With all of the buzz that E3 generates, it can be easy to only focus on the biggest games. This is only natural. After all, it can be hard to look past the likes of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Batman: Arkham Knight, and all of the other giant upcoming games. Still, one game has not gotten the attention it deserves. Most of E3’s most promising games will not actually come out until next year, but there is one sleeper hit that will arrive in stores this October that has not gotten the appropriate recognition. Granted, October will be a very busy month. In October alone, Super Smash Bros (3DS), Dragon Age: Inquisition, Alien: Isolation, Driveclub, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Evolve, Battlefield Hardline, The Evil Within, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, and Sunset Overdrive will all be released. It will be easy for a smaller, unproven game to slip through the cracks, but I truly hope that does not happen to Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Of all the games coming out this year, no other game looks to have the same level of innovation. There are reasons to be cautious, but Shadow of Mordor may not just be the sleeper hit of E3, but the sleeper hit of 2014.
Liscensed games have always gotten a bad rap, but the success of Rocksteady’s Arkham series has given licensed games new hope. Besides the Arkham franchise, there really have not been any other stellar licensed games, but that may be about to change. Plenty of games have been released in the Lord of the Rings universe, but none have had the potential of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. With all that the game has going for it, there are plenty of reasons to start feeling the hype for E3’s most underrated title.
At the core of the entire game is the nemesis system, which immediately sets Shadow of Mordor apart from the crowd. In an industry where the number of enemy characters killed by the “good guys” often lands in the thousands, Shadow of Mordor puts a personality into its monsters. Each orc has a story. Some carry more weight in the orc society than others. Killing a grunt might not send the masses into a panic, but killing a leader will. Deciding which enemies to target will greatly change the experience. One player’s experience might be entirely different from another’s based off the choices they make alone.
Most games simply respawn the protagonist after a death, but Shadow of Mordor tightly integrates death into the experience. Being killed by an enemy will greatly change that enemy’s position in society. After all, killing the powerful Talion will definitely improve their “street cred” if you will. The next time the player faces that enemy, he will remember the fact that he was victorious previously, and he might even use that fact as a taunt. This aspect of the nemesis system may drastically change the way players view death in a video game.
The rock-solid combat system from a previously-mentioned Warner Bros franchise, Rocksteady’s Arkham series, is the primary inspiration for the combat in Shadow of Mordor. Monolith looks to give players numerous ways to traverse through the game. As great as I’m sure the sword combat will be, there are plenty of other ways to play the game. For example, it is also possible to play the game with a focus on stealth. The different ways to upgrade and customize the character will allow players to craft a gameplay experience that is made specifically to their liking.
Although the story has been largely kept quiet, the events of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor will “align” with the official Lord of the Rings canon. Shadow of Mordor will help bridge the gap between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring. Mordor is not yet a fallen land at the start of the game, but I suspect that might change by the end. Peter Jackson, Middle-earth enterprises, and the artists at Weta Workshop (the studio behind the special effects and sets in the films) have been consulted by Monolith to create a story and setting that closely resembles that found in the movies. Monolith is working hard to make this an authentic Lord of the Rings adventure.
On top of all that, Christian Cantamessa, one of the lead writers and designers for Red Dead Redemption, is writing the game’s script. Red Dead Redemption’s story is widely considered to be one of the best of the last generation. Cantamessa has the experience and the ability to craft a great story. Considering how much potential lies inside the Lord of the Rings universe, the sky’s the limit for the game’s story.
Despite the fact that Monolith has a rather spotty track record, I am confident that the developer is ready to step up its game and join the big leagues. Even though most listened games disappoint, I am certain that the level of thought and detail that have gone into designing the game will result in a thrilling and innovative experience. October might be the busiest month of the year for game releases, but I have no doubt that Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor has all of the makings of a hit.
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