Monolith’s Shadow of Mordor is an epic adventure with a twistFiled inside: Games
We’ve seen a lot of Lord of the Rings inspired video games over the years, but nothing quite like Shadow of Mordor, the newest project from veteran developer, Monolith Studios. This isn’t your traditional jaunt through the land of Middle-earth, and although fans of the series may recognize certain things, the developer is adamant about bringing a refreshing new hook into the fictional land made famous by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Most LOTR adventures of the past followed closely to the storylines crafted by the British author, but Shadow of Mordor is slotted to be an entirely different experience. Monolith decided to draw elements, locations, and some lore from the iconic series, but has opted to craft a completely new story, one that includes an interesting new character to the LOTR universe.
Although it may not follow along exactly with the book or films, the game will take place between the events of The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings saga, focusing primarily on Sauron’s rise to power. So diehard fans of the series may find a lot of “new lore” to appreciate here, although it is important to note that Shadow of Mordor is a complete fabrication by Monolith and isn’t expected to reflect J.R.R. Tolkien’s vision, or become a concrete part of his literature.
The developer’s hero, Talion is about as far from a “normal LOTR character” as you can get. Talion’s story is one of magic, mystery, and revenge, starting prior to the great clash between man and Sauron’s black army. The ranger of Gondor is tasked with guarding the black gate, a pivotal landmark that separates good and evil. During this time, Mordor is not yet a barren wasteland, and instead houses an impressive array of outlooks, forts, and military structures. A struggle ensues, and Talion, along with his family, is struck down by Sauron’s army. But Talion’s journey is just beginning, as he is revived by a mysterious force and imbued with powerful wraith-like properties.
Cue the controversy. Introducing a new character into a fully established and adored system like LOTR can be a very unsettling experience for diehard fans. The developer has stressed that Talion was created to be a video game character, meaning his immense power and overpowering skill set wouldn’t necessarily fit well into Tolkien’s LOTR vision. Had the Free Peoples of Middle-earth had access to Talion’s unique abilities during the film series, Frodo’s journey may have been a much less taxing experience.
The hero’s powers are split into two separate skill trees, one for Ranger abilities, and the other encompassing Wraith magic. Ranger skills allow Talion to sneak undetected, engage in sword-based combat with his foes, and execute enemies close-range with a dagger or long-range with his trusty bow.
His Wraith-like abilities are vast, and include things like teleporting to enemies to execute them, slowing down time in combat, and imposing his will on Sauron’s more prominent units. The latter is an important aspect of Shadow of Mordor’s gameplay, and opens up a variety of mission types, world details, and gameplay choices. Touching an enemy will allow Talion to “take control” of the unit, using it for his own bidding to collect information, assassinate important enemies, or create diversions.
The combat system is comparable to Assassin’s Creed, with counter attacks, acrobatic dodging, and fluid combos taking center stage. There is quite a bit of climbing associated with the title as well, and some stealth elements that are reminiscent of Ubisoft’s series.
Perhaps the most interesting and entertaining aspect of Shadow of Mordor is the Nemesis system. Monolith has spent a lot of time perfecting this core component, which will closely track your progress through the title. Enemies will remember the things you’ve done, and how you’ve fought in the past, causing them to change their tactics and goals to better counteract your play style. If an enemy somehow escapes your grasp, they may form a small army to protect themselves, or they might even take on a serious training regiment in an attempt to thrash you the next time you meet.
No matter what happens, enemies won’t forget you. In fact, the Nemesis system even remembers physical details. If an enemy just barely escaped you during combat, he may be covered in scars, or if you tossed him through a campfire he may be covered in burns. Because of this, each individual Shadow of Mordor experience is completely different, and the game can be replayed multiple times thanks to this intelligent and adapting system.
Just because this adventure has nothing to do with Tolkien himself, doesn’t mean the story is going to fall flat. Monolith has promised that Talion’s journey in Shadow of Mordor will overlap with the original LOTR in parts. In fact, an integral part of the storyline involves the infamous One Ring, as well as some interaction with Gollum, who shares a lot in common with the hero.
Being a single-player experience, we can expect a large emphasis on the story. For this reason, Monolith has brought in veteran wordsmith, Christian Cantamessa, who worked as a lead writer and designer for Rockstar’s epic Western, Red Dead Redemption. The Shadow of Mordor experience promises to be an open-world saga, rich with side-quests, enemy types, and additional characters.
Shadow of Mordor is slotted to drop on Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC on October 7th, 2014. Those of you following RPG’s closely this year may notice that’s the same release date as another highly anticipated title, Dragon Age Inquisition. Fortunately, these two titles seem to be completely separate experiences, and while both have heavy RPG elements, their gameplay varies significantly. This should make your choice an easier one, allowing you to decide if you’re looking for a more action-adventure oriented release with Shadow of Mordor, or a deeply customizable, tactical adventure with Dragon Age Inquisition.
It’s also important to note that all you Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 players will be receiving a scaled-down version of Monolith’s ambitious Nemesis system if you opt to play Shadow of Mordor on one of those systems. For that reason, you may be better off purchasing on PC if you have access to one.