Last Monday was the Canadian Launch of Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. This is the sequel to the incredibly successful Shadow of Mordor which was released in 2014.
Full disclosure, I haven’t played Shadow of Mordor… and even though I grew up loving the idea of Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, all my attempts to read Tolkien’s books have resulted in mental paralysis within a few dozen pages. Despite this, it never stopped me from buying more books because I fundamentally supported the world and imagination it inspired in me. Similarly, my experiences with Peter Jackson’s interpretations of the legendary material, suffered similar results. I DID, with my fellow media peers (yes, I consider myself press when it serves me), get hands-on time with Shadow of War at the launch event.
This is not particularly a game review because I am not your best source for that. With that said, however, as games go, it is beautifully executed with lots of really subtle design details that make it worthy to look at for extended periods.
In general, launching new products is its own kind of war... and putting out a sequel comes with particular challenges.
Though it makes total sense for a company to invest in a known property, it’s a balancing act when attempting to make something that is to repeat or exceed prior success. You are playing with a lot of external variables that can also weigh in and adversely impact those rudimentary goals. Off the top of my head, I think of things like audience fatigue, the ebb and flow of fashion, too much of the same, getting beaten by something fresh and novel, or just plain timing.
Well, The whole Tolkien mythos has been a consistent money-maker AND Monolith, it would seem, has invested effort into a long-term play with the ‘Nemesis System’ to make more unique player experiences. Their accolades with the original Shadow of Mordor garnered more than 50 industry awards, including recognition for innovation.
Hmm… what is the “Nemesis System”?
According to the internet, Nemesis System is:
"Every enemy players face is a unique individual, differentiated by their personality, strengths and weaknesses. These enemies are shaped by their encounters with the player to create personal arch-enemies who are unique to every game play session. Players must out think each distinctively different enemy they encounter to infiltrate the ranks and dominate within the dynamic world that remembers and adapts to their actions and choices. Every enemy in the game has their own name, rank, and memory. These enemies will continue to do their own jobs and tasks even when they're off screen; the game progresses in real time even if you do not interfere, and as such an enemy you meet in one game play session may suddenly have achieved a higher rank the next time you meet him. If the player does not kill an enemy in an encounter, this enemy will remember the player and change their tactics and conversations based on the encounter. The enemy will also grow more powerful and learn new immunities. Killing them will also net the player more experience points."
Okay, that sounds pretty fascinating.
Andy Salisbury, the Monolith spokesperson who flew in from Seattle had this to say: “ Nemesis at its core is the game play aspect. No two players have the same play through, ever. As we moved forward in Shadow of War we wanted to double down on that. We went further with new orc tribes, which are sub cultures in Mordor; a member of the Feral tribe would speak to their personality and combat styles; Dark Tribe is more focused on dark arts and dabble in necromancy; and Machine tribe pop these smoke stacks to fire the industries of Mordor.”
I was curious how the team at Monolith approached making a follow-up title.
Andy said, "The success of Shadow of Mordor took us off guard. It’s so incredible because we put so much time in and care so much about it.” He prouder added “We even have a Tolkien scholar on staff, she actually has a degree in it.” Which makes sense for the amount of lore and crazy detail that Tolkien generated in his lifetime.
"It’s was a big opportunity,”, he continued, “So we wanted to make smart decisions and build upon everything we thought was best of Shadow of Mordor."
"The day we finished Shadow of Mordor, we started working on Shadow of war. The team was excited on how it was so well received, but going one step further and building on what we had done.We had a clear idea of where to focus attention.
"Monolith are consistently cross disciplined. Members all get together in a room - producers, writers, animators, designers, UI team, every member of character and cinematic team - helping to build it as a group."
I asked Andy if his role was an important asset to the Product Management team. His answer was pretty perfect, “I’m sure I want to think so, but I definitely know they had such a strong vision for what we were doing, so even though knowing what the fans are thinking and what they are up to is part of the process, they built on it the most natural way they could.”
It was interesting to have Andy represent Monolith and the game from a community perspective. In many businesses, community is the core to success… finding frantic, loyal subjects… getting one going, growing it, and maintaining as long as you can is how the game is played.
I would like to believe that there is some kind of magic when you have earned the accolades of the masses, and yet it is a delicate beehive collecting pollen and making honey; with all the related metaphors you can think of from nature, beekeepers, to colony collapse disorder.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War lookS to be a promising extension for Monolith and WB... In stores October 10.
Good times were had! So Thanks to #WBGamesCanada, LexPR, and all the games peeps.