In the ‘Shadow’

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In the ‘Shadow’

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Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment is set to do it again, it appears. On Aug. 22, the company will be releasing the video game “Middle Earth: Shadow of War,” a sequel to 2014’s wildly successful “Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor” (rated M), the most successful Tolkien-based game ever (sorry, diehard fans of “Return of the King” on PlayStation 2). A gameplay preview was released on March 8, but first, a little catching up is in order.

“Shadow of Mordor” is set in the sixty-year interim between “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” and is meant to explain the finer details of how the Dark Lord Sauron, the main antagonist of the series, returned to power in Mordor. The plot revolves around a Gondor Ranger named Talion whose family is killed by one of Sauron’s captains, the Black Hand, who intended to use them to summon the wraith of Celebrimbor, an Elf Lord who was manipulated by Sauron into forging the nineteen Rings of Power, by which Sauron sought to control the races of Middle-Earth via his own One Ring. Instead, Celebrimbor merges with Talion and revives him, and relays the story of how Celebrimbor tried to steal the One Ring but failed. After winning the loyalty of several notable allies, including an outcast Ranger named Hirgon and the female warrior Lithariel of the pirate kingdom of Nurn, Talion eventually defeats the Black Hand and declares his intention to create a new Ring of Power to rival Sauron’s own.

“Shadow of Mordor” won Game of the Year in 2015, and rightfully so; it adhered very much to the established book and film canon of the Tolkien universe, included stunning visuals, utilized a unique soundtrack composed of waterphones and made use of a fluid gameplay reminiscent of the “Batman: Arkham” series. “Shadow of Mordor” was also revolutionary for its Nemesis system, in which players could track individual Uruks (described as “nastier Orcs”) who either killed or escaped the player, and fight them after they were promoted to captains. Defeating these Uruks helped the player upgrade, but being killed by them would result in them getting stronger. However, the game’s online server notified players’ friends of their deaths, and friends could carry out Vendetta missions to kill the Uruks, which gave rewards to both parties. Also, players could brand Uruks and interrogate them for information about the weaknesses of captains, and even convert them to their side.

The gameplay footage of “Shadow of War” gives a tantalizing glimpse into the alpha gameplay (usually a rough cut) of the game. The player is taken to an attack behind enemy lines on the “terror-fortress” of Seregost. The gameplay footage is very informative, giving briefings on each enemy and resource at each side’s disposal. The player can switch between different weapons, usually specific to either Talion or Celebrimbor’s wraith, as well as use the two characters simultaneously mid-combat. A significant revision of the Nemesis system is that the player’s computer-controlled allies are more in control of their own destinies, being able to choose how to help or harm Talion, as opposed to the simplistic bloodshed-driven narrative of “Shadow of Mordor.” Additionally, all major enemies are unique to each player’s region and can customize their own combat arenas.

New powers granted by the new Ring give the player the ability to dominate beasts and convert or depower terrified enemies. Taking all the forts in a region gives the player more experience, loot, resources and followers, as well as a base to use for training new forces. After a victory, one of the followers who aided in the attack must be appointed the new overlord of a fortress, which adds different fortresses for each player in the Nemesis system, as each ally has unique abilities to aid in the war against Sauron. This adds even more options for the story’s procession than the previous game allowed. As of yet, the game is only available for pre-order on the Xbox One and comes in three editions, with an optional DLC pack available.

Overall, the game looks fantastic for the alpha stage, and is as graphically stunning as “Shadow of Mordor,” with the same fluid gameplay appearing to be present, and the violence as bloodily realistic, right down to Orcs’ blood being black. If my article wasn’t spoiler-ridden enough or made the game even more appealing, check out the footage at shadowofwar.com.

“Shadow of War” will not only appeal to obsessed Middle-Earth fans, but also fans of fantasy, RPGs and combat games in general. It is a fitting expansion to its universe, and hopefully a worthy successor to “Shadow of War.”