After a recent leak, Warner Bros. have officially announced Middle-earth: Shadow of War, the sequel to Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. We were lucky enough to attend an exclusive preview event in which we were shown a brief Nemesis Fortress Assault that took place in Seregost, located in central-northern Mordor.
If you somehow managed to miss the announcement and teaser trailer, Shadow of War welcomes the return of undead Gondorian Ranger, Talion and ancient wraith Celebrimbor who are seen forging a new Ring of Power inside Mount Doom. Players will have the opportunity to wield the new Ring in their efforts to confront and defeat fearsome enemies, including Sauron and his Nazgul, in a huge battle for Middle-earth. I saw Talion use a few of the abilities granted by the Ring, including one which enables him to dominate his enemies. Players will be able to send their followers off to hunt down their enemies, recruit them as a bodyguard or a spy, train them up to make them stronger, or even sacrifice them for better loot.
Furthermore, developer Monolith Productions will be extending the Nemesis System beyond just the characters in the game so that it impacts the rest of the world. As a result, each region is controlled by a fortress which can be customised by and adapted to the enemies that are controlling it. For example, at one point in the battle, the enemies poured an oil-like substance out of the fortress onto Talion’s army and then set them alight. The Nemesis fortresses are led by Orc Overlords–a new, higher rank of enemy that rules over the War Chiefs that fans will be familiar with from Shadow of Mordor. Players can expect to see a lot of these new enemies as they represent some of the “ultimate bosses” that players will face as they continue to conquer parts of Mordor. These guys also happen to report directly to the Nazgul so you know they mean business.
Another new feature to consider is the notion of Orc Tribes. It appears as though Orc culture and society has been developed within the Nemesis System. For example, one Overlord belonged to the Feral Tribe which specialises in hunting, killing and taming wild creatures to use as part of their war efforts. This will vary depending on which characters you encounter, so each player is effectively being promised a more unique experience in this game.
In the demo, the Overlord that we were taking the fortress from was called Ur-Hakon the Dragon and he showcased another new feature in Shadow of War: the War Trolls. These enemies are massive brutes that will put up a pretty decent fight in their efforts to retain control over their fortresses. However, before battling it out with the Overlord, players will have to get past the War Chiefs who, again, will be unique for each person’s play-through. All of the Nemesis enemies will have a greater range of skills, abilities and tactics. For example, the Stormbringer that I saw had a cursed weapon which enables him to disable some of the powers of the new Ring. The Flame of War (who, as you may have guessed, specialises in fire weapons) can utilise his powers in combat as well as using them to defend the fortress. In this case, the enemies were firing fire arrows and flaming catapults along with pouring oil over the attacking army, as mentioned earlier. However, with the new Ring, players will be able to forge their own armies which means that they will be able to bring their own War Chiefs into the fray. If this doesn’t spell out organised chaos on the battlefield, I’m not sure what does.
One of the War Chiefs on the friendly side was Ragdug, who was mounted on an armoured creature. I believe that all the creatures in Shadow of War can be summoned and mounted, including the drakes (we are waiting for Monolith to confirm this for us). During the gameplay I saw a pretty cool scene where a drake engaged in battle with an enemy, and took a few hits before launching itself at the enemy’s throat. This was a nice addition and created a small break away from the main fight, in which Talion seemed to pick an enemy from the crowd and focus on them while nearby enemies stood around and waited their turn. Also on the attacking side was the Demolisher, who effectively assumed the role of a living battering ram. This character will certainly be useful for smashing through enemy defences as players storm each fortress.
Moreover, Shadow of War allows players to infiltrate enemy fortresses by sending in spies. Interestingly, this creates a whole new level of depth within the Nemesis System. In Shadow of Mordor, the Nemesis System was primarily fuelled by hatred, death and revenge however, it will now include more complex themes including loyalty, betrayal and even friendship. The gameplay that I watched showed a sniper-spy saving Talion’s life by taking out one of the War Chiefs with one swift headshot. More generally, spies will also enable players to sabotage the fort from the inside by planting explosives that will detonate while the siege is taking place.
In addition, Shadow of War will include a wider range of RPG features, including the ways in which players will be able to customise their combat skills and abilities along with an improved gear and loot system. Players will be able to craft and wear armour after defeating certain characters. This armour may grant players various perks that will help them to defeat the Overlord. Speaking of which, I was able to watch a fight between Talion and the Overlord of Seregost, Ur-Hakon the Dragon. Monolith have decided to customise each of the Throne rooms to complement the Overlords. In this case, Ur-Hakon the Dragon made his grand entrance by sending out a burst of flames from his weapon, setting parts of the floor on fire before leaping through the flames to start the battle.
After defeating the Overlord, players will unlock new missions that can be completed in that region. Other rewards are also granted at this time including money, experience, new gear and loot. More importantly, you’ll also gain followers which will strengthen your presence and you’ll now have a base of operations where you can prepare for Sauron’s counterattacks. For this to be possible, players will have to appoint a new War Chief to become the Overlord of that Fortress and depending on who they choose to appoint, the nature of the region will change to reflect that. After appointing an Overlord, the fortress can then be upgraded to build additional defences and appoint more War Chiefs.
Despite seeing less than half an hour’s worth of gameplay, I think Middle-earth: Shadow of War will appeal to a number of fans as Monolith appear to be directly addressing the teething problems that they encountered with Shadow of Mordor. For those that have not played the first game, I think this is still a convenient place for you to jump in. The Nemesis System was already an interesting concept and with Shadow of War building on this even more, it seems as though the developer is striving for a unique and more personalised experience for each player. With larger and more detailed maps, a way to forge your own army and a new Ring of power, there’s certainly a lot to look forward to here, not to mention the fact that you can ride drakes–which is badass, to be honest.