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Middle-earth: Shadow of War Interview – Monolith Talks Early Stages of Development

With Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor copping our Game of the Year award back in 2014 (was it that long ago?), it was only natural that everyone on staff got excited when the inevitable sequel, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, got announced this February.

Fortunately, Warner Bros’ Interactive Entertainment gave in to our hounding for an interview even if the team at Monolith is heavy into development to meet Shadow of War’s August release date. In this short interview, you’ll be able to read Monolith Productions’ VP of Creative, Michael de Plater answers to some of our questions.

PlayStation LifeStyle (PSLS): Some of the new abilities that have been shown off look extremely cool and powerful. How difficult is it to balance giving the players all of these fun tools while also not making the game too easy?

Michael de Plater (MP): The key is that while Talion and Celebrimbor have become more powerful, so have your enemies. The Orcs and Trolls of the Nemesis System have a whole range of new abilities, weapons and classes. Plus, the scale of the world and the battles have increased considerably, so you are now using your powers against hordes of enemies in some cases. On top of that, the beasts and monsters have increased in terms of their variety and numbers, all the way up to the dragons you will battle against and ultimately dominate. The game has grown enormously in every dimension.

(PSLS): Will it be easy to get into for those who aren’t familiar with the world or the first game?

(MP): Yes, our goal is that players new to the franchise will not have a tough time jumping into Middle-earth: Shadow of War, and for those who have played the first game, there are a lot of new features, abilities, content and surprises. Because we have so many features and systems, we can keep introducing new gameplay experiences right up to the final battles. Also, we now have difficulty levels to ensure that the game is approachable for every type of player, from those who want to enjoy the story and the world to those who are more advanced and looking for a bigger challenge.

(PSLS): One of the big additions is the extra layer of strategy by allowing players to take over areas. What led the team to go in that direction?

(MP): The team went in this direction because we want players to create unique, personal stories. By making the world larger and more dynamic, there are more ways in which you can affect the world and the Orc society. The Nemesis System means that your enemies and followers learn and grow depending on the unique scenarios that you create. Because of this, it’s very important that players have a wide range of options to approach their goal of conquering Mordor from within. Additionally, we wanted to capture the epic scale of the iconic battles that Middle-earth is known, from the Battle of Five Armies to Helms Deep to Return to of the King. We really want the game to feel epic in this way—that’s very important to us.


(PSLS): How much freedom do you have with the story, and how closely do you work with Middle-earth Enterprises in order to ensure you stay faithful to the world?

(MP): We’re enormous fans of all things Middle-earth and have to balance two goals in order to stay true to the world and the fans. The first is to create the best and most original story we possibly can within that world; the second is to create that story in a way that supports the events people already know from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. We want players to really enjoy Middle-earth: Shadow of War, whether they are familiar with The Lord of the Rings or not, but if they do go and read the books or watch the movies, we want Middle-earth: Shadow of War to bring out some exciting details and present ways of thinking about Middle-earth that they might not have considered before. That’s why it’s so exciting for us to be able to develop villains like the Nazgul and Sauron. The Middle-earth Enterprises team is wonderful to work with. They support our goals of creating the best game we can and are always bringing us ideas for how to make it even better and more authentic.

(PSLS): How has the Nemesis System advanced in Shadow of War?

(MP): The Nemesis System in Middle-earth: Shadow of War has been advanced in so many ways. First, we took all the lessons from Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor about what people remembered most and which Nemesis stories created the strongest emotions and we tripled down on strengthening those stories. We want people to absolutely love to hate their personal enemies. Then, we focused a lot on adding similar emotional hooks and memories to your followers, and this allowed us to create new types of stories and connections.

When it gets really fun is when we have interactions between your enemies and followers, resulting in betrayals and rivalries that can be a lot like relationships between friends and brothers. It brings the world and Orc society to life in a new way. There’s also more purpose behind the Nemesis System now because you are building your army and conquering Mordor, so the Nemesis Fortresses increase the scale and the stakes of the Nemesis System, while also extending it to the environment. The different Orc Tribes and Overlords turn the Fortresses and the environment into their own personal villain’s lairs.


(PSLS): Any plans for PS4 Pro support?

(MP): We have our own proprietary technology and an absolutely brilliant team of engineers and artists. As a result, they are always incredibly excited to take advantage of the power of new hardware.

We’d like to thank WBIE and Monolith Productions for taking the time out of their busy schedules for chatting with PSLS. Middle-earth: Shadow of War will be out this August 22 on the PS4, Xbox One and PC.