The Eye of Sauron might see everything, but even the observant dark lord himself probably didn’t see “Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor” coming.
The captivating open-world game was one of the best of 2014, breathing new life into Tolkien’s overexposed universe with tight combat, killer graphics and an innovative ‘Nemesis’ system that turned every no-good goblin into a diabolically unique snowflake.
It turns out, however, that “Mordor” was just the first chapter. For their next, Warner Bros. Interactive, owned by Time Warner (TWX), and developer Monolith are increasing the stakes exponentially. Due out Aug. 22 for PC, Xbox One and PS4, “Middle-earth: Shadow of War” aims to give gamers a bigger, badder and, based on a recently revealed gameplay trailer, significantly crazier Middle-earth to dominate.
Set immediately after the events of “Mordor” (and in between “The Hobbit” and “The Fellowship of the Ring”), “Shadow of War” once again puts you in the vengeful boots of the ranger Talion and his wraith pal Celebrimbor. The specifics are still hush-hush — the game’s debut trailer shows off a new ring of power (“ring forger” was Celebrimbor’s gig before becoming an undead pain in the neck) — but suffice to say, the battle over Mordor is still raging.
“Shadow of War” hopes to harness that rage and expand it with a revamped Nemesis system. It will still generate charismatic enemies for you to contend with, but Nemesis will now reach past interpersonal drama and affect the shape of the whole gory game world.
Imposing, multilevel fortresses ruled by vicious Overlords control various regions. Orcs are now members of various warring tribes, the characteristics of which influence both individual overlords and, in turn, the regions themselves. A Beast Master overlord, for example, will result in a region teeming with wild beasts and orcish hunters.
That interplay between orcish bigwig and his environment includes the nature of each fortress. A war chief who favors fire could result in a fortress defended by flaming oil and explosive barrels.
To counter this, Talion leads his own army of converted baddies. You’ll use the new ring to raise your own war chiefs, each of whom will have specific abilities that may prove useful when taking down fortresses. An Olog-hai (the troll version of the Uruk-hai) war chief becomes a battering ram, able to break down doors with his giant, sturdy face. Infiltrate the enemy ranks with a sniper spy and they could turn the battle by taking down a challenging enemy.
The demo touched on a number of other awesome features, including a deeper gear and loot system, the ability to split up the ranger and wraith to tackle multiple enemies at once and, coolest of all, rideable dragons. Once again, for posterity: RIDEABLE DRAGONS.
It’s easy to be excited by the direction the franchise is heading, but the initial demo didn’t really break into the broader open-world gameplay. That was the real meat of “Mordor” — mounting caragors, scaling towers, bumping into gangs of orcs, hunting down hidden baubles — and while all of that stuff is likely in here, we don’t know yet what that all looks like. WB confirmed that the world is substantially bigger than “Mordor’s”, so I’m hoping we get some new traversal methods. Eagles, anyone?
We’ve got some time to find out. Expect more “Shadow of War” in the coming months.
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Ben Silverman is on Twitter at ben_silverman.