Shadow of Mordor to Buck the trend?

Monolith Productions is working on one of the most revered fantasy franchises in its new game, ‘Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor’. If the  studio head Kevin Stevens is to be believed, this game is looking to buck the trend of mediocre to bad games that have proceeded it.’The Lord Of The Rings‘  hasn’t had the most amazing history when it comes to franchised games. We remember the recent disappointments of ‘The Lord of the Rings: Conquest’ and ‘War In the North’, whose redundant and unimaginative game-play and dubious voice acting left much to be desired. However, Stevens has stated, “This is our future. There’s nothing more important than this project”, so if ‘Shadow of Mordor’ suffers the same fate as its predecessors, it won’t be for lack of trying. “Our ambition is to make the best possible game experience we can. And obviously, we have lots of ideas, and we love the IP, but it’s pure conjecture about a franchise or the future,” he said. “We always set out to make something that could be the next best franchise. That’s always our goal.”

The plot revealed so far makes the game very intriguing as it takes place between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, as written by J.R.R. Tolkien. It has always been a selling point of LOTR games that they explore  elements of the lore not depicted elsewhere.”The family of Talion, a ranger of Gondor responsible for guarding the Black Gate of Mordor, is killed by Sauron’s armies, but Talion is revived with ‘wraith-like abilities’ and heads into Mordor to exact his revenge. Mordor is not yet a barren wasteland in this story.”Warner Bros has also said  that the stories will align and  the player will encounter recognizable characters like Gollum in the game. Some fans may be sweating now, worrying how firmly the Studio appear to have grabbed the lore by the bollocks and pulled it in their own creative direction. Many consider the whole ‘wraith’ aspect and the liberties taken with outlining ork hierarchy and life inside of Mordor close to blasphemy. However, Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s iconic work may be reassured to know Monolith is working with Lord of the Rings licensing company Middle-earth Enterprises, as well as Academy Award-winning film director Peter Jackson, and effects studio Weta for ‘Shadow of Mordor’. lead writer Christian Cantamessa said Shadow of Mordor will be “very respectful” of Tolkien’s source material, while at the same time offering a new take on the series.

The most talked about feature of the game is the game’s ‘Nemesis System’ which seems to be what the developers are relying upon to keep the game engaging. Supposedly, this will add a lot to replayability and immersiveness. Orcs are individuals: no two are the same, and no two players will have the same encounter with these foes, according to the game’s director of design Michael de Plater.“We wanted to make it feel like a dynamic society, [we wanted it to] feel alive, and to make it so that as you’re traveling, you’re really able to have an affect on that world,” he said. “We didn’t necessarily start with the idea of making it procedural. I think the starting idea was we wanted to do something new and next-gen with our enemies. There are villains in every game, but how do we make the player create their own personal villain?When players can create their own stories, it becomes so much more meaningful and memorable. In every game, you fight so many nameless grunts, and we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to make those more interesting and give them more possibility without creating scripted villains.” This is all supposing that these system generated orks are unique enough and feel real enough to engage the player. There is a lot of doubt as to whether these system generated scenarios will be anything more than repetitive sandboxy stuff.

2-shadow-of-mordor-610x343

The combat is by all accounts great.  “Fighting in Shadow of Mordor feels like being Batman with a sword, sans his pesky ‘do not viciously impale oath’ …It’s smooth, elegant, and satisfying to be an orc-killer”, says PCGamer . To be compared to the recent Batman games when referring to combat can only seen as a huge endorsement. This comparison is to be expected as  design director Michael de Plater  has said he  ” absolutely, at the inception, looked at Batman, in their combat and stealth,” he says, while maintaining that “as soon as people play [Shadow of Mordor], any experience we’ve had where people get their hands on, it’s totally its own thing.”The game has also been compared to another franchise as , “an open-world, LOTR-branded Assassin’s Creed game”. This is no overstatement, as former Ubisoft developer Charles Randall even accused Monolith and Warner Bros. of using animations and code from ‘Assassin’s Creed II‘. “Seriously, can someone tell me how ‘Assassin’s Creed [II]’ code and assets are in this ‘Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor’ game?” wrote Randall on his Twitter.But Plater has denied any claims of copying code and animations. “Honestly, we built everything from the ground up for this game,” he said to GameSpot. It seems the studio grew self conscious of this as in recent previews it has been reported that the similarities to Ezio have been toned down.

Monolith’s Nemesis system is a fascinating direction for a big-budget game which are usually pinned firmly on story telling and progression through linear narrative.However, I am unsure how deep the system really is and whether it can deliver all the depth and variation required to keep me interested. Repeating similar assassination and infiltration  missions wont feel worthwhile if they arent significantly different as it will remove a sence of progression. Repeating a routine process ad nauseum through Mordor until your weapons are fully upgraded will make the appeal evaporate after a few hours.The game definitely requires some strong scripted events to change up the status quo of the sand box relatively frequently otherwise I fear it will become stagnant. The mission types will range from “story missions, side missions, power struggles, artifacts and collectibles opportunities, and hunting and survival challenges to name some”, but I don’t hold out hope that it will significantly different to add enough variety. ‘Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor‘, will be available in the UK on September 30 2014 for PlayStation™ 4, Xbox One, PlayStation™ 3  Xbox 360 and PC.