gamescom 2014: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Packs Secrets, Surprises, and Plenty of Gollum

Previous demonstrations of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor have focused on the dark fantasy action-adventure’s ambitious Nemesis system and stretching sandbox world. And while the ability to mold and manipulate enemy encounters across the Lord of the Rings saga’s wide-open Mordor is reason enough to don the armor of the title’s Ranger/Wraith dual-protagonist, we’ve been as anxious as a One Ring-obsessed Gollum to take a peek down the game’s narrative path. Thankfully, a recent gamescom 2014 presentation provided just that, showcasing a satisfying chunk of a story mission titled “The One Truth.”

Beginning with a polished cinematic that wouldn’t look out of place among Peter Jackson’s Tolkien-based blockbusters, we learned that Gollum – with every ounce of his “
My precious”-repeating charm – was after a pretty important artifact. With the setup complete, aforementioned Ranger/Wraith Talion set off to catch the corrupted little creep before he could get his greedy mitts on the goods. Utilizing one of his powers (earned when he was reluctantly resurrected by a spirit after being killed at the Black Gate), Talion was able to see into the Wraith world. With this enhanced vision activated, he spotted Gollum’s tracks – represented by glowing blue footprints – which happened to lead right into the heart of a Graug’s lair.

Upon getting a glimpse of the ugly giant in all its teeth-baring glory, Talion decided not to tango with the monster just yet. Instead, he attracted some lesser creatures, Ghuls, by shooting a baited arrow near their den. Soon enough, the hungry scavengers became an appetizing snack for the Graug; with the troll-like titan distracted by his still-living lunch, Talion was able to sneak past the carnage and continue tailing Gollum.

His escape was short-lived, however, as the echoing roars and cavern-rumbling footfalls in his wake suggested that the lumbering monster was still hungry – and in hot pursuit. With the gap rapidly closing between predator and prey, Talion hauled hide through some narrow caverns that his pursuer couldn’t cram its mountain-like frame through. Without the beast breathing down his neck, Talion took another peek into the Wraith world and discovered a relic dubbed the Serpentine Blade. The item wasn’t Talion’s ultimate objective, but, as Design Director Michael de Plater explained, searching for such items results in players being rewarded with secrets, mysteries, and other narrative-enriching elements. In this case, the blade was accompanied by script that shed some light on Orc society.

After the mini Middle-earth history lesson, Talion continued to explore the depths of the lair, eventually uncovering what he came for. A lengthy cinematic revealed that the Ranger’s spirit Wraith counterpart, Celebrimbor, was a legendary elf and master smith of the Second Age, who actually forged the Rings of Power alongside franchise arch-baddie Sauron. Or, as de Plater called him, “One of the most important figures in the history of Middle-earth.”

As we absorbed that meaty narrative nugget, the Graug showed up to crash the party. Discovering that bit of intel on Talion and Celebrimbor, however, imbued our antihero with a new Wraith power that could be used to flee the aggressor’s grip. The Shadow Strike ability allows Talion to warp to any enemies he targets with his bow. While we imagine the skill would be perfect for unleashing surprise attacks on unsuspecting foes, the player exploited its power to essentially pinball from one baddie to another until he escaped the cave.

Our demo closed with another cinema-rivaling performance from Gollum, who tried to convince Talion and Celebrimbor what a great guy Sauron was. De Plater, who reminded us that
Shadow of Mordor unfolds “immediately after the story of the Hobbit… and many decades before the The Lord of the Rings,” promised many more surprises for Tolkien enthusiasts and first-time Middle-earth tourists alike. Even cooler, he stated that fan-favorite, sniveling sycophant Gollum plays a key role in the story.

Based on the ability to bend baddies to our will with the Nemesis system and tear up Middle-earth from behind both Wraith and Ranger powers,
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was already among our most anticipated titles of the year. With the promise of an authentic, universe-expanding story, though, it’s shaping up to be the one Lord of the Rings game to rule them all.