games / Previews

E3 2014: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Multi-Platform) Preview

June 16, 2014 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris

At E3, I got the chance to see Warner Bros. Interactive’s behind-closed-doors, first look presentation for Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. One of the biggest features for the upcoming action role-playing game is the Nemesis System. The Nemesis System is mean to provide unique gameplay experiences for each play through of the game, so each time you play the game, it will be different. Developer Monolith Productions focused on the features and utilization of the Nemesis System for the game in the demo.

The presentation began with a cut scene where you get a look at Mordor before the return of Sauron. The land almost looks serene and peaceful. We also get a look at the Black Gate, where the game’s hero Talion was stationed, before the return of the Dark Lord. This is followed by a cut scene where the resurrected ranger of Gondor, Talion, meets Queen Marwen, an old crone who appears to have some mystical powers and advises Talion on his quest for revenge. Talion wants to know about the crown he’s holding, which appears to be connected to his Wraith abilities. Marwen then tells Talion to brainwash an Orc chieftain, and all the Orc’s soldiers will be Talions.

The Monolith developers went over the Orc selection screen and went over the varying Orcs you can track down and hunt. There are several different tiers of Orcs throughout the game between foot soldiers, captains, and chieftains. With the Nemesis System, it appears that the selection of Orcs and their underlings will change with each selection and affect your overall game. Each Orc has their own strengths and weaknesses, which you will want to exploit for your approach. Some Orcs have specific animal fears, and you can exploit that by setting wild beasts or mythical animals upon them. In this demo, the developers selected an Orc chieftain to hunt, and pursued some of his captains first.

The gameplay demo provided a good look at the open-world sandbox, which is Mordor right after Sauron and his forces have returned. The land is actually quite lush and green. It has not yet become the barren, dead, and ominous land it later becomes in The Lord of the Rings books and movies. You will notice that the Orcs are tilling the land in order to feed and house Sauron’s army. They are even using human slaves to work the land for them. You can sneak up and kill various bands of Orcs in order to free human slaves. Talion hunts down one of the chieftain’s captain and uses his Wraith Powers to make the Orc captain his minion. Another exterior battles demonstrates how you can use some of the beasts in the game as a tool to destroy the Orcs. The beasts can also be mind-controlled with your Wraith Powers to make an animal mount. The battle scenes are fast and furious. You can decaptitate, eviscerate, and rend Orcs limb from limb. The Orc battles look to be punctuated by some fun-looking cinematic events, which will show Orcs being beheaded in dramatic fashion. While I think these moments look cool, I hope they are integrated nicely into the gameplay. I am curious if these cinematic events in the battle will be more like Quicktime Events and if they will not break the flow of the fights and combat. The combat and gameplay style looks to be a mix of Assassin’s Creed meets the Batman: Arkham franchise.

Eventually, Talion makes his pursuit toward the Orc chieftain in the demo. This includes sending your brainwashed captain close to him before the battle begins. The developers showed how you can use your Wraith Powers in conjunction with your sword and melee abilities in battle. The group battles where you are fighting to dealing with multiple Orcs onscreen at once look like they will be quite fun and satisfying. So, hopefully the controls are smooth and responsive. Unfortunately, the developers were eventually overtaken by all the Orcs and were not able to survive the battle, so it looks like strategy to the battles will be key, and this will not be a game you can just breeze through. So far, the game looks impressive. However, without getting my hands on the game and getting to play it, I am still unsure of how well it will work in action. That being said, Monolith looks like they have put in a lot of thought and work into making a quality LOTR game. The story and content also look pretty dark and intense. The game is not yet rated, but Warner Bros. Interactive is actually expecting an M-rating, which did surprise me. I guess Monolith is not worried about sanitizing the content and violence.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is due out on October 7 for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows PC.

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Jeffrey Harris