We live in a miraculous age. An age where a 12-year old can write a fanfic where his OC Talion (OC stands for Original Character, don't steal) teams up with Celebrimbor, Greatest Smith of the Second Age and forger of the rings of power, to simply walk into Mordor and take down Sauron and that fanfic can be turned into an actual video game. I am, of course, referring to
What is it?
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is an upcoming game developed by Monolith Productions, the developers of games like FEAR and Condemned. It is being produced by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, and its combat system seems to borrow heavily from another Warner Bros. property, the Arkham Asylum series of games. The game takes place between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and is set in the land of Mordor, Sauron's stronghold. Mordor is broken up into several regions, but within each region there are many potential objectives and opponents, giving the game an open-world feel as you can pick-and-choose the path you take and the order of the quests you want to pursue. Think Arkham City's open-world nature.
Combat is built around building up large strings of attacks without taking damage or pausing. After building up a certain number of attacks you can use a special move, for example a "ground pound" where Talion slams the ground and sends nearby foes flying, or dominating an enemy and bending them into an ally. Talion's primary weapon is his sword, but he also has a dagger (forged from the broken sword of his son) and a bow which he acquired from Celebrimbor (the bow uses spectral arrows, which you can acquire by draining power from enemies.) The bow is useful for ranged attacks, for setting foes aflame with fire arrows, or for exploding campfires and barrels of grog, but is also useful for quickly traversing the battlefield as it can teleport you to faraway foes. Teleporting onto a beast allows you to dominate that beast, giving you a steed for charging through the camps of Sauron's army. The dagger, meanwhile, is useful for stealth combat, where you can sneak through the camps and take out your foes Assassin's Creed-style. All in all, the combat seems to have potential for great replayability, as each scenario can be approached from numerous directions and the combo system gives you a metric to work towards improving. But really, fun as all that is, the main draw of the game is yet to come.
The Nemesis System
While the combat system alone would give me reason to play Shadow of Mordor repeatedly (I spent much more time replaying challenges in the Arkham Asylum games than playing through the story) what gives Shadow of Mordor seemingly infinite replayability is its Nemesis system. Rather than having set enemies, the game is filled with procedurally-generated foes with their own stats and characteristics. These enemies, depending on their rank, are then given Titles/Nicknames based upon their traits, such as the less-than-attractive Azgrom Ugly-Face
Each enemy has varying strengths and weaknesses, including extra vulnerability to certain attacks and immunity to certain attacks. Some enemies may have fears, where you can use specific tactics against them to scare them into retreating. Others have "Hates" which function similarly to fears except, rather than retreating, the enemy becomes enraged and is much more formidable. If you have gathered intel on your opponent, you can look up all of these strengths and weaknessess which will aid you in combat. I'm sure there's a Sun Tzu quote about that somewhere
There are 3 ranks of units in Shadow of Mordor. Sauron's army is led by Warchiefs
. These powerful enemies direct the army and must be drawn out to engage them in combat. They are fearsome, with many strengths that make them difficult to defeat in combat. Below the Warchiefs are Captains
, soldiers that have proven themselves in combat and serve as the bodyguards of the Warchiefs. At the lowest level are Grunts.
These enemies have no titles and are mostly the cannon-fodder of their superiors. Most are doomed to die nameless in combat, but a lucky few may rise in rank after defeating a great adversary.
This system of enemies is what I find to be the most intriguing part of Shadow of Mordor. Talion and Celebrimbor make a powerful duo, but in order to defeat Sauron, they will need an army of their own. By dominating Captains in combat, Talion is able to enter Uruk-Hai politics and advance those orcs that are loyal to him through the army ranks. After dominating an orc, you can give it a command, such as ordering him to kill another Captain, ordering him to betray his Warchief, or ordering him to attempt an initiation to gain the favor of another Warchief (whom he can later help you betray). You can also simply steal intel from his brain, giving you information on an enemy's strengths and weaknesses, but this option appears to always be lethal. After you have given an Uruk-hai a mission, you can help him complete his goal, or you can let time pass and have him attempt it on his own (depending on the difficulty of the goal and his own strengths, he may or may not succeed without Talion's help). By pushing your minion up the ranks, he can eventually become a Warchief, and all of his followers will also be loyal to you. This creates an interesting system in how you choose which Captains to advance; the weaker captains will be easier to dominate, but the more powerful ones will be better allies and more capable of completing your goals.
The Uruk Army
Meanwhile, while you are ordering your minions around and trying to advance your goals, the Warchiefs are doing the same. The game generates missions for the NPCs as well, where they can go on hunts, execute traitors, murder rivals, etc. Completing these missions makes them more powerful (same with your minions) and the more powerful an orc becomes, the more strengths it gains and the more weaknesses it loses, making the game more challenging the more time you take. The game has a day/night cycle, with different beasts present in each.
Lastly, the Death system. Remember how I mentioned that Grunts can become Captains by defeating an important adversary? That's where this comes in. When Talion falls in combat, he does not die permanently. He has been possessed by the Wraith of Celebrimbor, and like the Ring-Wraiths, he returns to life. However, it takes time to rejuvinate, and during this time, the orcs are completing missions and becoming more powerful. Meanwhile, the orc that delivered the final blow improves greatly in power, and if it was an unnamed Grunt, it advances to a Captain. Foes that have defeated Talion will remember him, which makes him their nemesis and gives special dialogue to them.
When does this game come out?
PC: September 30 everywhere
Xbone, PS4: September 30 NA, October 3 EU
360, PS3: November 18 NA, November 21 EU
PC System Reqs?
OS: 64-bit: Vista, Win 7, Win 8
Processor: Intel Core i5-750, 2.67 GHz | AMD Phenom II X4 965, 3.4 GHz
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 | AMD Radeon HD 6950
DirectX: Version 11
Network: Broadband Internet connection
Hard Drive: 25 GB available space
OS: 64-bit: Win 7, Win 8
Processor: Intel Core i7-3770, 3.4 GHz | AMD FX-8350, 4.0 GHz
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670 | AMD Radeon HD 7970
DirectX: Version 11
Network: Broadband Internet connection
Hard Drive: 40 GB available space
Anyone from the movies making an appearance?
Well, presumably Sauron, and also (thpoilers)
There is no multiplayer, but there are Challenges ala the Arkham games, so presumably you can compare scores/times with your friends online. Bear in mind, the challenges can be quite long, for example the PC video above has an objective of completing the challenge in under 50 minutes.
How do saves work?
Save scumming isn't possible, the game will save over the previous save basically whenever anything happens. There are multiple save slots if you want to have different campaigns going at the same time.