It came as a surprise to many when Monolith Studios (in collaboration with Warner Bros.) released Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor back in 2014. To avoid direct affiliation and confusion regarding the movie part of the franchise, Monolith cleverly disguised the game under the banner Middle-earth, rather than The Lord of the Rings, to avoid the negative connotations associated with making a video game based on an existing cinematic universe.
The original game was an exciting mix of Assassin's Creed-esque parkour exploration, and the Batman Arkham battle system. Combined with a fresh new take on the landscape and dynamics of the ancient land of Mordor, Talion's Journey of revenge offered an exciting new take on Tolkien's fantasy universe.
In a private cinema reserved for the event, design director Michael de Plater took to the stage and introduced the sequel. The presentation opened with the teaser trailer, which we had already seen, it set up the story and was followed by a live-demonstration of the new Stronghold missions. Before getting into the demonstration, de Plater showed off the new map of Mordor, which had been sufficiently expanded and this time around also looks to include human cities on the border of Mordor, such as Minas Ithil and even possibly Osgiliath.
When discussing the scale of Shadow of Mordor, de Plater describes its sequel as making the same gigantic creative leap as Rocksteady made between Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. The studio's aim for the project is, needless to say, nothing less than huge.
The new title is Shadow of War, which also indicates the biggest departure from the first game. Talion is no longer a lone ranger, but rather a senior general-like figure who recruits his own army of warchiefs and soldiers to overtake regions of Mordor that are governed by different Strongholds. Each Stronghold has an overlord, who is to be taken out along with his accompanying warchiefs. Shadow of War therefore includes RTS-elements, whereby players create their own armies to conquer enemy territories.
Moreover, the Stronghold mission that we were shown was very reminiscent of similar ideas seen in games like Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and more recently Mafia III. It especially reminded us of the naval bases in Black Flag, although here it plays out on a bigger and more epic scale and was based around the same basic concept of eliminating certain areas with the help of your soldiers and defeating the base leader or overlord in Shadow of Mordor.
De Plater also used the Stronghold mission to discuss new aspects of the nemesis system, which arguably was the most innovative and interesting part of the first game. In the sequel the implementation of nemesis doesn't limit itself to your relationship with certain enemies, but rather it shapes the environment of Mordor. Talion can create meaningful relationships with soldiers on his team as they help each other work towards victory, and when you conquer a Stronghold, Talion will have to pick a new overlord, which in turn will shape the interior of the Stronghold.
In this regard Shadow of War wants to create a fully immersive world where every simple action will have a purpose, and where cause and effect will send ripples through the environment.