It took me more than 80 hours to finish Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. And now Warner Bros. and developer Monolith Productions say the sequel, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, will be a much larger video game.
This time, instead of fighting scattered orc clans, the ranger Talion, now known as the Bright Lord, will harness an orc army to fight against the Dark Lord, Sauron, in this tale. The story is set in the 60 years between the events of The Hobbit and start of The Lord of the Rings in the Third Age of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
The game comes out on the consoles and the PC on August 22, and hopefully too many other lengthy games won’t come out around the same time. Mike Minotti and I saw a preview of the game at an event at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last week. I both cringe and delight in the fact that it’s going to take a long time before I see this game’s credits rolling by at the end.
“The way to think about it is that the game in general is an order of magnitude bigger across multiple axes,” said Philip Straub, art director for the game at Monolith, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We’re still tuning and refining, so we don’t have a number as to how many hours it’ll take. But it’s quite a bit larger. I think playthroughs are going to be pretty extensive. And then of course it just depends on how you interact with the game.”
As a fan, I like the idea of deeper and bigger games. But I don’t have a ton of time to play, and these open-world developers are trying to monopolize my playing time. As another example, Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon Wildlands debuted this week. In the game, you have four elite soldiers who have to bring down a cartel in the country of Bolivia. There are 21 huge provinces in the game, with 26 boss characters, and an open world that pretty much allows you to do anything you want. That game could easily take 50 to 100 hours to play, depending on your play style. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is also a huge, open-world game that I’ve only begun to explore.
And if the original Shadows of Mordor is any guide, it could take hundreds of hours to finish Shadow of War, an open world third-person action role-playing game. I hope they are doing this very deliberately, as I really don’t want to play a long game and find out that it should really be a short game. I take solace in the fact that Monolith has only been working on this for around three years, since the last game came out.
In the previous game, you had to defeat war chiefs who were heading inconsequential orc clans scattered throughout nondescript places in Mordor. But now the game terrain covers some important places, like Minas Morgul, Osgiliath, Cirith Ungol, and, of course, The Dark Tower and Mount Doom. You’ll have to gather a substantial army to take on those mighty fortresses of Mordor. That is going to be quite time consuming.
And the Nemesis System is more complicated as well. Each enemy fortress has a hierarchy of leaders. You have to take out the lower chiefs at first, using some of them as spies or traitors to undermine their bosses, and you’ll eventually get to the overlords who run the fortresses. In the video below, you can see Talion use one of the captains as a spy to infiltrate the enemy’s ranks and defeat the multiple leaders. When you take these enemies on one at a time, conquering all of Mordor seems a daunting task.
When you attack a fortress, as you see in the video, the battle plays out in multiple stages. First, you have to break into the gate, take the walls, and get past each war chief. Then you break into the inner walls and eventually do battle with the overlord, who casts a unique pallor on the throne room. Once again, I am wondering how many of these overlords I’m going to have to take down in single combat before I get a glimpse of the really bad guys, the Nazgul, or even Sauron.
Now the thing about this particular story is that you could spend hundreds of hours playing the game, and you know how it’s going to end. Fans of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s masterpiece trilogy, know that Sauron is the great evil of the Third Age. Talion, the Bright Lord, doesn’t appear in The Lord of the Rings at all. He’s a creation of the talented writers at Monolith. So we know that the Bright Lord’s story doesn’t end well, particularly if his nemesis survives.
I’m guessing that Monolith and Warner Bros. are smart enough to make a three-game trilogy out of Talion’s story. That means that we probably won’t have a resolution at the end of this game. Can we take that, after playing for such a long time? I guess we’ll have to.
But at the end of this theoretical trilogy, I have to believe that the Bright Lord’s story is going to end in tragedy, a mere footnote among many in the tales of Middle-earth. I’m also almost certain that the clever writers and designers at Monolith are going to keep us entertained during all of that time it takes to get to that ending.
In Mordor, I loved how the writers took one of the minor historical figures of The Lord of the Rings, Celebrimbor, and slowly revealed that he was the wraith, or ghost, who became the companion of Talion, a former captain of Gondor. During life, Celebrimbor was formerly a great master smith among the elves, and he created the Rings of Power during the Second Age. He was deceived by Sauron, who created the One Ring in Mordor to rule all of the other rings. The presence of Celebrimbor told us that Talion’s story wasn’t just about a mere ranger. Rather, his fate was tied to that of the One Ring in some way.
This storyline was one of the most interesting I’ve seen in a Lord of the Rings game, and it was reminiscent of the story of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, which explained the rise of the Rebellion. It is also reminiscent of the story of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It is fascinating that these in-between stories, which take place between some very epic events, can also be epic in their own right.
I find it very interesting that we’re going to (quite possibly) play a game trilogy here that could last hundreds of hours, but in the vast scheme of things in terms of The Lord of the Rings canon, the Talion storyline is going to be a minor blip, not worthy of being mentioned as part of Middle-earth’s epic history at all.