What was already shaping up to be the best licensed title since Batman: Arkham Asylum, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor continues to build some well deserved hype with a hands-on experience at the 'Prime' Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle and a new trailer that adds a new dimension to the game's highly anticipated Nemesis System.
After being charged with taking down an Orchish War Chief in a cutscene, our hero Talion (the undead Gondorian Ranger who is possessed by the wraith-spirit of Second Age Elven rings-of-power-smith Celebrimbor) is loose on the plains of Mordor. Directed by an attentive developer using a headset mic to cut through the noise on the show floor, Talion uses his/Celebrimbor's wraith powers to pull of a pretty impressive trick. Despite being separated by a great distance, a special kind of spirit arrow will instantly draw your player character across the world and onto the back of a rideable creature in the same manner as the blink-dash assassination shown in previous demos.
While there were plenty of wargs around to ride like extra-bitey horses, in this case Talion took control of a massive troll-like creature. On its back we could use a standard stomp attack to crush the many uruks in the area, but it was much more effective (and entertaining) to pick them up individually and eat them to restore the creature's health. Riding your mount also effects the game world, aside from being a lot more noticeable when you're on the back of a massive, hungry monster, the 'ranked' orcs and uruks can have special pluses and minuses when it comes to mounts. During the demo we encountered an otherwise powerful uruk that was especially weak against being eaten whole (go figure), and an otherwise potentially-challenging battle ended up becoming a literal appetizer for the challenge ahead. The monster also serves as a ambulatory power-up and ally, as you can drain its life to recharge your spirit powers or dismount it and have it fight alongside you.
While your player character’s dual arsenal of melee and ranged attacks is impressive, as is his ability to stealth assassinate, players need to be careful when deciding to wade into the fray. The enemy, not unlike how they behave in the movies, has a tendency to swarm. In the hands-on demo, after the two enemy captains are defeated the player is directed to a fortified area to take down the War Chief. Once there, one last side quest must be completed to draw the Chief out. The monster in charge arrives with pomp: a caption with his name, a threatening quote and a disembodied chorus of orcs chanting his name. The fight has to be over quickly - otherwise you are overrun with bloodthirsty orcs and/or the Chief runs off to save his own skin. Winning means the forces of Sauron weaken significantly, losing means any newly empty slots in the enemy army are filled in according to orcish tradition.
To better explain that tradition not just to Talion but the player, the developers and marketers of Shadow of Mordor introduced a new story-critical NPC, Ratbag, via a new trailer. He is looking to gain some respect and move up in the hierarchy, but he is an especially scrawny, sniveling example of an Uruk. Rather than kill his way to the top, Ratbag becomes Talion's 'inside man' within Sauron's horde with the Ranger killing Ratbag's superiors and granting him the credit to push him up the uruk ladder.
It's solid specialization that Ratbag's place is to explain the game’s signature Nemesis System, but it's clear from the trailer that he's also the comic relief with both Talion and Celebrimbor all but eye-rolling at the diminutive creature's habits. Overall, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor continues to impress as it approaches its September 30, 2014 release date.