Blind-siding many, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor has raised quite a few eye-brows. Not just because it is a different angle on what we have come to expect from a Lord of the Rings game, or LotR in general, but also because it looks remarkably like Assassin’s Creed. Free-running across rooftops as a hooded figure, leaping onto enemies and dashing away does sound a lot like Ubisoft’s landmark series, but it also looks like it as well. Using some of the same assets created for the Assassin’s Creed series, Monolith Productions must have known that they would have been compared to the long-running franchise.
With this comes the opportunity to learn from its mistakes. With only minor changes coming through annual iterations, Ubisoft have painted themselves into a corner by having consumers want change, while also expecting the next game in the series every November. Monolith have the ability to take their time, and figure out ways in which to improve the formula, effectively out-Assassinating Assassin’s Creed. Here are a few ways that Middle-Earth: Shadows of Mordor may become a better game:
- It fixes the combat
Combat has never been part of Assassin’s Creed’s strengths. It is shallow, repetitive, and becomes a case of false difficulty during the final portion of every game. After five core games, it simply hasn’t moved on past attack, attack, counter-attack. We may have been given a few more pistols, but from kill 1 to kill 100000, nothing will be different apart from how long it takes for you to kill them. No new tactics, no new fighting styles, just the same hidden-blade and sword.
As Monolith is owned by Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment, they have a degree of access to the Batman: Arkham series. As seen in the alpha gameplay trailer, fights appear to be a mix of Batman style punch-ups and a small quantity of quick-time events. While the QTE’s are a bit of a disappointment, used correctly, the Arkham series combat mechanics could make fights more engaging. With enough thought, they should be able to change it to their needs and make it their own thing. With access to wraith powers, combat should evolve as you unlock new abilities, much like Batman when he acquires new gadgets.
On top of this, facing off against the forces of evil inside Mordor opens up the possibility to an array of enemy types. Orcs, trolls, Wargs, and anything else that lies hidden away could break up normal combat, requiring differing approaches. This also opens the door to boss fights, something the Arkham series wasn’t fantastic at. Between the use of wraith powers, free-running, and new combat mechanics, Monolith should be able to pull out more than a few surprises while fighting little green men…things.
- Not tied down by story burdens
Over time the Assassin’s Creed lore has become almost unwieldy. Contradicting itself on more than a few occasions, Ubisoft are tied into story dealing with duality. With no end in sight for the series futuristic tale, we may be in for an even longer haul as we wait for the grand wrap-up, something that many are getting tired off as we get strung along for just one more title. It is also somewhat tied down by actual history, meaning that we may never see a Kraken battle in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. We can always dream though.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor has no such story obligations. Yes, it is part of the Lord of the Rings universe, but there is a great amount of wiggle-room for side-stories. There have been a good number of games which seem to have little trouble fitting themselves into the greater narrative about Middle-Earth. This means no silliness about Abstergo, no present day love interest moments, and no distractions from wreaking havoc around Mordor itself. It is free to tell the story it wants, away from actual historical events. Given the nature of the universe it inhabits, it could get pretty damn fantastical about it too.
- Actual stealth
Given that Talion is a stranger in a strange land, he will have to use a rather low-key approach. Humans aren’t too welcome in the lands of Sauron after all, and running around willy-nilly is a great way to get noticed fast. Because of this, Monolith appears to be implementing a proper stealth system.
Sprinting across rooftops is generally a pretty noticeable thing, but certain breaks in reality are necessary to create something that isn’t frustrating as all hell. However, it does seem that Shadow of Mordor enforces both types of approach. AOE attacks encourage a mass-murdering madman style of play, where as the teleport kill appears like it was created for the stealthy. The ability to crouch, move silently, and create distractions takestealth gameplay well beyond where Assassin’s Creed is with it right now.
He may not be Sam Fisher or Solid Snake, but it seems leaps and bounds above Ezio’s smoke bombs, and Edward’s bush antics.
- Engaging World
You get to explore Mordor. Pirates are one thing, but exploring the seat of power of one of fantasy’s most evil figures is another. Apart from a few choice moments, not much is really known about what lies beyond those large, black gates. We all know about Mt. Doom, but what about Nurn, Gorgoroth, and Lithlan?
Being around the same size as other LotR kingdoms, there should be a lot to see and do around this dark realm. Hopefully it will have a bit more colour than what we have seen so far, but apart from that, it seems like a fantastic way to see more of Tolkien’s world.
Monolith will also hopefully make it easy to traverse and give is reason to explore it. Don’t make us collect feathers and we should be golden, but don’t go as overboard as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Having six different things to run after for vague rewards is a shallow way to make me want to see what’s over the next hillside.
Apart from super-human stamina, what makes the Assassins special? Not much. They can kill and hide in shrubbery, so Shadow of Mordor have the order beat on this front. Possessed by a Wraith spirit, Talion is given a handful of new abilities. Confirmed to be unlocked through experience gain, these should help break-up combat, or at least add new layers to it as we progress.
Not much has really been shown about these yet, apart from an AOE landing attack, a teleport assassination, and the ability to slow down time as you aim a bow. I don’t expect Monolith to tip their whole hand just yet, but I would like to get a taste of what types of powers we will be able to use. Will they all be combat focused, or will a few help with sneaking about and travel? We will have to wait and see, but hopefully Talion will develop in a few ways Assassin’s Creed hasn’t thought up yet.
This is mostly conjecture and a few ideas right now. Apart from a gameplay trailer and previews, not much is known about Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor just yet. If the final product is meant to be as close to Assassin’s Creed as it seems, then hopefully Monolith will learn from the mistakes of Ubisoft and listen to a few of the ideas that Assassin’s Creed fans want, mixed in with their own ideas and concepts.