Back in March we paid Warner Bros. a visit for the reveal event of the inevitable sequel to the surprise hit of 2014, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. It answered our initial questions of how they might continue Talion's story and further improve the already formidable nemesis-system. The presentation in London demonstrated how the conquest of the world will function, intriguing but ultimately too short to fully understand the larger picture.
Later this spring we were given a further look and some hands-on with the E3 build getting to play a siege and learning more about the expanded Nemesis system.
Now the time has come for a third look, and this time we travelled all the way to the birthplace of grunge and expensive coffee places, Seattle, this time with much more content, a grander scale, and an opportunity to experience more of what the game has to offer. Monolith wanted to show three different aspects of the game, which subsequently will be published in separate previews over the span of this month. The first part focused on the online elements and the attention and care they have put into making it as unique and innovative as possible. Many of the new gameplay elements have already been covered, so this preview will mainly focus on the two game modes: Online conquest and Vendetta.
In regards to conquest, this was at its core the same concept as the one shown during the reveal where Talion, along with an army of recruited minions, had to conquer a fortress held by Sauron and one of his overlords. Online conquest basically works in the same manner with the similar overall mechanics, objectives, and so on. The biggest difference between offline and online, however, is the ability to jump into another player's fortress and command their minions and engage in the relationships they have built over the course of their game.
When talking about other players, creative director Michael de Plater told us how they wanted each individual playthrough of Middle-Earth: Shadow of War to be its own individual story with varying relationships to the warriors inhabiting the realm of Mordor. The online conquests accordingly let you use a fraction of the experience and relationships formed by other players as a cause of the nemesis system. The nemesis system in particular, de Plater elaborates, has allowed them to play an almost infinite amount of scenarios and he honestly couldn't commit to the abundance of narrative variables you can encounter.
The online conquests are divided into difficulty levels, yet it's still possible to be a low level character and still take on the biggest challenges. Completing the different conquests will help your online ranking and reputation in the social sphere and you're always encouraged to keep challenging yourself and your character. When conquering the strongholds, a couple of new abilities were notably of great help in order to speed up the war and simply be a more effective warrior because of it.
As a new feature, Talion can now double jump, letting the player travel faster when leaping across the sentinel towers or into a giant gathering of enemies. Similar to the abilities in Infamous, you can perform devastating dives into groups of enemies, clearing out the area, and another appreciated change was Talion's improved movement speed when climbing buildings. Whereas the first game had a more Assassin's Creed-esque nature of scaling buildings, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War makes the player feel more like a magical ranger than a skilled foot-soldier. Lastly, when upgrading Talion's different abillities, the player can learn to warp strike to quickly transport in and out of battle. It works remarkably similar to how Noctis does it in Final Fantasy XV, however, it still feels unique to the game, and a gameplay designer revealed they had brainstormed an array of ideas to really make Talion set himself apart the second time around.
The other mode we tried was the online vendetta, which is almost an entirely new mode. Vendettas were there in the original, but Monolith has expanded on the concept when taking rewards into account. When undertaking such an endeavour the player has to avenge a fallen comrade from the online stratosphere and in doing so earn big rewards that they can then use to customise their character. Since the sequel has a larger focus on customisation and RPG elements, the incentive for participating in online vendettas has become far greater, and should serve as a good way to keep players engaged for a longer period of time, hence expanding the longevity of the title.
Experiencing Middle-Earth: Shadow of War anew left us more optimistic than ever for the future of the franchise and the final product. As a final thought we asked Michael de Plater whether a sequel was always something they'd envisioned they'd do, and the answer was a bit of both, since they always wanted to make a sequel, but nothing was set in stone before the first one had been released and proven itself. Regardless, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War's implementation of online components seems like a natural extension of the series as it still keeps the game single-player focused, yet adding a layer of social interaction on top, and we enjoyed what we saw of it.