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Monolith

Dear devs, stop it with tutorials all the way through the game

Dec 07 // Nic Rowen
Shadow of Mordor is just the most recent and notable culprit of a crime we've seen repeated again and again in recent years - games that go out of their way to include a direct tutorialization of mechanics you've probably already used a ton of times right up to the game's final moments. I cringe every time it happens and wonder how and why this is a thing. I'll forgive it if you have a real game-changer of a mechanic. If some ability or tool only appears in the later part of a game because of plot or balance reasons, it might make sense to give the player a heads-up about it. Say for example, when Talion's ability to drain an orc turns into his ability to brand one and bend him to his will. Sure, that's a big mechanical change that occurs as a result of the game's natural plot. Go ahead and tutorialize that. But dedicating missions to learning how to ride the same beasts you've been taming since your first hour of playtime? Or instructing you on the finer points of slaying the same Ghul Matron monster you've probably annihilated in a few side-missions already? Ridiculous. It just kills all the momentum for me. A big fat ugly reminder that “YOU ARE PLAYING A VIDEOGAME!” So much for all that willing suspension of disbelief and investing in a fantasy world. If you're making a game and realize that, oh shit, you've made 8 hours worth of content already and still haven't included a mission that primarily revolves around X-mechanic, maybe you don't need that mission. If you couldn't find a non-intrusive way to slide that idea into the first third of the game, it probably isn't all that important. If this is a problem that is happening multiple times in your game, maybe its just too full of stuff. Or, maybe you just don't give your players enough credit to figure things out on their own. I guess it bugs me in particular with Mordor because Monolith already found the perfect way to non-intrusively teach things with an easy-to-use two-pronged attack: 1) Make those tools available to the player early and provide opportunity to use them organically. 2) Slide those mechanics into optional, but attractive, side-missions. Mordor slightly stumbles on the first point but does well enough. Some powers and abilities are tied to mission progress, sometimes sensibly, other times seemingly arbitrary. But most of the cool toys can be unlocked and used by the player as he or she deigns to, or at least are unlocked fairly early. They nail the second part though. Seeded throughout Mordor are plenty of side-missions and challenges that are just entertaining enough to entice most players to give them a try. They offer unique situations and dilemmas to solve using the available tools with extra bonus conditions that encourage players to approach them in a particular, often more difficult, way. They're a fun distraction and test of the player's abilities in their own right, but also offer fun stat boosting rewards and cooler looking re-forges of your weapons to boot. Well done Monolith. So why put in so many late-game tutorials? Why not just leave it up to those side-missions and the player's natural curiosity to figure these things out? All of this is ignoring the simple fact that some things are just better left to players to find out on their own. Not EVERY SINGLE mechanic has to be explicitly laid out, broken down, blue-printed, and reassembled in front of a player's eyes. It turns out, we actually like figuring this stuff out on our own. I played through the entirety of Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater, no exaggeration, at least ten times. Know why I kept coming back? Because the game just kept giving. Now MGS might seem like an odd example to hold up in comparison since the series is known for <DREET, DREET> chiming in with a codec message every three seconds with some “helpful tip,” but hear me out. For all the helicopter-parenting Snake's support staff is guilty of, there are at least twice as many things to discover on your own in that game as they hand-hold you through. Every playthrough I discovered something new to Snake Eater that I didn't know before. Maybe a major thing, like a weapon or movement technique I somehow missed on my first few playthroughs. Or something small and disposable, like one of Kojima's cheeky little gags, or some sly film reference buried deep inside a codec conversation. But most of all, I kept finding all these neat game mechanics and little tricks. “Oh, turns out you can interrogate enemies into giving you artillery codes, that's neat.” “Hey, the knife is super effective against The Fury!” “Hah, you can trick enemies into eating spoiled food if you destroy the ration sheds.” “Oh my god, you can kill The End before you even face him in a boss fight, holy shit!” I think it is a beautiful and wonderful thing when games are packed with content, but it's left for the players to find and unearth, not beaten over the players head. Don't make me quote from the scriptures of Dark Souls. *puts on ceremonial Sun Robes and begins to praise vigorously* You don't need tutorials if your game is interesting enough to encourage players to experiment. Especially these days, in the era of YouTube and Steam guides being available WHILE PLAYING with the press of a button. You can offload the slow, cumbersome, drudgery of tutorial work to the organic nature of the gaming community. People will find these tricks and mechanics on their own and spread them around, don't worry about it. Instead, worry about paying off for all the set-up and tutorial hoops you had players jump through in the FIRST HALF of the game, instead of setting up more motherfucking hoops.
Tutorial blues photo
You have to graduate sometime
“THA'S HOW YOU RIDE A CARRRRRAGOR!" Yeah, thanks asshole. I've already done this like two dozen times. You might have noticed I rode up to your mission marker ON a Caragor. “WHEN UN' ORC IS DOWN, THA'S WHEN YOUR C...

Last-gen Shadow of Mordor photo
Last-gen Shadow of Mordor

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor looks not so good on Xbox 360 and PS3


Last-gen versions out now
Nov 18
// Jordan Devore
I completely forgot Monolith was working on last-generation ports of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. The studio delayed the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game to ... today. It's available for a full $59.99...
Revisiting Condemned photo
Revisiting Condemned

Condemned: Criminal Origins holds up better than expected


Halloween replay
Oct 31
// Jordan Devore
When I think back to the Xbox 360 launch, a few games immediately come to mind: Kameo, Project Gotham Racing 3, and Perfect Dark Zero. You had to take what you could get in late 2005 and hope your console didn't red ring. Min...
Shadow of Mordor DLC photo
Shadow of Mordor DLC

Dress up like the bad guy in this free Shadow of Mordor DLC


Some Epic Runes, too
Oct 21
// Jordan Devore
Monolith has released a free Power of Shadow DLC pack for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor on Steam, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Most notably, it includes an alternate costume for Talion that resembles the Black Hand of Sauron...

Shadow of Mordor Playthough - Here's a Graug-sized portion of gameplay

Sep 29 // Bill Zoeker
Below we have some more gameplay. We picked up playing today from where Max is in his personal run of the game, much deeper in than our first run. [embed]281891:55793:0[/embed]
Shadow of Mordor photo
We could kill these Orcs all day
[Note: I am currently in process of rendering and uploading all of the videos to the playlist. If you run out and want more, be sure to check back soon.] Max and I decided it would be a good idea to shoot a playthrough of th...

Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

Want to watch a season pass trailer for a game that hasn't released yet?


I don't
Sep 29
// Brett Makedonski
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor's doing mostly fine from the reviews that came out last week, but that doesn't mean that you will like it. How can you like a game if you haven't played it yet? You can't, plain and simple...
Shadow of Mordor photo
Where did he get that sword?
Like Max, I didn't know what to make of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor but taking a guarded approach has paid off -- the reviews are in and they're overwhelmingly positive. Nice surprise! Still not sure I'll rush out to grab the game at launch on Tuesday -- I've got my hands full, as I'm sure many of you will shortly -- but it's much higher on my to-play list after this week.

Review: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Sep 25 // Chris Carter
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Monolith ProductionsPublisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentReleased: September 30, 2014 (PC, PS4, Xbox One) / November 18, 2014 (PS3, Xbox 360)MSRP: $59.99 Shadow of Mordor generally does a great job of respecting the source material even if it doesn't really add much to the overall universe. Simply put, the game takes place between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, pre-supposing that Bilbo has already located the One Ring, but before it is entrusted to Frodo. Thus, Shadow is a side story of sorts, giving you minor insight into the creation of the ring while focusing on the tale of one particular human -- a skilled ranger named Talion. Talion's entire family has been murdered by the forces of Sauron, whose evil now encroaches the land of Middle-earth once again. Through the use of some dark magic after his own death, Talion is now bound to the spirit of a mysterious wraith, who grants him the power to essentially function as a super-being, combining dark arts with his already awe-inspiring combat prowess. In short, it's basically the setup for God of War, and the basic revenge tale theme permeates throughout in a generic fashion. What I do like about the wraith conceit is that it creates a sense of duality, as the wraith itself is an elf with a mysterious past who can manifest himself during cutscenes, and whenever Talion triggers a wraith-centric power. The companion aspect is cool as it's seamlessly worked into gameplay, and allows for some good banter between the two souls throughout. While I don't want to spoil the wraith's identity, I found his story to be vastly superior to Talion's. [embed]281235:55690:0[/embed] In addition to Orcs and other members of Sauron's army, you'll also encounter Gollum -- who is tacked onto the story to add a connection to the films, predominately because his mannerisms and character are done in the style of Andy Serkis (though he is voiced by Liam O'Brien in the game, flawlessly I may add). With Talion and the wraith, there is that same Frodo and Sam love/hate relationship, and their moments are easily the highlight of the campaign. The rest, however, is too generic. As previously mentioned it's a basic revenge tale, with a few minor minute-long cutscenes woven in to highlight the wraith's past and his place in the plot. The rest is basically going to be "go here, kill this, draw out this big bad, then kill him for your family" type plots. The finale has a few cool cutscenes here and there, but considering that the last boss is a quick time event, it's ultimately unfulfilling. It takes roughly ten hours to make it through the story alone, and the rest can be completed at your leisure by way of two moderately-sized (though small by current-gen standards) sandboxes. The actual exploration and combat mechanics are solid. Drawing from Assassin's Creed and the Arkham series, Talion can climb structures fairly easily simply by running and pointing at them, and his climbing skills are just as sharp has his blade. Basic combos are available by mashing the attack button, though an upgrade allows critical strikes if it is pressed just as a slice is hitting. He also has the exact same "cape-stun" as Batman in the Arkham games (though it's wraith-flavored here), and the combo-enabled "execution" moves that can instantly take out a regular enemy after your combo meter has reached eight (later upgradable to just five). Talion can also take out enemies with a delayed contextual strike when they're on the ground. Combat makes no attempt to hide that it's basically ripped wholesale from Arkham, and that's not really a bad thing -- it just feels less fluid and polished. Stealth has a part to play as well, and that particular aspect is also executed flawlessly. Talion can sneak up from behind to slay his enemies in silence as well as use jumping executions from a vantage point, which are still just as fun as they are in every other stealth game. There's even a version of "Detective Vision" (I call it "Wraith Vision"), making it easy to identify stronger enemies through walls and structures, as well as archers and the like with different color schemes. To dig even further into Talion's utility belt, he can summon spirit arrows at will and fire them at enemies for quick stealth headshot kills. As his powers are upgraded he'll have even more tricks up his sleeve (including possession and beast-riding, among many others), which makes it very fun to carve up Orcs willy-nilly. Then of course, there's the big draw of the game, which allows players to plot revenge in a dynamic fashion. The highly hyped "Nemesis" system starts off rather promisingly. In theory, it allows Talion to interact with specified named enemies in the game, creating random creatures along the way and generating unique storylines on the fly. So if Talion did battle with a weak Orc at some point and it manages to flee, it may appear later, and not only remember him, but have a more formidable force to contend with. Defeating these enemies will grant runes, which can be used to upgrade melee, ranged, and stealth weapons. The system is endless in nature and can create a ton of unique scenarios involving inter-clan warfare and tenuous alliances. The other big portion of the Nemesis mechanic is that it requires isolation and interrogation of Orcs to locate the whereabouts of each ranked member of Sauron's army, starting with the captains. As Talion, you can question peons as to where a captain is stomping about, then either slay the captain where he stands after hunting him, or interrogate him in turn and learn the location of the more powerful warchiefs. Some of the weaknesses of each enemy can be learned by way of intimidation, including an enemy's fears and ways to exploit it with certain combat mechanics. It initially gives the feeling of working a way from the bottom to the top, which is a unique way of approaching a game -- a stark contrast to open world titles that make you feel like god from the get-go. In theory, it's a very cool idea. But like many hyped-up mechanics, the Nemesis system ultimately becomes gimmicky very quickly. Yes, the names are randomized and some of the appearances look different enough, but after an hour of seeing it in action everything blends together. Orcs don't have unique personalities per se, just unique weaknesses (like insta-stealth kill vulnerability, or a weakness to ranged attacks) and generic parameters. Fights against 90% of the captains, warchiefs, and named enemies in the game feel exactly the same. Basically, all of the Nemesis encounters are going to go like this: You walk up to a captain that generally can't be killed by a stealth attack, engage in combat, and watch as a small cutscene plays where the enemy exclaims a generic phrase like "Sauron rules all!" Then 20 additional enemies appear, the player stuns the boss, combos him, and uses an execution attack while avoiding the newly spawned enemies. Repeat the process until he dies. Warchief fights are the exact same, except they also require some tedious basic quest to "lure them out" like "kill five archers." After a few hours of doing this, I became far too bored with the system to even bother hunting down enemies for a chance at a minor upgrade. There are also a few unintended consequences of the system that actually make the game less fun. For one, a roughly ten second long, unskippable cutscene has to play for every captain or named character in the area. For example, there could be up to four named enemies in one skirmish along with the intended target. If Talion happens to engage, strike, or otherwise damage any of them, all of them have their own ten second scene and exchange that plays out -- this repeats even if you die and return to the same location. Initially, this feels pretty cool, and it brings the player into the game even for the most minute confrontation. For instance, after dying by the hands of an enemy and meeting him in battle again, he might say something like "I already killed you once, I'll do it again!" But after watching that scene multiple times over the course of the game and having every fight play out in the same exact manner, it feels like another gimmick. To make matters worse, every fight basically throws the aforementioned 20 enemies at you, so there's no real room for unique one-on-one encounters. Not only that, but a few milestones in the campaign are gated off by Nemesis system progress, making the process even more tedious and forced.Thankfully, the rest of the open world experience is worthwhile. Fast travel towers can be located rather easily, and open up quick portals to practically any area desired. The two maps are different enough (one is desolate, the other fertile), and there are a ton of extra sidequests (including some related to the Nemesis system) that are actually fun. Given all of the tools Talion has at his disposal, it is enjoyable to just roam the map and get into trouble. Whether it's sidequests like stealth challenges that task the player with killing a certain amount of enemies undetected, ranged exercises or combat skirmishes, the rewards are great (certainly greater than those gained through the Nemesis slog), and it's as simple as finding the marker on the map to jump into them. There are also hunting challenges (like in Red Dead Redemption), hidden elvish artifacts to find, and a lot of other secrets to uncover wandering around, all of which are more fun than the main story. Ultimately, like many ambitious projects, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor doesn't deliver on everything it sets out to do. Although Monolith's heart is in the right place and the studio honors the lore, it doesn't really add anything that's worth seeing outside of some solid open world gameplay. It isn't a bad game, it just feels far too repetitive for its own good. 
Shadow of Mordor review photo
One does not simply walk into Bore-dor
Developing a licensed game can be extremely difficult. Not only does Monolith Productions have the Lord of the Rings film series to honor with Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, but the developer also has to work in ma...

Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor pushed back on Xbox 360 and PS3


Xbox One, PS4, and PC remain unchanged
Sep 09
// Brett Makedonski
Like a Balrog vanquished to the depths from whence it came, Warner Bros. took a good look at the legacy console adaptions of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and declared "You shall not pass!" At least, not for a few more ...
Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor's campaign digs into Middle-earth's past


Origins of the rings
Sep 01
// Abel Girmay
[Writers Note: The original story was amended because of number of factual inaccuracies. My sincerest apologies to anyone who was confused by the original article.] It won't be long now until Middle-earth: Shadow of Mord...
Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor looks good but is it Lord of the Rings?


No hobbits here, sir
Aug 12
// Alasdair Duncan
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor has gotten a lot of people excited because of its seemingly great combat and interesting reputation system but is it me, or does it just look like a generic dark fantasy game? I'll be honest, m...
Middle-earth photo
Middle-earth

Engage in psychological warfare with Shadow of Mordor's Wraith


Dominate and terrorize, you hellion
Jul 31
// Brett Makedonski
You might've thought that Orcs were all fleshy and a good ol'-fashioned sword through the squishy parts would be enough to take care of them. False. Some might fall to the blade, but you'll need something decidedly more cere...
Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor shall not release on October 7 anymore


It's September 30 now
Jul 25
// Brett Makedonski
October is going to be ridiculously packed with high-profile videogames, so the news that Warner Bros. has decided to fast-track Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor's release from October 7 to September 30 is certainly welcom...
Xenoblade Chronicles X photo
HNNNNNNNG!
Epic space battles. Huge mecha. And a gorgeous Xenosaga-style art direction. Monolith Soft's new game is called Xenoblade Chronicles X and it looks absolutely stellar. Do want. Hiroyuki Sawano, composer on numerous anime series like Attack on Titan, is handling the music on the upcoming Wii U project, which should be launching sometime in 2015.

Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

New Shadow of Mordor trailer moves like a ghost, fights like a devil


Stabs like a Lord of the Rings character
Jun 05
// Brett Makedonski
We spend so much of our lives working. When I die, if there's some sort of afterlife, I want to just chill out. Make it look like a never-ending Corona commercial or something. Doesn't that sound nice? That's not a position ...

First hands-on of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor won me over

May 22 // Dale North
[embed]275215:53980:0[/embed] Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC [previewed])Developer: MonolithPublisher: Warner Bros. GamesRelease Date: TBA 2014 (For the full rundown, see our initial preview on Shadow of Mordor.) One does not simply walk into Mordor for the first time without understanding of the game’s structure. Ranger for the kingdom of Gondor, Talion, is well-equipped to do battle Batman-style chops and new Wraith powers. But he can’t do it alone. He’ll need to influence Orcs to take Sauron’s army at its heart, turning it inside out. So while this is a third-person action sandbox, there’s an ongoing strategy game tied to your choices. Using the power of Wraith you’ll build up, orc by orc, until you have own own sizable army. Or tear Sauron’s army down, orc by orc, until you can properly take it down.  What’s interesting is that you’re completely free to decide how you’ll go about achieving this ultimate goal. Every enemy in this huge world can be a part of your army if you work hard enough at it. A screen with orcs laid out by rank lets you dig down and gather intel so that you may use its strengths and weaknesses to your advantage. You can mark any enemy from this screen and then jump into the world to hunt them down and use them as you will. I started out by trying to take out one of the bodyguards of a captain that I wanted to control. Hunting him down could have been easy, but he was completely surrounded in an orc camp, and one mistake could have the entire camp coming down on me. Using fast travel, I got close to the camp’s gate, letting me use some of my Wraith powers to scan through walls to find my target and mark him. Going in, I used stealth to sneak around the walls of the camp, staying close to the leftmost mountains, moving as slowly as possible. Hidden in the grass, I happened upon a platform where my mark just happened to be taking a break, urinating against a camp wall. I thought it would be a perfect time to take him out. I used stealth to sneak up behind him but my takedown attempt was unsuccessful, which had him sounding the camp alarm to warn of an intruder. Suddenly I was running for my life, using Shadow of Mordor’s free traversal to get as far away from the camp as possible. I had several on my tail, so I took advantage of verticality to hop over the camp walls, scramble up in the mountains, and let my health uncover. Eventually I got back in and found the target mostly alone. Instead of sticking to my original plan of capturing him, I killed him on the spot. That felt good. I picked another bodyguard from the army screen with the hopes of taking over his mind with Wraith powers to use him against his boss. This hunt was a bit easier, and it let me try out Shadow of Mordor’s Batman-like combat system. Hard hits, combos, blocks, and parries are all here, but the Wraith powers add another dimension with ranged and psychic attacks. All of this at your disposal makes Talion feel like a walking army. It’s no problem for him to take a small group of orcs out on his own, and with careful approaches and proper use of the Wraith powers, he could probably take out a sizable unit alone.   This bodyguard lived — I took his health down just enough to be able to dominate him, making him a follower. From there I was able to command him to go after his boss, the war chief, my ultimate target.  I followed my new underling to oversee his mission and saw that while he was strong enough to make a dent in his boss’ life bar, he would die if I left him alone. So I joined the fight and took him down to next to nothing. But instead of killing him, dominated him as well, saving him for an even bigger takedown later. A Monolith rep told me that it’s possible to take a large group of captured orcs together to form a small army to take out a bigger target. Or you could just use their bodyguards to help you kill them all. Or, if you’re good enough, use stealth and/or brute force to take them all out on your own. It’s totally up to the player on how to approach the overall goal, with missions opening up along the way to let them create their own stories. Ridable beasts, customizable weapons, and a world so big that I can’t imagine seeing it all will make this one heck of a sandbox to get lost in.  If you're a fan of Assassin's Creed's open-style sandbox play, know that this takes it and turns it up a few notches with better combat and an underlying strategy side. Again, less than an hour of play had me wanting more.  Look for more coverage leading up to its release worldwide on October 7, for PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.  
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First-hands on
I had absolutely no expectations for  Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. I’ve never played any of the franchise games, and I knew very little about the upcoming title. But my first hands on was a very pleasant surprise. A mere 45 minutes of play of its sandbox game got its hooks in me and now I'm totally sold.   

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Voice cast for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor revealed


You know these folks
May 22
// Dale North
Upcoming game Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor will be voiced by some of the best in the business. Troy Baker will voice lead character Talion, while Nolan North, Laura Bailey, Alastair Duncan, and Liam O'Brien hold down other ...
Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is looking stabby


Runes and weapons trailer
May 19
// Jordan Devore
This video for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is supposed to be about runes, which are dropped by fallen foes and used to upgrade protagonist Talion's weapons. And it is. But I can't not concentrate on how ridiculous the act...
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Monolith's X is still on track for 2014, for both Japan and the west


Phew! And other launch dates revealed.
May 08
// Dale North
Monolith's Wii U game, which I guess we're still calling X, is still on track for 2014. Nintendo's financial results says that that "brand new title developed by Monolith Software Inc" is due out this year not only in Japan, ...
NOLF photo
NOLF

Trademark spotted: No One Lives Forever may live again


Nothing's gone forever
May 02
// Steven Hansen
No One Lives Forever's rights disappeared last year. Activision said it didn't have them and, in short, no one seemed to have them. Siliconera spotted trademarks for No One Lives Forever, The Operative, Contract J.A.C.K. and ...
Middle-earth photo
Middle-earth

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor set for release on October 7


New trailer and pre-order bonuses revealed
Apr 02
// Alessandro Fillari
It's been awhile since we last heard from Monolith's new action-adventure title set in Tolkien's fantasy universe. Now, WB Games has revealed the release date, and fans will get to experience Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor&nb...
Middle-earth photo
Middle-earth

Monolith talks cross-gen differences in Shadow of Mordor


PC, PS4, and Xbox One are the focus
Feb 21
// Jordan Devore
One of the big talking points for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor has been developer Monolith's Nemesis system, which involves procedural generation of orcs ranging from their fighting styles to their individual rank and role ...
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Brand new footage from Monolith's X for Wii U


GIMME
Feb 13
// Dale North
On today's Nintendo Direct, brand new battle engine footage from upcoming Monolith Soft Wii U game X was shown. Aside from the uninterrupted gameplay, Nintendo didn't give much more for us to go on other than that the battle...
Shadow of Mordor photo
Shadow of Mordor

First footage of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor


Is there anything Talion can't do?
Jan 23
// Jordan Devore
My initial reaction after hearing about Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and seeing this eight minutes or so of footage was that it's a shame Monolith didn't come with an original setting. Even if you aren't a diehard Tolkien ...

Preview: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Jan 23 // Alessandro Fillari
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC [previewed])Developer: MonolithPublisher: Warner Bros. GamesRelease Date: TBA 2014 The developers at Monolith weren't shy to talk about the reputation of movie games, and they were clear to share what their influences were, in particular Batman: Arkham Asylum. In terms of production, the Batman series served as motivation during the development of Middle-earth. "We saw Batman: Arkham City as the model," said director of design Michael De Plater, while discussing influences. "We looked at that game as the way to make licensed properties. It's best to make the best game you can first, before trying to make good movie game." Set between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, players take on the role of Talion. As a ranger for the kingdom of Gondor, Talion was a guard for the black gates on the eastern side of Mordor -- but on a night like any other, a massive army of Orcs siding with Sauron invaded. Killing many of his allies and loved ones, he is left for dead by the orcs. Unexpectedly, Talion is saved from death by the spirit of a Wraith and given new life and along with new powers. From here, our hero makes his way into Mordor to seek revenge, learn why the Wraith saved his life, and discover what the forces of Sauron have planned. Of course, this story may raise some eyebrows among loyal Tolkien fans. It's somewhat of a departure from the lore, and plans to stick more to the film's style, but the developers at Monolith are confident that fans will enjoy the narrative, as it's one of the bigger focuses of Middle-earth. The lead writer of Shadow of Mordor is Christian Cantamessa, who was also the lead writer of Red Dead Redemption, and he's placed a lot attention on fleshing out Talion and making sure it's in keeping with Tolkien's lore.As an open-ended sandbox action game, players will be able explore Mordor as it was before the return of Sauron. In fiction, Mordor was mostly known as a volcanic wasteland, but Middle-earth plans to show off areas that were filled with wildlife and flora untouched by the volcanic ash of Mt. Doom. Players can even interact and use items and animals from the game world for scouting and combat purposes. Large trees and bushes allow for cover during stealth, and utilizing bait can manipulate aggressive animals against the orcs. As a ranger, Talion possesses abilities that suit him for mobility, and melee and ranged combat. Batman: Arkham Asylum was a key influence and the developers took notes from the design of its action and traversal. Combat utilizes a similar free-flow fighting system from the Arkham series; specifically where players can freely move between individual enemies in a group and maintain combos to unlock special moves and power ups. To take things further, Talion has access to a series of new abilities while in his Wraith form. In this phase, he can enter the Wraith realm (in similar fashion to how Bilbo Baggins uses the One Ring) and observe enemies and points of interest in the game world. Moreover, he also moves much quicker and possesses enhanced archery and combat skills while in Wraith form. When engaging enemies, Talion can switch in and out of his Wraith form to expose weaknesses in enemies and pull off quick shots with his bow and arrow.As expected in a sandbox game, exploring and taking on new challenges will lead to great rewards, such as experience points and journal logs detailing more of the story and history of Mordor. Talion can also acquire ability points through leveling up which can be spent on unique skill trees for his Ranger and Wraith abilities. At the beginning, players will find the offerings somewhat bare, but eventually when you gain new moves and skills, such as a teleport attack called Shadow Strike, Talion becomes a force to be reckoned with. In order for our main character to exact his revenge on Sauron's army, players must create chaos in Mordor to undermine the influences of the orcs in the various zones. This is accomplished by strategically battling through the hierarchy of command by taking out enemy strongholds and camps, to draw out Sauron's Lieutenants to cripple their forces. Of course to do this, players must start at the bottom. In each zone of Mordor, there are a number of captains and war chiefs to combat with, and even pit against each other.  During our presentation, we saw Talion stalking an Orc captain by the name of Ratbag the Meathoarder. Starting with the stealthy approach, Talion takes out various orc soldiers utilizing both ranger and wraith abilities before breaking out into a full-on brawl with the entire camp. Realizing he's outmatched, Ratbag makes a run for it, but is captured when Talion uses a Wraith arrow to immobilize him.From here, players can approach the captain and interrogate him to gain Intel about the other officers in the zone. In a surprising twist, Talion can utilize his wraith abilities to take control of weak-willed captains and use them as temporary pawns in his struggle against the armies of Mordor. The player can assign tasks such as spying on other unknown officers, or assassinating other captains and war chiefs. Using his Wraith form, Talion marks Ratbag as a temporary ally and assigns him a mission to assassinate a war chief by the name of Orthog the Troll Slayer. This decision will create a brand new mission within the zone, which players can choose to accomplish at their leisure. Skipping ahead, we start the assassination mission and see that Ratbag is the second in command to Orthog. Moreover, the captain-turned-pawn has his own band of orcs at his side which will allow for Talion to gain the upper hand against Orthog, but also have a group of orcs fighting by his side under Ratbag's leadership. Surprisingly, the central enemies within Sauron's army are all procedurally generated by the game. Known as the Nemesis system, Middle-earth aims to create a greater level personality and uniqueness for each playthrough. The orc characters seen in the presentation will likely be entirely different for players. Since these characters are randomized, their knowledge and fighting abilities will be completely different for each player and for every repeated playthrough of the game. Everything from the names, fighting style, roles in Mordor, and their personality will be different for each player, according to Monolith. "We put a lot of effort into actually letting players make their own personal and unique bosses and villains in a living world, that was a big focus for us," De Plater said of the Nemesis system. These are not just for cosmetic purposes, but by design for strategic gameplay. During key moments in battle, Talion can acquire Intel from captains, such as strengths and weaknesses about other officers in Sauron's army. How deep their knowledge goes largely depends on the procedural element of the game's engine. One captain may have a deep knowledge of others in the zone, while another may be largely ignorant of who's who.The experience of death leaves a lasting impression on the game world and the morale among the forces of Sauron. Even the lowliest of grunts have potential to become a serious threat to Talion. When Talion is killed in battle, the Orc who lands the killing blow will be promoted in rank and added to the list of officers that Talion will need to take out. Even the lowliest of minions can kill Talion, and their promotion will create a new challenge for players. When revived at the various Forge Towers across the zones, they'll see that their death has motivated forces of Sauron, which will make creating chaos a bit more challenging. Moreover, enemies that escape from Talion during combat will live to see another day and alter their tactics for when players encounter them again. This creates another layer of challenge that emphasizes strategy. Some battles may not be worth running blade first into and will only result in player’s death and a new captain or war chief to eliminate. Even in this fairly short showing of the game, it's clear that the content in Shadow of Mordor is massive; and the developers plan to support players who may feel a bit lost. Warner Bros. Games and Wikia plan to release a companion app for tablets called Palantir. In real time, players can have the app on standby and learn details on the lore, locations, central characters, and other details while playing the main game. Though it's not really necessary for the game, it's a neat little app to have, if you're curious about any references or characters in Tolkien's lore. This title is quite the departure for Monolith games, as it's their first sandbox action game. This presentation of the vertical slice for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was pretty impressive, and shows the ambitious nature of the game. I left quite impressed with what Monolith has got in store for Middle-earth. The Nemesis system in particular is an inspired idea that will definitely incentivize players yearning for a deep single-player experience to revisit. While it’s still a ways off, and showed a number of graphical quirks and glitches that need to be cleared up, it's gotten me interested in what's in store.
Middle-earth preview photo
Sandbox chaos in Mordor
Whenever games tied to a major license are announced, there's usually a collective grumble from fans. Titles based on movies, television, or comics usually don't end up well, as most of the time they're developing with the fo...

Middle-earth photo
Middle-earth

New screenshots for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor


Take down the forces of Sauron in this new open-world title
Dec 16
// Alessandro Fillari
Last month, we saw the reveal of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, a new open-world action/RPG set between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. While we didn't get a look of the game, we did learn what to expect ...
Middle-earth photo
Middle-earth

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor announced


Cross-gen action/RPG prequel to The Lord of the Rings
Nov 12
// Alessandro Fillari
As the second film in The Hobbit trilogy is set to release next month, WB Games is gearing up for its return to Middle-earth. In the upcoming December issue of Game Informer, the publisher lays out its vision for this brand n...
Lord of the Rings photo
Lord of the Rings

Console MOBA Guardians of Middle-earth coming to PC


Well, this is a bit awkward
Aug 15
// Jordan Devore
Monolith took a crack at making a multiplayer online battle arena experience for consoles with Guardians of Middle-earth. It was an admirable attempt -- and I enjoyed the game quite a lot for what it was, which was a trimmed...
Betrayer photo
Betrayer

Betrayer is the debut game from Blackpowder Games


This striking trailer is brought to us by ex-Monolith devs
Aug 05
// Alasdair Duncan
If you make a trailer that combines a striking look and an unusual setting, you're sure to get my attention. This trailer for Betrayer, the debut game from Blackpowder Games, does just that. The studio was started by former ...
No One Lives Forever photo
The studio behind James Bond almost stopped Cate Archer in her tracks
We've been hearing little snippets of information concerning No One Lives Forever recently, like how no one actually knows who has the rights to the IP. A new interview on the Jace Hall Show reveals how the original game may ...


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