Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor Sequel in the works
By Callum-James Parkin
September 2014, it was the height of the summer and the release list of games was running dry. Many games were re-makes and re-releases and things were starting to look dull for the month of September. However, on the 30th, suddenly, gamers were treated to a stunning experience. The release of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor for both consoles and PC rocked the gaming world and revitalised the Middle-Earth name after the less than stellar release of The Hobbit films two years before it.
Developed by Monolith productions, previously known for titles such as F.E.A.R and Condemned:Criminal Origins, this was a new venture for a production company that developed first person horror like games.
Fans of the classic fantasy epic were treated to an original story in the LOTR world while also obtaining a fresh new style of gameplay reminiscent of the critically acclaimed Batman Arkham games. The game also rose to the top of many gamers wish lists due to the marketing of the game and its features. The game was heavily reported on due to its inclusion of a ‘Revenge’ mechanic. Essentially, in the game world, if you did something to an Uruk Captain or War-chief, presuming they survive the encounter with the player, they will gain a trait that relates to how they encountered the player previously and what happened in that confrontation.
In other words, by the mid-point of the game, you have a handful of memorable enemies dedicated to hunting you down and enacting sweet revenge. This mechanic was unlike any other game on the market at that time and ensured that every player had their own personal rivals. It really felt as if these digital polygons had something against me which not a lot of new games do and it was a gripping experience.
Flash-forward to March 2017, the first time we have heard anything about a new Middle-Earth game and we get an announcement trailer and a gameplay reveal all within a matter of two weeks. This news came as a very pleasant surprise to many gamers and Middle-Earth enthusiasts as one of 2014’s best games has finally been rewarded with a sequel.
Now, where does Shadow of War take place?
Lets delve into where the game is set chronologically. According to the LOTR wiki, the game is a direct sequel to Shadow of Mordor which filled the gap between The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings. Now, there is the issue that Sauron is present in the game trailer and as it is set before LOTR, if there is a confrontation with the Dark Lord, its fair to say our hero Talion probably wont win in the end. As for the story, from what I can gather from the trailer, the story involves Talion and the Wraith, Celebrimor, forging a new ring, one which is presumably used by Talion in the game. Sauron is also seen front and centre commanding a large army which includes a legion of Uruks, Orcs, a Drake, the Nazgûl, the fearsome Balrog and countless other Middle-Earth villains. This is pretty evident that Sauron will be a key part of this game as he is later seen riding on one of his Drakes seemingly into a village or town which could be under siege at the time. Talion clearly has his work cut out for him in this entry.
So, how will the game play?
Well, since it was such an innovating feature of the first game, I’m happy to report that the ‘revenge’ or described on the official website as ‘Nemesis’ feature is still in play in this game with improvements and new elements. This time however, the website states that Shadow of War will feature a system for recruiting human allies and not just Uruks and whatnot. This will presumably allow for personal experiences to be explored through various different heroes who you will likely go into battle with. All in all, this all sounds thrilling, but one aspect that i personally loved was the beast riding and taming, this was a huge part of Shadow of Mordor so what is its status in this game. It is most defiantly in here, just maybe not the classic Graugs but the Caragors are confirmed. What has been shown however is the ability to fly a Drake as seen in the gameplay trailer released on the 8th. This showed off many key gameplay elements which i will delve into.
The first being extremely important that i have to talk about, the ability to finally manage your own army. This feature has been expanded upon greatly since Shadow of Mordor which merely allowed the player to mind control about ten or so minions at a time and manipulate enemy Captains and War-chiefs. This shows that we can finally promote, command and manage our armies that we have created (Even assign them heads of individual fortresses), leading to huge armies going toe-to-toe in fortress raids, it all seems so exhilarating. This also allows for personal bonds to be formed with the Captains and War-Chiefs which will hopefully make me feel something when my most trusted general is killed in battle. Another cool gameplay element is the gear feature, in ‘Mordor’ you had the ability to switch Talion’s skin at the beginning of the game but these were limited to Pre-Order bonuses, paid skins and a female character skin that changes nothing but the skin(Including pronouns and voices which are still male by default for some reason). In this game however, there will be the ability to retrieve gear from the battlefield which will not only have passive abilities to them, but also be cosmetic as well, allowing for the player to dress up Talion in whatever armour they can find.
The gameplay reveal also highlighted several new features to Talion’s (And Celebrimor’s) abilities, including the ability to temporarily switch to Celebrimor in a mode other than using the bow. This time he is balanced in both ranged and melee combat also seemingly increasing the players speed and power. Other cool abilities include being able to duel stealth takedown, teleport minions to you, fire an arrow mid-air while in slow motion and call in generals to support you via in-game cutscenes. If this isn’t action packed enough for you then i don’t know at all what is.
Regarding the world, the game is once again open world but to what extent? This is a worry of mine as the game has not shown off anything to do with an open area as seen in ‘Mordor’. This knowledge compiled with the map shown off in the gameplay trailer worries me because it shows off plenty of castles/fortresses to conquer but no lands to roam, they seem to all be flatlands and plains with no real geology quite like the first game which allowed for strongholds on top of mountains which you would scale. This aspect worries me as I hold the first game highly in praise and I would be heartbroken to learn that this game didn’t follow in its predecessors foot steps.
Finally, I will use this time to voice a minority of concerns that I have with the trailer and the game in general. Most importantly, the aspect of finishers. In Shadow of Mordor, a finisher ability was awarded to the player after five consecutive strikes without being struck once. This allowed the player to perform a one-hit kill via an in-game cutscene which differed various times. This feature was fantastic, cinematic and allowed the player to feel the impact of hitting an opponent successfully as you lobbed off his head. Overall this felt extremely rewarding and gave me, personally, a feeling that i had to use this carefully. However, in the Shadow of War trailer, it is used every five seconds and in the end it just feels overpowering and gets boring which is not something I ever want to say about a game set in Middle-Earth.
My only other criticism of the trailer and possibly game in general is the over use of supporting generals. One of the really cool features of Shadow of Mordor was the use of skirmishes against the generals where one minute you’d be fighting a general then maybe his body-guard would show up followed by a legion of Uruks, it made Talion feel less overpowered and that meant every encounter was fun and challenging but now, we have generals that can one-shot other generals in cutscenes by their own will. It might just be me but I don’t want that. I want to feel like a fight could go either way so i have to fight hard not just fight half-asleep and then when i get knocked down a dude saves me anyway, i just don’t like it and i feel as though it could have been done better like for instance, in ‘Mordor’ their was a quick time event that if timed correctly would damage or potentially kill a general if they knocked you down enough but these often posed some sort of all-or-nothing challenge which was very engaging.
One final criticism belongs more to the business heads for this franchise. This is to do with the potential micro-transactions for this title. My only question is why? Why do we need micro-transactions in a single player only game, it doesn’t make sense. Granted, nothing of the sort has been revealed yet but this is drawing heavily from previous market strategies such as EA charging real money for in-game weapons and more costing up to £60 for some packs. This is all based on the basis that something called War chests are featured in the extra editions of the game. Now the big issue here is that it costs £50 for a standard edition, the next version is £70, then £90 and finally resting on a whopping £300 for a statue with the game. This worries me as i believe we might possibly see a greedy marketing strategy get implemented to this game in which i am holding hopes high for. Please be weary of this practise and be wise when you purchase the game if you do enjoy this sort of thing.
Overall, props to Monolith and WB for Shadow of Mordor and their continued support of the Middle-Earth franchise and world, the life they are giving it and have been giving it is fantastic and i cannot thank them enough for the countless hours of entertainment that they have given me and hopefully, many more hours to come as well.
Middle Earth:Shadow of War is aiming for release on August 25th 2017 on PS4, Xbox One and PC.