It isn’t surprising that Warner Bros. and Monolith Productions plan to return to Tolkien’s sinister lands in Middle-earth: Shadow of War, but the game is coming along fast. We didn’t know the game even existed coming into 2017, and now it’s on track to launch in October 2017. The first game in the franchise, Shadow of Mordor, was an unexpected delight, so it’s safe to say that expectations run high for the sequel. Monolith offered up a lengthy gameplay trailer at the Game Developers Conference, which showed us that the world is even darker and more gruesomely violent and grim than before. Here’s everything we know so far about Shadow of War.
Following up on the GDC gameplay trailer at the top of the page, Monolith revealed a bit more about Shadow of War‘s narrative with the above story trailer, although many details are still shrouded in mystery. Protagonist Talion will still host Celebrimbor, the elven Wraith that revived him from the dead after Talion and his family were slaughtered by the Black Hand of Sauron.
Shadow of War kicks off directly after the events of Shadow of Mordor, which ends with Talion announcing his intentions to forge a new Ring of Power. From the trailer, it seems he’s followed through on the decision, giving him tremendous strength as he eyes taking down Mordor from within. Using the ring, it seems Talion can draw and recruit large swaths of Sauron’s army to fight against him. The scope of the conflict has expanded since the last game, as Talion will also be squaring off against the Nazgûl ringwraiths (“all of them,” as Sauron emphasizes), a powerful, dark-haired spider woman, and a giant, armored balrog. From the looks of it, he may even square off against Sauron himself and finally avenge his slain family. He will also have a host of new allies at his side, including what look to be some humans and elves alongside the hordes of orcs he will be recruiting for the game’s primary loop.
We’re still a far cry from the events of Lord of the Rings, which take place 60 years later, but Monolith has kept the well-known events of Tolkien’s trilogy in mind.
Speaking with Wired, studio head Kevin Stephens said, “It’s a lot like Rogue One — we know the beginning of the next story, so we want to make sure our story fits without feeling arbitrary or contrived.” He also remarked that Shadow of War has both large- and small-scale stories to tell, and that the team has striven to create a “more satisfying conclusion” with the sequel.
What’s so funny?
The Lord of the Rings franchise, and particularly the Hobbit movies, haven’t shied away from humor. Monolith appears to be leaning into that with the introduction of a nemesis known as “The Agonizer” in Shadow of War. He’s voice by comedian Kumail Nanjiani, best known for his role on Silicon Valley, his film The Big Sick, as well as his role in Mass Effect: Andromeda as the high-strung Salarian Jarun Tann.
“I am going to have your head,” the Agonizer says to Talion in the trailer. “I don’t know what I’ll do with it when I have it, but I’ll have it.”
Nanjiani describes his character as something of a wannabe who “overthinks everything” before he can actually put his evil plans into action.
“I am going to put your head on a pike,” the Agonizer proclaims. “Which I think is another word for spear. They may be slightly different. I’m not sure. But anyway, it sounds better than spear, so, yeah. Head on a pike!”
The Agonizer will have some tough competition for fan-favorite Orc, however. Bruz the Chopper, the wise-cracking warmonger from Down Under shown at E3 2017, has already become something of a fan favorite thanks to the witticisms he spouts before battle.
The most intriguing aspect of Shadow of Mordor was the game’s Nemesis system, which asked players to make choices with regards to how they interact with Sauron’s henchmen. How you dealt with nemeses, from slaying them to leaving them be, affected how they engaged you in later missions. The nemeses were randomly generated, meaning that each playthrough was unique. However, interactions with nemeses didn’t have wide-ranging effects on the world around you, as the adversarial relationships you forged remained between you and your nemeses.
The Nemesis system will be expanded upon in Shadow of War. After the gameplay trailer at GDC, Monolith VP of Creative Michael De Plater spoke on the updated system.
“We want to take that idea of unique personal content and expand not just to the enemies, but to the world itself,” he said.
Sauron’s control over nemeses will be pervasive with “Nemesis Fortresses,” enemy bases scattered throughout Middle Earth possessed by unique personality traits. When you enter one of these strongholds, be prepared to deal with a whole cast of enemies injected with Sauron’s control, rather than just a single hitman beckoned to do his bidding. Interestingly, there’s intra-species politics as play. For example, not all groups of orcs get along with one another, which makes for a dynamic array of creatures across each of the fortresses and surrounding areas.
Additionally, and more significantly, the Nemesis system won’t simply be implemented for revenge. This time around, your companions and the alliances you forge will be affected by the system. Throughout your travels, you can choose to befriend nemeses, recruit them to your army, and watch as they help you in battle. In the preview, we saw two of Talion’s allies, the Marauder Beast Mount and the “Demolisher” join up as a devastating battering ram. After you conquer a fortress, you can reward one of your allies with control of the area. When you install a new leader, the personality of the fortress and surrounding area quickly begins to change.
There are also options that fall in between slaughtering and making friends. You can choose to embarrass a nemesis, for instance, but it seems as if the nemesis will remember your scorn, and come back for you with a vengeance later on.
All told, from what we’ve seen of the revamped Nemesis system, Monolith is making sure that all of your actions have consequences. The added scope of the mechanic will make each player’s experience decidedly different.
The end is just the beginning
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor didn’t have very much content for players to do after completing the main story, but this won’t be the case in Shadow of War. Once you complete the campaign, you’ll be able to complete new missions called “Shadow Wars,” and it’s only once these are completed that you’ll be able to see the game’s “true” ending, which connects the events of the games to the Lord of the Rings books and films.
According to Eurogamer, these missions see Talion and his army in control of several key fortresses in Mordor, and Sauron’s army has launched an assault to gain control. Unlike the infiltration and attack missions of the campaign, Shadow Wars will see Talion defending the fortresses. Fail a mission, and Sauron will regain control of a fortress and take its orc Overlord hostage, which will require Talion to launch a rescue mission.
As you can see from the gameplay video, you’ll be able to fortify the fortress much like you would in a tower defense game, with stronger walls that will be more resistant to attacks. Enemies come in waves, but they don’t hold back until a previous group of enemies had been killed. Take too long, and you can be overrun.
But it will be the end for Talion
Since Shadow Wars missions seek to connect the events of the games to the books and movies, it’d be reasonable to wonder if Shadow of War will be the end for the Middle-earth games. While that remains to be seen, we do know for sure that Talion’s tale ends with Shadow of War.
In a video interview with Game Informer, de Plater said Shadow of War was designed as a stand-alone experience for gamers, but that the studio also wanted to connect the game to Lord of the Rings lore in a final way. He specifically mentioned Sauron, and how he would like for players to learn more about how the villain became the dastardly figure we read about in the novels and watched in the trilogy. He also mentioned Gondor and the Eye of Sauron as well-known aspects that could receive some more attention and backstory.
Interestingly, when asked if Talion’s story will be a tragedy, de Plater nodded back to Tolkien’s opinion that no story can be finished without a fall. We won’t know whether that means Talion dies until Shadow of War launches. If Warner Bros. and Monolith Productions return to Tolkien’s world, though, Talion won’t be along for the ride.
Here come the microtransactions
Shadow of War will introduce an in-game store called the Market, which will introduce real money microtransactions. According to a Monolith forum post, “An important aspect of the Nemesis System now comes in forging, customizing and leading your own army of unique Orc followers against the fortresses of Mordor.” Essentially, items purchased at the Market will help users to take greater control of the Nemesis experience.
Players can purchase three categories of items at the store, either with a currency found in-game called Mirian, or “Gold,” which is purchased with real money.
- Loot Chests will drop random weapons and army and each piece will be graded by rarity. Armor and weapons purchased in the Market will modify Talion’s skill set. XP boosts can also be found in Loot Chests, which allow Talion to increase his level quicker.
- War Chests contain additional Orc followers to assist your end goal of establishing an army of followers. Orcs, like weapons and armor, will be graded based on rarity. Users will also have the chance to customize and level up Talion’s Orcs through Training Orders, which can be found randomly in War Chests.
- Consumables, such as XP Boosts, are also available a la carte in the market.
You can also purchase bundles, which offer combinations of all three, at a discount.
Monolith stressed that players will not need to spend real money to get any particular item from the Market. Mirian can be acquired from Treasure Orcs, by destroying gear, and by destroying Orc followers (which are then turned into gear which can be mined for Mirian). Mirian can also be found throughout Talion’s adventure in stashes. Players will also earn a limited amount of Gold in-game through designated community events, though it exists mostly as a separate, real money currency.