What makes Shadow of Mordor unique?

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As you all probably know by now, Zoe just will not shut up about Shadow of Mordor, the upcoming Lord of the Rings game from developer Monolith and publisher Warner Bros. Interactive. She seems to be of the impression that it’s rather good, and that it will finally give LoTR fans the game they deserve.

Shadow of Mordor was hailed as one of the biggest surprises of E3, and we wondered what that might reaction be like for the game’s designers. We asked director of design at Monolith Productions, Michael de Plater how the studio themselves reacted to the overwhelmingly positive reaction from trade shows.

“We’re always excited for more people to see and play the game. It was great. Especially for the team back at the studio who didn’t get to go to e3 but could see the reactions online.”

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Shadow of Mordor bridges the awkward “middle of the books” period. We already know how the whole narrative is resolved, so we’re left wondering how Monolith plans on keeping the story interesting.

“The important thing is that Shadow of Mordor works as a standalone story, with its own epic stakes. We’ve worked hard to deliver that, while working with Middle-earth Enterprises to ensure authenticity to the universe.”

One of the problems with working within the confines of an already fabricated world’s is that there’s not a great deal of leeway for the sort of emergent gameplay you’d expect from an open world RPG. Plus, as game set within the Lord of the Rings universe, it has to tell a compelling story – something that’s difficult to do where freedom is involved.

“It was really important for us to craft a story to be as good as it could be and we took great care with it. However, within the living world, you have enormous freedom of choice to craft your own enemies, bosses, and missions through the Nemesis System. And there are key points where the Nemesis System and the main story cross over. “

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The Nemesis system is something quite unique to Shadow of Mordor. Every single enemy is unique, with a unique face and personality. They’re shaped by the player’s encounters with them, each with his own rank and memory. Scare off a little Orc, and he might go off, train, level up and come back as your greatest foe. Where did the system find its roots?

“It’s a combination of a lot of inspirations. The goal was to let players create their own stories in a living world. From The Lord of the Rings we were inspired by Orc society when we see the fighting in the Tower of Cirith Ungol where the whole garrison tears itself apart fighting over Frodo’s mithril shirt.

Within games there was a lot of inspiration from pen and paper role-playing, Very often the most memorable NPCs and recurring villains are the ones who emerge out of the story rather than the ones built into the plot.”

Each and every Orc is unique in some way, with the higher ranking ones in particular being afforded extra touches. It’s what makes the nemesis system so refreshing, but it must have been quite a task to design them all.

“Of course character art and animation have done an amazing job making them look awesome,” says de Plater “…but game design has to make them challenging and varied, and the writing, recording and voice have to be in synch with the AI and level design. It’s the way the whole package comes together than brings them to life. It wasn’t easy but it was worth focusing on it so that we could deliver this new innovation.”

We also asked how much trouble it would be to make and animate female Orcs, but that seems to have been left unanswered.

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When it was initially shown, Shadow or Mordor was compared with Assassin’s Creed. Like those games, the open world contains a bunch of random encounters and other exploratory elements, but we wanted to know how it differentiates itself, and  what sort of side quests and missions can players expect to help bring the world to life.

“There are many things which make Shadow of Mordor really unique,” de Plater affirms.

“First, the way that the world is alive through the Nemesis System, allows your enemies to remember and to react to you. You are not cutting your way through generic cannon fodder and every fight matters.

Second, the way we handle death is different because when you resurrect, time has moved forward. Death doesn’t mean you have to rinse and repeat the same experience, it opens up new opportunities. Also, the living world is very dynamic, with the enemies and the wildlife reacting to each other so it’s constantly surprising. Then on top of that you have side quests, exploration, challenges and of course the main story.”

Shadow of Mordor is coming to old and new consoles at the end of September, and PC in early October.

Last Updated: August 27, 2014

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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