Middle-earth Shadow of Mordor Preview
Warner Bros. Interactive and Monolith Productions brought a playable for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor to this week’s GameStop Expo. This title has been one of my most anticipated games of the year. However, I have been cautiously optimistic because, in the past, players have frequently been burned by licensed titles. That aside, I was very excited by what I got to see and play with the demo. Monolith Productions appears to have created an impressive and immersive action-RPG experience.
The demo at the expo was the PlayStation 4 version of the game. The initial videos for Shadow of Mordor made the gameplay resemble Assassin’s Creed and Batman: Arkham City. Based on the demo, that is definitely still the case. The open-world exploration elements and combat remind me of Batman: Arkham City. The controls, movement and climbing abilities for the environment of Mordor are reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed. Talion is even able to perform a “Leap of Faith” jump from high ledges. To be clear, I am not criticizing games with these elements. I believe that it is fine for games to take cues from other more popular games, as long as it is done well. The segments I played in Shadow of Mordor were well executed.
The demo features the earlier cut sequence between Talion and Lady Marwen from E3, showing Sauron descend upon an almost peaceful-looking Mordor. The demo then takes Talion into the free-roam map of Mordor. I like what has been done with Mordor in the game. Just after Sauron’s return, Mordor still looks lush, green and wild. It is not the deathly, frightening and terrible place it would later become in The Lord of the Rings books and movie. Mordor is still teaming with wildlife, and it’s very animated.
The demo shows off some of the features of the Nemesis System, which is the game’s big selling point and feature. The Nemesis System will supposedly allow for unique gameplay on every play through. Sauron’s Orc army has various tears of Orc leaders and Warchiefs. Players have multiple options and approaches to take down Sauron’s army. Using the Wraith powers of Celebrimbor, the spirit who resurrected Talion for his path of revenge, players can both dispatch or possess Orcs.
The land of Mordor is quite busy with activity. The game allows Talion to take part in smaller conflicts, such as Orcs fighting over status or Orcs abusing human slaves, who Talion can free from the whip. Based on the demo, the game will have a great deal of playable content to do and explore. This is one thing that encourages me about the game; there is a great deal of single-player campaign content.
Now, to the most important aspects: the controls and combat. The combat is highly reminiscent of the free-flow melee combat of the Batman: Arkham games. Here, it is very similar, but with a more hack-and-slash style. Just like the Arkham games, there is a counter button allowing Talion to block or parry enemy offense to continue stringing his combo. I managed to string some heavy combos together. The E3 demo showed a lot of elaborate death and finishing move variations in the combat. I was concerned this could cause quite a few glitches or slowdown during the gameplay. However, in playing the PS4 demo, this did not appear to be an issue. The signature finishers or killing blows by Talion were fast and fluidly incorporated into the gameplay. The main controls for the combat were very smooth and easy to learn. Talion has two types of attacks: Ranger-based swordsmanship attacks and the Celebrimbor-based Wraith powers. Players can mix the use of Wraith or Ranger attacks into the combat at will. So you can go from decapitating an enemy to possessing another one to your side. Talion also has a “Wraith-vision” ability that works much the same way as Batman’s Detective Mode from the Arkham games. The visual looks comparable to the One Ring-visions from The Lord of the Rings films.
The Orc missions have varying degrees of difficulty. Based on defeating previous Orc enemies, Talion can gain intel on the other Orc chieftains and their weaknesses. Some Orc overseers are weak to finishing combos. Others are afraid of wild bees, ghouls or beasts. Speaking of beasts, Mordor is filled with various creatures and beasts that can be used as mounts. Talion can possess these creatures and use them as his makeshift ride, from giant cats to Graugs. Using the mount creatures in battle was very satisfying.
The graphics and visuals looked great. I love the design of the game, which takes some obvious cues from famous Lord of the Rings artwork and the Peter Jackson films. I did not notice any major problems, skipping or loss of framerate while playing the demo. Based on my playable demo experience with the game, I believe this could very well be one of the best Lord of the Rings-based video games of all time. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor hits PS4, Xbox One and Windows PC on September 30. The PS3 and Xbox 360 versions have been pushed back to November 18 in North America and November 21 in Europe.