As the wave of next-gen promises begins to crash upon the gaming community, developers promising better graphics and faster processing are appearing at every turn. But these days it’s not enough to simply be a looker – you have to have a hook. The developers of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor have one sure to turn a few heads, and it isn’t the hit-or-miss Lord of the Rings fiction providing its backdrop.
Monolith may not have experience in a third-person, fantasy RPG setting, but the studio has certainly come up with an interesting twists on standard open world gameplay by giving the game’s villains every bit as much customization and detail as the hero. It’s a shame, then, that the developers have confirmed that those elements are the ones that will have to be dialed back for current-gen platforms.
It’s an understatement to say that the Lord of the Rings license hasn’t had as consistent a level of success in video games as it has on the big screen. So when Monolith first announced Shadow of Mordor, it was understandable to see them highlighting the game as a dark, mature, and previously-unexplored original tale told in Tolkien’s fiction. But it was the studio’s Nemesis System – promising to shape not just the story, but the villains themselves according to player decisions – that seemed the most compelling hook.
The developers later released a detailed walkthrough video showing how such an abstract idea would actually be put into practice. We would encourage any fan of RPGs to watch the video for themselves, but in short, the player will encounter several of Sauron’s ‘Black Captains’ throughout the campaign, free to leave scars, bad blood, and intimidation unique to each player’s strategy and decision-making.
Since few games have ever seemed to take the approach before, the Nemesis System seemed to offer a next-gen depth on a mechanical and storytelling level, not just a technical one. That seems to be truer than many may have thought, as Shadow of Mordor‘s design director Michael de Plante explained to IGN that the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game will show some differences when compared to their next-gen counterparts:
“We’re very focused on the PS4 and Xbox One… We’re focusing on the next-gen platforms, and then going to do whatever we can to get as much as possible on current-gen.
“To break it down, some of the stuff we’re pretty confident will still be very similar on current gen: the core mechanics, like combat, stealth, ranged and movements; the basic control and gameplay, that should all be really solid. What it won’t have is the same level of depth and variety and simulation within the ‘Nemesis system’.
“The story will be the same and the core gameplay will be the same, but [the 'Nemesis system' is] just so huge in terms of content, calculations and AI we’ll just have to try and get as much of it in as we can.”
Whether de Plater’s comments should be taken as good or bad news depends largely on whether a next-gen console sits on a particular reader’s shelf. The abundance of cross-generation games simply upgraded for Xbox One and PS4 won’t keep fans happy for long, so there will come a time when a warning that a current-gen version is significantly less inspired than next-gen will actually be seen as a positive.
The only question becomes exactly how much of the Nemesis Systems fundamentals the developers will be “get in” to current-gen (previous-gen?) console versions. There’s no question that the game looks visually interesting and mechanically sound enough to attract an audience on any platform, but if the Nemesis System is the team’s primary talking point, the issue of marketing a port which fails to capitalize on it can’t be overlooked – even more so when the game in question is strictly a singleplayer experience.
Since a release date has yet to be set for Shadow of Mordor, the problem of marketing to two different generations of consoles may have solved itself by the time it hits shelves. Whatever the case, the developers certainly have an interesting challenge on their hands; one sure to elate next-gen gamers, and give previous-gen owners pause.
What do you think of the director’s comments? Does the Nemesis System being truly realized only on next-gen make your purchase clear, or are you still waiting to be convinced this game will be worth a look?
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor will release for the PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
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