Feb 3 2014 6:00pm

Gaming Roundup: Explore an Open World Mordor in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Middle-earth Shadow of Mordor

Video game forays into Tolkien’s Middle-earth have generally met with mixed success over the years. The MMORPG The Lord of the Rings Online and its numerous expansions are generally considered the cream of a somewhat limited crop, though perhaps a reasonable argument could be constructed for the simple hack-and-slash appeal of EA’s movie tie-in trilogy. This past week, however, brought to light a new hope for those of us who prefer our Middle-earth fix in an offline format. Meet gaming’s latest entry into the Tolkien-verse: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.

A joint production from Monolith Productions and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Shadow of Mordor is set between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and places you in the armor-clad greaves of Talion, a resurrected ranger who was slaughtered alongside his entire family by Sauron’s armies. Talion’s resurrection has given him the added benefit of entering the wraith world, enabling him to identify and attack targets from a different dimension, as demonstrated in the new gameplay trailer below.

So what can we glean from the gameplay? Well, for one, the game itself is looking pretty slick. The polish on display via character models, environments, and the combat system are impressive, and the enemy AI system is intriguing. Monolith’s Nemesis system gives enemies personal relationships with and vendettas against Talion that evolve as in-game time passes, meaning that an orc warlord he engages in battle at the beginning of the game may have several run-ins with Talion, and recognize him on sight and by name as the game progresses, each encounter advancing their enmity.

But what of the more sinister issues plaguing this game even before its release? One could certainly not be faulted for believing that Shadow of Mordor seems... shall we say, “heavily influenced” by Assassin’s Creed (as one AC developer was quick to note). It’s clear from viewing the trailer that Shadow has borrowed from the Assassin’s Creed franchise—look no further than the character animation or environmental navigation elements of the gameplay to notice as much. Then again, the combat and wraith-mode borrow from Warner’s own Arkham franchise. And what video game (or any other art form in existence, really) hasn’t borrowed from a predecessor? Assassin’s Creed itself clearly borrowed elements from the Thief and Prince of Persia franchises. Now if it turns out that Shadow’s developers blatantly stole chunks of code from AC and transposed them into their own game, this becomes an entirely different issue, and one worth revisiting extensively.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is scheduled to launch sometime this year for PC, PS3/4, and Xbox 360/One.

In other gaming news this week, The Last of Us 2 and Left 4 Dead 3 are both apparently under development, Apple may be entering the gaming market, and Epic sells Gears of War. Read on!

  • Naughty Dog is certainly keeping busy these days. After launching Left Behind—the first (and only) piece of single-player DLC for their post-apocalyptic PS3 hit, The Last of Us—next month, their focus will shift to their next-gen Uncharted offering, but rumor has it that early development is already under way on The Last of Us 2 (presumably under a more creative title).
  • In other news on hotly-anticipated games rumored to be under development, Valve is apparently hard at work on Left 4 Dead 3 (thereby aggravating Half-Life fans everywhere).
  • Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn will officially launch on the PS4 on April 14.
  • Sony made a lot of gamers unhappy when the second wave of PS3s launched without PS2 backward compatibility, but in another example of the console giant learning from its mistakes, it sounds like the PlayStation 4 will have native PS1/PS2 emulation.
  • Here’s something you don’t see every day. Nintendo’s CEO, Saturo Iwata, is giving himself a 50% pay cut for five months to atone for an upcoming poor fiscal quarter.
  • Now that the Chinese government is easing up on their ban of video game consoles, Chinese corporation TCL Corp is getting set to launch its own console, native to China—probably based on similar specs to the Xbox One.
  • If you haven’t touched base with the Belmont clan in awhile, check out the latest trailer for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2.

  • Director Neill Blomkamp, who was at the helm of the incredible District 9 and the incredibly disappointing Elysium, is rumored to be Microsoft and Steven Spielberg’s director of choice for the pilot episode of the Halo TV series, exclusively available on the Xbox One. Halo fans might recall that Blomkamp was also Peter Jackson’s initial choice to direct the ill-fated Halo movie before the project fell apart.
  • So... Apple might be tossing their hat into the gaming ring with the new Apple TV. Game changer, anyone?
  • In Xbox news, the hotly-anticipated Titanfall, Microsoft’s return to mech warfare, will be hitting beta soon. Get excited.
  • From the not-entirely-unexpected-but-still-surprising category, Epic Games sold their rights to the Gears of War franchise to Microsoft this past week. Development will continue on Gears—one of Xbox’s flagship franchises—at Black Tusk Studios in Vancouver, under the guidance of former series producer Rod Fergusson.
  • Finally, League of Legends is officially the most-played game in the world, boasting 27 million daily players. Impressive stuff.

If there are games you’d like us to cover or blogs you think we should be following for more news, please let us know @tdelucci or @pritpaulbains.

1. vjj
Middle-Earth: Shadows of Mordor doesn't feel like anything Tolkien-esque. From what I've read about the video game, they've basically shat upon the entire Legendarium of Tolkien. It's just doesn't resemble Middle-Earth mythos in any way shape or form. I guess they just wanted to use the name to trick potential customers into buying it.

Apparently, Gollum also makes an appearance - for no discernable reason whatsoever.

They actually could have used some of the material in the "History of Middle-Earth" books to make a very compelling storyline for the game. But no, that would have been too much work.
Pritpaul Bains
2. Kickpuncher
@1 vjj - I can understand their reluctance to mess with LOTR canon - the gist of it seems to be a self-contained tale set in Mordor from a universe perspective, but with no real tangible/discernible contribution or impact on Middle-earth, in general.

While not the most creative approach, even if the game offers nothing more than the opportunity to simply wander about an accurately-reconstructed Mordor but no mythological continuity or connection, I'd probably still consider giving it a look.
3. DougL
Well, to #1 and #2

I am quite convinced there is no way they can make any game that pays much homage to the lore without being crushed by fan backlash. Lotro doesn't exactly follow the lore either, I mean in a very general story sense they do, but there were no people throwing fire balls around either.

They can't make any game true to the lore unless they just have you play through a story ripped right from the books, and who would play that game when they can just read the story?

I should be clear, while I do sometimes sub to Lotro, I wouldn't touch this game with a 10 foot pole.
4. Firion
I am a programmer and someone who played all of the Assassin's Creed games extensively. After watching trailers for this game, I think it is blatantly apparent that almost the entire engine that this game is built on was lifted from AC. I mean...the way Talion walks is exactly the same as Ezio, the way he climbs buildings is exactly the same, heck, the rope walks between the buildings are exactly the same.

While there are definitely some interesting gameplay twists, I'd say that these guys are walking into a lawsuit nightmare.
Nathan Martin
5. lerris
@ 1 - given that the game takes place during a time period when Gollum travelled to Mordor, was captured and interrogated, and subsequently escaped, it's hardly a stretch for him to appear in the game.

That said, I'll probably go back to Lego Lord of the Rings and the upcoming Lego The Hobbit for my Middle Earth gaming fix. I think this one will need stellar reviews to separate me from my money.
Chris Nelly
6. Aeryl
When you mentiond wraith mode, the first thing I thought of was the Assassin Vision you use in Assassin's Creed. I know it's not the first game to use that, but its made the best use of it, IMO.

Xbox Live advertised a demo for a second sequel to FF XIII, titled Lightning Returns. Because I'm a sucker, even though I wasn't real happy with FF XIII, I bought FF XIII-2 on discount, and I downloaded the Demo for FF XIII-LR.
Walker White
7. Walker

It is firmly established law that gameplay is not protected by copyright. I agree that this is derivative of AC but I see no lawsuit here.
8. Colin R
"More fantasy-inspired Assassin's Creed" seems like a no-brainer. Pity that the first people to make it had to be inspired by Peter Jackson's bastard children of Tolkien.
9. Stanczyk
Fun fact: This is very close to the title of a text-adventure from the 1980s called ShadowS of Mordor.

I'm still sad Sierra never released that strategy game where you got to play an orc warlord doing orc things.
Chris Nelly
10. Aeryl
I just finished beating the crap out of AC4.

Can I just say now that, as much as I liked the game, Edward Kenway is kinda the worst assassin EVAH. And not just in the "doesn't hold to the Creed" sense, but in the "people he kills keep coming back to life" sense.

Like, if you wanted those characters to return later Ubisoft, why not utilize the fact that Kenway is capable of non lethal attacks and have the game make him use those instead, so there's a pretty legitimate reason that guy you killed and left for dead on an abandoned island shows up later in a prison cell.

Also, I know a lot of people complained about the present day story, but to me, that was the most gripping part of it. The eerie parallels with our world, the slow reveal of Desmond's fate, the discovery of Shaun and Rebecca still in the fight, "John from I.T." was all really spooky. Plus, I liked the return of the puzzles. I loved the heck out of the glyph puzzles in AC2 & AC:Brotherhood.

Plus all the tantalizing hints about other possible stories. Miriam Kurtz fights the Nazis! Alchemists in Prague! Something called Assassin's Creed PhoeniX Rising(I assume the capital X means it's to be the tenth installment).

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