Hands-Off Preview: Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor – An Unexpected Journey
A lot of games out there boast about how dynamic they are and how gamers will never experience the same thing twice. While there are some out there which hold true to this, many just have the illusion of being dynamic. Given how our hands-off preview of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor went, I think I can safely say that this is a game where things will never turn out exactly as you’ve planned them.
The big defining feature of this game is the Nemesis System. This allows the player character (called Talion) to take control of the minds of enemies; in this case, Orcs. In the demo, Talion has to take over the mind of a specific Orc warlord. In order to go about this however, he must infiltrate his ranks by taking over one of his subordinates.
The Orc warlords have their own bodyguards who in turn have an entourage of their own. We were shown several different Orcs to choose from and we picked the biggest and most powerful one. The presenters seemed a bit uneasy over our choice. Since we picked the hardest of the Orc warlords, it would be considerably more difficult to complete our objective.
Once the demo started, we see Talion within the lands of Mordor. The title of the game isn’t just for show. The entirety of the game takes place in Sauron’s domain. This game takes place between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Talion was once a former ranger who was stationed on the border of Mordor and Gondor. He was killed by Wraiths but in some twist of fate, was revived with Wrath abilities. It is because of these powers that he’s able to take control over Orcs.
As Talion trekked through the desolation of Mordor, he came across human slaves which he set free. He also ran into patrolling Orcs. In the demo, Talion took over their minds and sent them off. He also took over another group and killed them as they stood there dazed. The Orcs which he sent away could be used at a later time to either attack their own kind or to gather more information.
During the journey, I got to see how good the world looks. Yeah, this was Mordor but everything that could be seen was still beautifully rendered. It wasn’t all blackened lands; there was vegetation and some places that actually looked inviting. Of course, off in the distance, you could see the darkened clouds and menacing looking mountain peaks. This really felt like the Mordor we saw in the movies and read in the books: a land which has been twisted and corrupted by the evil that now inhabits it.
The encounter with the Orc lieutenant that Talion sought was memorable to say the least. Each Orc is an individual with their own look and personality traits. After this one spouted some threats, a battle started. The combat in the game is very smooth and has a certain elegance to it. Every time that Talion killed an Orc you would see a cool cinematic of the death. There was A LOT of decapitation happening on screen during this fight.
After dispensing with the Orc fodder, Talion grabbed the Orc lieutenant and took over his mind. Here, the game showed you what was going on in his mind, particularly, where his leader was. Talion could have sent the Orc to spy on his leader, kill him or to start a mutiny. At that point, he just sent the lieutenant to spy on his commander.
One of the powers at Talion’s disposal is the ability to see the world through the eyes of a Wraith. You even see him appear somewhat Wraith-ish in this mode. With this power enabled, you can better see where enemies are and where certain objectives lie. For those who have seen the movies, the world kind of looks the way it does when Frodo puts on The One Ring. It’s a very cool looking effect that is functional as far as gameplay goes.
Talion then made his way to the Orc warlord’s camp with the use of his platforming skills. He can jump gaps and climb over certain objects, which all seemed very smooth and effortless. The stealthy bits seemed well done too, especially since he automatically crouched when near Orcs so as not to be seen.
Once Talion got close enough, the game showed a cinematic of the Orc warlord he’s after. Here, Talion summoned his Orc thrall to attempt a mutiny which resulted in the lieutenant’s quick and brutal demise. The Orc warlord quickly surmised that his lieutenant was being controlled and looksd around the area. He found Talion and another heated battle ensued.
This one was even cooler than the last because each of the other Orc warlords that we could have gone after were here and each got a nifty cinematic introduction when they appeared. This battle had non-stop cinematic deaths. In particular, whenever you killed one of the warlords the game would highlight the death. Heads and limbs flew across the screen in a thrilling display.
An unexpected event, however, was when Talion was actually killed by the Orc he was in search of. This is something that the developers told us they weren’t planning on happening but since we did tell them to go fight the hardest foe, it wasn’t surprising. After this, we see that because of this victory, the warlord has gained power and influence, thus making it even harder to kill him the second time around.
The fact that this game has so many variables instantly made it appealing to me. Like I said, a lot of games talk about how random their worlds are but this one actually seems to live up to that promise. I can imagine playing this game several times and never quite getting the same outcome.
I was very impressed with what I saw during this demonstration. Licensed games are always ones I’m naturally wary of but Shadow of Mordor seems like a promising title. The Nemesis System is an innovative mechanic that I want to try out first hand. The game is due out this fall so I won’t have to wait too long to see if the final product can live up to what I saw in this demo.