis is system is quite the incentive, and if you do a little homework on it, you can potentially save yourself from simply walking into a battle blindly. Not only this, you can even take on targets whenever and whenever you want, including between story missions without being weighed down.
Amongst the desolate, dark plains of Mordor, Talion is torturing an Uruk captain with the charming appellation of “Ratbag” and deciding what to do with him while he stares into Talion’s icey-blue eyes. At this point, Talion is most likely in his wraith form. Later on, Talion is looking down over a crown in a ruined Gondorian hall, where the underling to one of Sauron’s black captains, Orthog is attempting to turn them into greater things. When Talion switches into his wraith mode, he is able to see how many beings he’s converted into his side, bearing a recognizable symbol, a white hand.
Now, this is the part where Tolkien purists go nuts. The white hand is presumably foreshadowing Saruman’s corruption where he “abandons reason for madness” in the Two Towers. While many believe that they have ripped off the original books and films, Shadow of Mordor is simply a separate storyline to the Lord of the Rings canon.
Aside from all the exciting things we have seen and heard about Shadow of Mordor, the question is, how is it going to fare for Tolkien fans?
As a die-hard fan of Tolkien’s work, it annoys me greatly when purists rage about the films and the games “vandalising Professor Tolkien’s work” and that “he would be rolling in his grave if he saw this!”
The truth is we don’t know what he would think, but we can be certain that John Ronald Ruel Tolkien himself would be honored by just how well received his work is, decades after his death, and seeing his work immortalized on screen and by fans all around the world. Tolkien defined the fantasy genre and created a rich, detailed, epic, high fantasy world with stories to be told for just about every person and plant. Why not tell these stories?
Monolith Productions have created a new storyline to coincide perfectly with Tolkien’s lore, and while it is a challenging task to do so, and while some may feel it is stretching the lore a bit too far, we are assured to see some congruency between storylines.
Not a lot of Middle Earth games have really successfully delivered over the years and whenever we try to think of one that really stands out, we instantly think of Lord of the Rings Online. Even Lord of the Rings Conquest was a little bleak in some areas, and some really do feel like a generic cash-in on the films. I loved playing Lord of the Rings Online and basking in Middle Earth and reading and being continually amazed and how true to Tolkien’s lore the game is and reading everything there is to know (yes, I read everything!) and 2011’s release of War in the North exceeded my expectations greatly.
I sure hope that Shadow of Mordor receives more hype and that we’re all ready to dive head first into this game. Even in the early state of the game, Shadow of Mordor appears to be polished extremely well with plenty of gore and action to satisfy our hunger. The human/wraith combat, the visuals, an open world and the nemesis system are a few things to be really excited about, and it’s shaping up to be the Lord of the Rings game we have all been waiting for.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor will release for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One on October 7th.