SAN FRANCISCO—Before I gush about how slick and action-packed Middle Earth: Shadow of War is looking before it comes out for PC and consoles, I’d like to offer a huge warning: I didn’t get to play it. Warner Bros.
Interactive hosted the Tolkien-universe game’s first major demo at a state-of-the-art movie theater down the block from last week’s Game Developers Conference.

The developers at Monolith carefully hid their controllers behind a theater seat, and the game doesn’t come out for almost six months.
For some incomplete games’ previews, those are tolerable limitations, especially if their basic gameplay systems (combat, strategy, interface) are neatly spelled out.

And in a few ways, what I saw looks like a “bigger and better” Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.

That isn’t a terrible conclusion to draw. (While uneven in some respects, the 2014 action-adventure game enjoyed a solid reception by making the most of its Tolkien license, as opposed to being chained to a single book or film’s exact plot.)
But, in too many other ways, Shadow of War is aiming its swords, axes, arrows, and spectral super-powers a lot higher this time—and doing so in an action-adventure market that is looking quite different than it did in 2014.

Thus, my challenge is to piece together how many parts of the demo were withheld for mystery’s sake as opposed to being incomplete or bad.
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