The second Middle-Earth game from Monolith Productions, Shadow of War, is almost here. We’ve already checked out the game and it’s playing, well, a lot like Shadow of Mordor, just with a little more riding dragons and facing Balrogs. Which is honestly no bad thing. But we wanted a bit more depth to the making of the game, so we also sat down for a chat with Andy Salisbury from Monolith to give us some insight into Shadow or War. We chatted Nemesis, Orc Tribes, Multiplayer, and whether Monolith will ever get back into making FPSs again.
Ah yes, our interview ship has sailed right back to the story. Shadow of War is about Talion and his ghost pal Celebrimbor, the odd couple pairing from the first game, forging a new Ring of Power, something Talion suggests at the end of Shadow of Mordor if you remember. Sauron has returned, Mordor is mostly ashen like it is in the films, and Talion and Celebrimbor plan to create a civil war in Mordor to oust the Dark Lord.
Andy suggests that Monolith aren’t thinking of Middle-Earth like a trilogy, that in-vogue word in fantasy stories. Instead Shadow of War is being considered very much its own thing, which will touch on later events in the world but mostly keep to itself. “The ending of the game meets up with Fellowship of the Ring somewhat, but it’s very much our own story. It connects naturally to Shadow of Mordor and it’s obviously set within this rich universe, but Shadow of War is such a big game and we do have DLC we’re working on, so we haven’t had the chance to think about another yet. Who knows what’s next?”
Yes, we do acknowledge that was a very tease-y verbal wink there. Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor was a big success and despite the crowded holiday season if Shadow of War is good, there’ll undoubtedly be another one.
But of course it’s the Nemesis system that truly stole the show in Shadow of Mordor, where Orcs could remember they encountered you – or even killed you, and growing tougher to counter Talion. It’s been expanded in the sequel of course, but while previously it only worked on enemies now even supporters will remember your actions. “You could send them on missions before,” explains Andy, “but now they remember missions and fighting alongside you, and if you leave them bleeding out on the floor they might remember that too!”
Of course a big question is why the wonderful Nemesis system hasn’t been implemented/stolen by other studios for their own games. Even in the Warner Bros stable, a Batman game where normal thugs can become new Joker-level supervillains would be utterly amazing and add a much-needed kick to the Arkham games. That’s not really a question for Andy, but I put it to him anyway: why aren’t developers ripping off the Nemesis system? “It’s really difficult!” Ah. “When we were developing Shadow of Mordor we realized it was going to take a tremendous amount of effort. It’s a very cross-discipline effort too. We made it a core focus of our games, but it’s certainly not the simplest thing to put together!”
Unique player experiences are important to Monolith. They want every player who plays Shadow of War to have a completely different experience from their friends, and create their own version of Mordor. This includes the Orc Tribes Monolith have been revealing, such as the spooky Mystic Tribe, beast-focused Feral Tribe and more. Andy tells me about the massive Helm’s Deep-level battles players can do, and when Talion conquers a region he can put trusted Orcs in charge – and depending on who it is and what Tribe they belong to, it’ll change the world and the regions around you.
“If the Feral Tribe is in charge there will be more beast activity and beast-type missions in the world, if it’s the Dark Tribe there will be death squads hunting down enemies, if the Mystic Tribe is in charge there will be more dark arts going on. We want every player to get their own experience and it will have a rippling effect on the world. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort on the Tribes.”
There’ll be a lot of content and replayability in Shadow of War then, but the one thing Monolith never considered was multiplayer. There will be online components, however. “You can conquer other people’s fortresses. You put your own fortresses up with your best Uruks in charge, and let them defend it against other players. We’re very excited to see what people do with it. It’s not directly competitive though.” Also, the wonderful Vendetta system is back, where if a player on your Friends List dies in the game you get a special mission to avenge them.
I asked Andy if Monolith had any other projects, but it seems they’re a one-game studio right now. “We’re all just focused on Shadow of War. It’s so much bigger than anything we’ve made before. With the story, world, AI systems, animations, etc, every part of the team has been working so hard to put every kind of polish we can on the game. We’ve got these amazing DLC campaigns we can’t wait to make after the game’s finished, such as the Blade of Galadriel, and we haven’t even started on them! We’ve just been focused on making Shadow of War the best it can be.”
“Pretty much the moment Shadow of Mordor went gold we’ve been working on Shadow of War. So much of our effort has just been focused on that. It’s been such a big undertaking we’ve not been able to look at anything else.”
However, as a long-term Monolith fan who regularly replays the likes of F.E.A.R., Condemned, No One Lives Forever, and even Blood, I had to ask Andy if Monolith were ever going to get back to making great unique FPSs again. “It’s very much part of our DNA, but we’re just so focused on getting Shadow of War out the door, and supporting it for as long as we can, it’s tough to say!” Given that Shadow of War is all about player choice, I choose to take that as a ‘yes’.
Thanks very much to Andy Salisbury for talking with us!