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Lord of the Rings: Shadow of Mordor preview: Killer of orcs, controller of minds

Hayden Dingman | Sept. 1, 2014
Lords of the Rings: Shadow of Mordor doesn't truly feel like Lord of the Rings, but the lore is there and it's still a blast to play.

middleearthshadowofmordor caragorriding screenshot

"You can either kill him or mind-control him," says the handler watching over my shoulder as I play Lord of the Rings: Shadow of Mordor. I'm staring down at Kaka the Legend, an orc war chief, as he begs for his life.

This is the same Kaka the Legend who murdered fifteen of my best men. It's the same Kaka the Legend who taunted me on the battlefield, and then killed me with a blow from behind. It's the same Kaka the Legend who ran away from our next encounter like a coward.

I chased him, I knocked him down, and here we are--me, a man of the resplendent White City of Gondor, towering over this bleeding uruk leader, his fellow orcs scattered about at odd angles where they fell to my sword.

I kill him.

Lord of the Rings-ish

I entered my Shadow of Mordor demo with a substantial amount of skepticism. I'd seen the game's first two trailers and, well, it didn't look like Lord of the Rings. At all. I wouldn't say I'm the biggest Lord of the Rings fan. I don't check up on the lore religiously or anything. My dad did hand the books to me when I was ten, though, and I've read The Hobbit, the trilogy, and even The Silmarillion multiple times.

And you know what? Even after playing Shadow of Mordor, there's still a bit of that doubt.

It certainly looks like Lord of the Rings. Monolith has brought back the grim, greyish-green aesthetic of Peter Jackson's original "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, eschewing the hyper-realistic colors of "The Hobbit." The orcs look like orcs, Mordor looks like Mordor, and the main character even has that holier-than-thou Gondorian disposition. Plus the menus use what I can only think of as "the Lord of the Rings font."

What have we learned from decades of movie tie-in games though, if not to be wary of "matching the aesthetic"? (I'm looking at you, Aliens: Colonial Marines and--with utter hatred--Lost: Via Domus.)

Those initial two trailers made it seem like Monolith and/or WB had a fantastic idea for an Assassin's Creed-style game and then hammered the Lord of the Rings license over the top of it. After playing an hour or so of the game I can say that it still seems that way, but it's far less egregious than I thought.

For one, the team at Monolith seems to really respect the Lord of the Rings license. One of the leads on the project was name-dropping all sorts of B- and C-tier characters during our initial presentation--Celebrimbor this and Isildur that and "Oh, there's this one part of the Lord of the Rings appendices where..."


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