We went behind closed doors to check out a live demo of the upcoming The Hobbit-Lord of the Rings mid-quel Shadow of Mordor. Comparisons to both Warner's Arkham series and Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed immediately come to mind when first viewing the game, especially when focusing on the stealth mechanics, but it turns out this is one single playstyle of many that your character can exploit.
Your character is a be-cloaked gritty beard-man who is certainly not named Aragorn. He may not be the most imaginative leading man in the world, but your abilities as this character make for some fairly unique gameplay.
We focused on the Nemesis system, where you go behind enemy lines to target the creatures that lead Sauron's army. Your primary ability in this game is to use your wraith powers to possess other characters. Potential targets include the minions of a warlord, through whom you gather intelligence about their bosses' weaknesses, as well as take them on as your wards in battle. Taking control of a second-in-command allows you to stage a rebellion against the warlord and if you are successful, you have a man on the inside of Sauron's army.
After viewing the demo, I took this quest for a spin so we could see just how this works in reality. Foes are randomised, so I found myself taking on a new and particularly handsome individual who was covered in bones as well as what appears to be a viscous substance. As I learned from my inside men, he had a great fear of betrayal – something I can relate to – but that he also enjoys displays of loyalty from his men.
After taking a moment to stealthily climb some walls in true assassin style, I opted instead to take a less subtle route and mind-control a Grog, one of those rowdy monster fellows, and eat the heads of my enemies. Hopping off my noble steed for a moment I was able to chew through enemies with melee combat that is reminiscent of recent Batman Arkham games.
Naturally I failed my quest by having my chosen minion champion get torn to pieces by a much stronger warlord, but as a result I was able to see how the system adapts, watching minions roll up the ranks and take on their illustrious new titles. Working out just which leader to take down is a delicate balance. You don't want one too weak as he won't be able to hold his own against the other warlords, but if you take on one too difficult then you may find yourself back at square one, with an even more vicious foe bolstered by hubris from his victory.
Life can be tricky in Middle-earth these days – no more second-breakfasts, songs, or throwing rings in holes for us. Instead we find ourselves in a nasty psychic turf war, but luckily we have swords and head-eating monsters to keep us company.
Expectations are riding fairly high on Shadow of Mordor, but it looks like there is enough of a twist on standard third-person Assassin's Creed-style gameplay to make it a unique title. As a person who enjoys Lord of the Rings but who isn't the most up to snuff on the lore, what I've seen so far makes me definitely keen to give it a spin upon release.