Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor pre-alpha trailer decapitates orcs and Tolkien lore

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

The Lord of the Rings trilogy has its fair share of resurrection tales, chief being that of good ol’ Gandalf. Resurrection is the start of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, too. Protagonist Talion is killed by Sauron’s minions and brought back to life to seek his revenge, now imbued with a wraith spirit, ala the Nazgul. And whilst it all seems to fit together in the lore of Tolkien’s books, you can’t help feel that there’s something not quite right about this story of revenge. Could you really become a wraith and maintain your flesh body, not to mention your sanity?

Still, if you can push that aside and embrace a great dose of slo-mo, gore-drenched swordplay, Shadow of Mordor could actually prove an entertaining romp through fantasy’s most beloved world. 

The eight-minute pre-alpha walkthrough shows Talion stalking prey through an open-world Middle-earth. Monolith have developed the ‘Nemesis’ system for the game, which sees you head out on assassination missions against a selection of targets. Rather than being pre-scripted though, each Uruk on your hit list has a randomly created backstory and is unique to each play through. They also remember prior encounters with Talion, so should you strike them in the face but fail to kill them, they’ll be holding their new scar against you the next time you face off.

Combat looks to owe a massive debt to the Batman Arkham games. Considering they rank as some of the finest close-quarter melee games in history though, we can hardly count that against it. Swordplay looks swift and brutal, if a little flashy, and the liberal spurts of blood mark this out as a true ‘mature’ LOTR game. Approaching targets has a hint of Assassin’s Creed about it, with open-world exploration allowing the scaling of buildings in order to stealthily drop in on your opponent.

It wouldn’t be a fantasy RPG without magic though, and since Talion is a wraith he can use all kinds of shadow-realm trickery to get the drop on Sauron’s forces. The walkthrough focuses on taking over enemies and using them as your own agents behind enemy lines, suggesting a larger element of the game where players will have to raise armies of their own within Mordor’s gates to succeed.

The walkthrough offers up equal elements to boo and cheer at, and whilst the game certainly looks fun, it’s difficult to know what to think at this early stage. But I will let you in on this: Shadow of Mordor is being written by Christian Cantamessa, who was lead writer and lead designer on Red Dead Redemption. We didn’t get that game on PC, but it’s basically the best game ever released on console last generation. That’s at least one reason to keep optimistic for Monolith’s middle-earth slasher. We’ll pass verdict when it releases later this year.

Cheers, Polygon.