What a way to cap my E3 2014. We had a resounding 30 appointments or so over three days this week in LA, and among those many games there’s hardly a one that didn’t have something at least a little redeeming about what was on show. However, few games really grabbed our attention. Those which did, we’ll be announcing in our E3 Awards in the coming days. One of those games that did knock our socks off, though it’s still being debated on whether or not it will win an award, was Shadow of Mordor.
An ambitious open world Action RPG, very much akin to Assassin’s Creed in Middle-earth with a healthy dose of RPG character building, Shadow of Mordor is due to launch on October 7th this year. The story is a pretty basic one, and it’s bound to upset lore purists. Taking place between The Hobbit and LotR, it stars Talion (voiced by Troy Baker), a ranger whose family is killed by the dark lord’s forces on the night Sauron returns to Middle-earth.
The result? Talion teams up with a Wraith who wants revenge against the Ring’s Master, in order to make Sauron’s pursuit of dominance in Middle-earth harder than he bargained for. Yes, it’s a bit sacrilege but I’m going to come out and say it: with how fun this game is, I just don’t care. As long as Talion doesn’t wind up somehow killing Sauron himself and thus negating the need for the Fellowship, I’m able to overlook the fact that Shadow of Mordor is not canonical. Its gameplay and the representation of the look and feel of the films is right in line. In short, it’s grimly beautiful.
There’s such a thing as “fantasy service”, and the fantasy of SoM is to run around as a Ranger in Middle-earth, a well-armed and super-powerful combatant, with the free-roaming abilities of Ubisoft’s flagship franchise. Alongside the open world, developer Monolith throws in combat that plays out a little like Arkham Asylum with timed blocks and a ton of powerful wraith-powered skills and abilities. Pull out your bow, aim at an orc, and use the Wraith’s power to instantly teleport to them and kill them instantly in a bloody fashion. There are finishers, evades, special spells, interactive environments, and a whole lot of other doodads that make combat in SoM varied and skillful.
In our hands-on demo with Talion, we were set up to play through Nirn an area overrun with Sauron’s orc forces. Our goal? Use the Wraith’s mind control abilities to take over the Orc army or destroy it on our path to revenge. The army itself is always randomly generated each time you play through this segment of the game’s campaign. So no two players will face the same orc captains and generals. Their weapons, their armor, their fears and abilities… even their names are randomly generated. So it will be up to you to decide how to break up the army. You can gain control of all orc generals, kill them all, or help one rise to become the lord of all of Sauron’s minions.
As you fight through the region of Nirn, which is quite big, and only one map from the game’s main campaign, you’ll seek and overcome the five generals, their dozen-plus captains, and all of the many minions. A mix of stealth or balls to the wall action, it’s up to you. There are a bunch of side missions, collections, and other secrets scattered across the globe. All told, there’s a ton to do in Nirn, and it’s just one part of the game.
Combat in SoM felt so smooth and easy to use, so I’m concerned it might need a difficulty tuning. But the feeling of bouncing between mobs, blocking, and pulling off special abilities is just as addictive as it sounds. The orc General I faced was menacing, but not exactly hard to defeat. I played on the PS4 edition, and for a game with several months left, it felt incredibly polished. Using your Wraith powers to command orcs, blow up their heads, and your sword to decapitate your foes has you feeling just like Aragorn (which is clearly the intent). There are levels, XP, gear to get and skill trees to progress down. But for all of that, we’ll be talking to Monolith more at a later date.
For now? Keep your eye on Shadow of Mordor. The Nemesis System, where you control and manipulate the orcs of Sauron is reason alone to pick up this RPG. To think there’s a whole load more content still to uncover, I can’t wait to see what Monolith has in store. October 7th, 2014, is going to be a very good day… so long as you can get past the Tolkien-purist part of your nerd heart.
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.