E3 2014: Shadow of Mordor channels its inner assassin
I can say now with certainty that I almost missed out on one of the most interesting things at E3 2014. I was waiting in line to view the upcoming private screening and demo of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. This being my first E3 ever, I wrestled in my mind if the twenty-something minute wait would be worth it. Plus, I was at the back of the line and not guaranteed a spot in the audience. Surely there was something just as interesting as Shadow of Mordor with a much smaller wait time, but still, I waited, and waited. Finally the staff began to let us in the room, but cut the line off a few people ahead of me. My twenty-plus minutes of patiently doing nothing in hopes of finally seeing this game in action bore no fruit.
I returned a few hours later, this time for a lovely forty-minute wait. With everyone sitting down and talking, I had a great amount of time to think about why I wanted to even see Shadow of Mordor. It is, after all, only a Lord of the Rings title, which are rampant in the video game industry, rivaling the numbers of high-end shooters. I guess it was what I had seen online previously, or my hopes for the game that kept me in line. However, as it happened, my determination and patience paid off. I was finally allowed to see what I viewed as the best Lord of the Rings game to date.
The demo began with the Executive Producer from Monolith, the developing company, telling the crowd of thirty or so people that the whole entire demo that we were about to witness was being played with live code, meaning that any dynamic, or random characters and events were not pre-planned or pre-scripted. He also gave us the basic gist of the story in Shadow of Mordor. You play as a ranger named Talion, who is on a revenge mission. The story takes place only in Mordor and between the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Talion survived the slaughter of his family and loved ones by Sauron, being possessed by a wraith spirit which grants him powers beyond any mortal man.
After the initial prep talk from the Executive Producer, the game’s demo started. We were introduced to a new area in the game called Nirn, a land with rolling hills, plains, and dilapidated fortresses. It was the object of the demo to kill a certain leading orc, which was randomly created before the demo started. As the audience, we were given a choice of which orc to go after. This being a room of gamers thirsty to see action, we responded by choosing the toughest and largest enemy on the list, a brute named Ghurza.
Talion was then off, running through the open-world countryside, killing orcs on the way by using many various tactics and strategies. For the first time, players have the ability to approach any enemy in a complete stealth mode. This allows them to take down many swarms of enemies without letting them even know Talion was there. The system works a lot like previous Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry titles, but adds in its own brutal and gruesome kills.
When Talion finally reached his destination, he was given a dynamic quest in relation to the randomized orc that he was hunting. After accepting the quest, he was given the objective. To lure Ghurza out to fight, he would have to kill five different orc bodyguards.
This objective allowed the audience to see the strategies and abilities that accompany the wraith side of Talion. He can quickly teleport across the battlefield, dealing insane amounts of damage to an enemy he teleports to, he can use a bow that he conjures to slow down time to make the perfect shot, and he can use the wraith to brand enemies to place them under his control. He can then call them into the fight if situations get tough.
During the demo, the hunt did not go as planned, and Talion was killed. The unique thing about Shadow of Mordor, though, is that you are not punished for being killed. Instead, life moves on. Orcs get stronger and take over other positions in Sauron’s army via the Nemesis System, but the one who killed you does remember that you were slain at his hands. When Talion respawns and heads back out on his revenge quest to kill the orc that killed him, the dialogue between the characters changes to represent the previous encounters. For example, after Talion came back in the demo, Ghurza states that he’s surprised to see him again, and that now he was going to make sure that Talion stays dead.
The fight continued, seeing many orcs, all with dynamic and randomly generated names, showing themselves to Talion for the first time. Unfortunately, Talion was no match for the onslaught of orcs that descended upon him. He was killed and the demo ended. I learned, though, to have faith that Monolith knows what they are doing with this new chapter in the Lord of the Rings world.
To sum it all up, I have wanted an open-world Lord of the Rings game for a long time now. I believed that my dream had come true with War in the North, but it was only half-fulfilled. The brutality and gruesome kills that first showed themselves in War in the North are showing themselves again in Shadow of Mordor. Add that to a complete open world, a dark storyline void of the generic one-liners that you heard in previous games, and a complete Nemesis System never before seen in a game, and you may just have the greatest Lord of the Rings game ever made.
My wait was worth it. Now I can only wait till the fall to see if the game will live up to my expectations.