Not too long ago, Monolith announced a sequel I’ve been waiting a long time for. A few years back they made Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. It’s an open-world adventure game that takes place in the Lord of the Rings universe. It tells the story of Talion, a ranger of Gondor who guards Mordor. After the death of his family, he swears revenge against the Evil One who caused their deaths.
After becoming fused with Celebrimbor, the craftsman of the One Ring, Talion becomes part man, part ghost, his sole purpose in life to wage war on Sauron. Shadow of Mordor saw the player take him on a journey to destabilize and take control of Sauron’s army.
I was a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings movie games as a kid, and Shadow of Mordor proved to be an incredible series return to gaming. It was smooth, challenging, and had collectibles galore. As I played through the game further, I grew measurably stronger thanks to the deep progression system. The game pitted me against an army of thousands, but my wits and skills made me a one-man army. This kind of power was something I never felt in similar games like Assassin’s Creed. It’s exactly the kind of feeling I always wanted from a Lord of the Rings game.
The mechanic in Shadow of Mordor that caught everyone’s eye was its Nemesis system. When fighting through Sauron’s army, there was a clear hierarchy of orc commanders. If one commander fell, another took his place, a new one with a unique set of skills. As orcs in higher ranks died, those in the lower ranks climbed to take their place. Some would even return after dying, battle-scarred, and remember Talion.
In this way, Shadow of Mordor created a system of player-generated narratives. As one particular orc became stronger, killing him became all the more satisfying. Same went for orcs who kept coming back from the dead. No two players ever played Shadow of Mordor the same way. You might wonder, is it possible to improve on this system?
Somehow, Monolith has found a way. For the game’s sequel, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, Monolith is doubling down on the Nemesis system. The narrative aspect is even stronger, as in a set scenario, enemies can come back from death or the player can nearly die, only to have his commanders intervene and save the day. The player therefore forms personal relationships not only with enemies, but with allies.
Orc generals also have a lot more character, with personalized forts for the player to attack. Whereas Shadow of Mordor was a contained, Assassin’s Creed style of experience, Shadow of War scales the conflict up to include lots more territory. Talion is much more powerful, but he faces a larger threat to compensate. This will mean more strategy, more interesting battle scenarios, and all-out war.
I can’t say for sure if Shadow of War will deliver on the initial wave of hype. I feel pretty sure that it’ll land near the top, even if it doesn’t hit its target. If it does hit the target, though, it will be my dream as a Lord of the Rings fan. It will be the experience of making war on Sauron himself, and an incredible merging of action and strategy games. Monolith hit it out of the park with Shadow of Mordor, and with Shadow of War coming out in August, I’m more excited than ever.