Shadow of Mordor Has 'Only Scratched the Surface' of Monolith's Middle-earth

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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor's design director Michael de Plater first read The Hobbit when he was four years old.

"I lived with my grandmother and she was a teacher, so she taught me to read before I had started school," de Plater said during a recent interview. "That was the first thing I ever read. And then I read The Lord of the Rings straight after that, I was maybe six. It was the first thing I was introduced to."

De Plater was drawn into game design not through video games themselves but through pen and paper role-playing games, dungeon-crawling adventures set in fantasy worlds that required less button mashing and more imagination to complete. And while he loves the realm of fantasy, in working on Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor he was carefully not to build the game like the universal fantasy archetype that often comes to mind.

"We wanted to stay away from guiding people into thinking of Middle-earth as a generic fantasy," he said. "It’s history and myth that really differentiate it."

Players have recognized this in Shadow of Mordor, the game has received numerous praise and accolades, including GameSpot's own Game of the Year award for 2014. Recently, Irrational Games founder and BioShock creator Ken Levine published a piece on Medium discussing how the game chooses to tell its story. Levine called Shadow of Mordor "chess meets Hamlet." For de Plater and his team at Monolith Productions, this is high praise from a high place.

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"BioShock was very a big inspirational game for us, not because of the linear narrative, but because of the way it told its world story," de Plater explained. "I think it did that so incredibly well and managed not only to communicate the history within the world, but even the themes and that idea of choice in games. That really got us thinking about, what would it mean if that choice actually was real rather than the illusion of it being real?

"We’re [Monolith and Levine] both definitely trying to tackle the same issues with narrative. And in that piece he used the word ‘choose your own adventure' to describe trying to make truly systemic stories that respond to players rather than huge branching authored stories. We’ve just taken the first baby steps of what we’re trying to do."

It sounds like Monolith with continue to work on and iterate the Nemesis system, the colorful military hierarchy of Orcs that players use as a canvas on which to paint their Shadow of Mordor story. De Plater suggested they have "only scratched the surface" in terms of what is possible with the system and that the intrigue of the Orcs themselves bolstered the appeal of the setup.

"The most interesting thing about the Orcs is the way they will turn on each other," de Plater said, noting that Talion is not the only antagonists these Orcs face--they have each other. "So you as an individual could plausibly be the spark that sets off their own internal fights, the way Sam and Frodo, Merry and Pippin manage to do in The Lord of the Rings. It’s a way to address the one-man army idea. Those ideas looped back into each other.”

"We’ve just taken the first baby steps of what we’re trying to do."

De Plater said the studio was surprised at the positive reception towards Talion, who was inspired by another Lord of the Rings character who fell to corruption, Boromir. Talion is being used by Celebrimbor's wraith, who in turn is using the weapon of the enemy against the enemy--that is, the mind-controlling power imbued into the One Ring. He could be seen as a swashbuckling, powerful hero, but in many ways he's not a hero at all. Chris Plante of The Verge refers to Talion as more of a terrorist, an outsider invading and subverting what he has been culturally conditioned to consider as a lesser race.

"A really positive and great surprise was that people did feel engaged and emotional enough to think about it and talk about it and examine Talion in that depth," de Plater said. "Some of the stuff we thought was really obvious and we were heavy handed on was the analogy of Talion with Boromir and Thorin [from The Hobbit] to some extent. Someone who is going down the path of violence and revenge and using what is in effect the Ring of Power to achieve those ends. That’s so obviously a path leading to a fall. It’s an Anakin Skywalker situation, it’s a universal thing.

"Tolkien said there can be no story without a fall. It’s hard within Middle-earth to have a heroic human character in an action game who is using violence as a means to an end without examination of it as a fall."

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But as far as building a new story within the universe of Middle-earth, which is already stuffed with stories and myths, de Plater feels that rather than worship Tolkien's world, Monolith has succeed in preserving its themes through iteration.

"There’s a really good British fantasy author called Michael Moorcock, and he wrote something along the lines of, 'Avoid becoming a Tolkien imitator.' We did more of a pastiche of those stories by looking at the roots and references and myths and trying to stay as true as we could to the themes of the stories. You could say we were trying to copy the disease, not the symptoms. At the same time we tried very hard to make sure that we told a new story and showed new places, because something the books or stories never do is actually retread the same places. It’s very risky to tell something new but in some ways it's the only way to be faithful to the experience.”

And as far as a sequel is concerned, it's a little obvious that players will be spending more time in Mordor years from now. De Plater said that something he'd love to explore more is the relationship between Celebrimbor and Sauron and the evolution of Sauron's character, and suggested this isn't the last we've seen of the Nemesis system.

"The thing we started to explore more and that I love as a character and has so much more potential and is Sauron. I think he’s such a strong villain, and I'd love to explore the Nazgul [Sauron's servants] as well. There’s a lot more to explore and a lot more we can do to develop those villains. And to be super honest, it was our first go, so we’ve just scratched the surface with what we can do with the Nemesis system."

Alexa Ray Corriea on Google+

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Scottgun

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"Chris Plante of The Verge << LINK REMOVED >>, an outsider invading and subverting what he has been culturally conditioned to consider as a lesser race"


Oh puke! You would think Tolkien would be one place you could escape brain-dead politically correct platitudes.

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IJONOI

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Game started off amazing. But in the end was let down by weak story, repetitive dull environment and climbing friggin towers. Have the game explore all of midde earth, stop with the tower nonsense. And you could have a truly remarkable game.

Nemesis system is awesome. Expand on that and you're into a winner.

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C-Sanders

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<< LINK REMOVED >> you do know how big middle earth is right?!

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IJONOI

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No bigger than azeroth or tamriel (maybe) I'm not saying it should be done all in one go. Or even to scale. But it is possible. And most agree. Shadow of mordor got old quickly.

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naryanrobinson

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Fascinating.

...

Patch your game.

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Nadsat-77

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Game was fun for a while but i think it has potential to be much better, the inevitable sequel need more variety, a more detailed and interesting world (maybe some dungeons to explore) and a more lengthy story line in my opinion.

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surferosh

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<< LINK REMOVED >> yes definitely.. a bit like how AC2 bettered the generic repetitive stuff from Assassin's Creed

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benelori

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I wish they would take a shot at exploring the malazan universe

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thxSpeakers

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<< LINK REMOVED >>

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BusterFriendly

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How about making an actually interesting game rather than a large demo of some game mechanics?

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deactivated-583276a1d2d91

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Game was pretty fun and interesting. So great that I finished it. By comparison, I never finished and stopped playing bayonetta 2, Far cry 4, DA:I, Ass creed U, Evil within, Alien isolation, cptn toad, mario kart, smash wii u.... and more

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GamerOuTLaWzz

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Sure bro,sure.

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by-passer

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"Michael de Plater first read The Hobbit when he was four years old"...

Way to give a kid nightmares and trauma, grandma!!

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deactivated-583276a1d2d91

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<< LINK REMOVED >> The book is very kid friendly. Its actually very boring. Its nothing like the movies.

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Kyelo

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I enjoyed this game but there are a few things I found disappointing...

1. the world seems quite small but worse, lacking depth. Quite dull, Mordor should be epic.

2. the fabled nemesis system although new and quirky I found useless. Unless something was mission related I just hacked my way through.

3. quite repetitive to be blunt, needs a deeper story with more variation in the missions.


Only 1 thing I did not do in this game and that is a mission in a stronghold where you have to kill uruk torch bearers near ghul spawns points...could never get the ghuls to trigger! That is holding my 100% back and that alone, gutted...

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deactivated-583276a1d2d91

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Mordor is not an epic land per say in Tolkien's universe. Its all ash, mud and rocks. Nothing grows, theres barely anything to eat for the orcs. The game showed some vegetation but it was not supposed to be there

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TruthSerum808

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They nailed the combat but in a sequel I would like to see a lot more variety in the environments and the kinds of enemies you fight.


If they can do that then they will have created a true masterpiece.

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Neo_Sarevok

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It was a great game, but I have two complaints:

1.) Do NOT use quick-time events for bosses.
2.) Do NOT use stealth segments for bosses.

What kills me is the game has an awesome combat engine, and yet it's not used on either of the final two bosses! Seriously, developers? The game was such a troll.

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Mr_BillGates

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I don't think I can play another "one-button-kill-everything combat system."

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maximo

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<< LINK REMOVED >> is that what this is? Just curious as I am thinking about getting this.

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S-181

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> If you've played the Batman Arkham games, the combat is essentially the same. There are some unlockable abilities though that are rather OP.

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maximo

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> thanks... so basically timed button mashing.

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Vodoo

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It's Batman meets Assassin's Creed. Very fun game as you try to put your most powerful Urucs as War Chiefs. But while that Nemesis System gives you something to do and mess around with, it's really useless. It doesn't really play any sort of major role in the game.

I have no idea why they couldn't implement that system on the older consoles because it's not very deep at all.

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Ayzed

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Awesome, I look forward to a sequel, and to see what how they improve the nemesis system. hopefully the next one is on current gen and PC only though, the game will be better if there's no focus on a PS3 and 360 version

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GameFan1983

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everything about the game feels great except the story/universe/setting Talion's ninja combat style is way too fast, efficient and deadly for anything from LOTR universe. We all know how these chumps "fight" each others in books and movies.... LOTR... give me a break.

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evilace_stealth

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<< LINK REMOVED >> yeah, I did enjoy the game but the fighting style is about the same speed as batman who uses his fists, also both games have that speed-changing effect when you fight. it pauses a bit then speeds up, would be interesting to see how a heavier, more weighty combat would work with the attack/counter/break guard-system.

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GameFan1983

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Everything about the game feels great except the story/universe/setting Talion's ninja combat style is way too efficient and deadly for anything from LOTR universe. We all know how these chumps "fight" each others in LOTR books and movies.... LOTR... give me a break.
<< LINK REMOVED >>

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S-181

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I'd love to see them make a game starring Aragorn during his sojourn to the Far South following his service under Thengel in Rohan and Ecthelion in Gondor. The journey that made him the greatest hunter in Middle-earth. It's a great opportunity to depict some of the formative moments in the character of the Aragorn that we see in the Lord of the Rings, as well as explore new cultures such as the Haradrim.

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alpha_unit97

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He read The Lord of The Rings at the age of six? Are you kidding? I could barely read children's books at that age. I didn't get to reading Lotr until I was fifteen and even then I found it slightly hard.

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moxxidude

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<< LINK REMOVED >>


My parents read me The Hobbit and LoTR before I was born, so yeah, I'm pretty much better than everyone. My mom had to have a C section because I was reading War and Peace during childbirth. I later discovered that the doctor spanked me, not to get me crying but because he thought Tolstoy's writing was pedantic and jejune.

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DefconRave

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<< LINK REMOVED >> I first read the hobbit @ age 7 or 8 and the lotr series shortly after. of course now I can understand the nuances of the plot alot better but back then I was just enthralled by the unverse Tolkien created. It's not unusual for kids to start reading at a young age.

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bunchanumbers

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<< LINK REMOVED >> I got into those books at 10. I had to ask my uncle what some of the things were but otherwise its not impossible.

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WolfgarTheQuiet

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<< LINK REMOVED >> I read my first book at 7. Its not impossible.

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zyxahn

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Did you read an actual book at age 7 or just the line, "I read my first book" when you were 7 =P :) Just having some fun with it, nothing mean meant by it.

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WolfgarTheQuiet

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Its simple as this. Dont make it an annual rubbish franchise, dont take features out, improve them and add more and keep building it up.


As Rockstar said, no need to rush franchises, we will get to them eventually.

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grove12345

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My problem with Tolkein was his determination to kill off Middle Earth.

Gandalf mentioned in the books that there are 100s of mystical beasts that he doesnt know about, and 1000s of magical items out there.

Dwarves won back their homes and should be prospering.

Hobbits are no longer in danger and should be prospering.

Elves left but arent dead.

Orcs/goblins lost a war like several times yet always came back in number.

If anything Human species should be the most trouble after the wars.


All this and yet Tolkein wants to wipe away any magic in the 4th age. Screw that.


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alpha_unit97

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Just because The Lord of The Rings story saw closure it doesn't make it bad. Besides, Tolkien created tons of back-story for middle earth so if anything, the universe lives on through it's past.

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WolfgarTheQuiet

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<< LINK REMOVED >> Yeah, they might run out of material....You know, i love Conan universe and would love to see a good Conan game. i played the Hyborian Adventures because thats the only game there is, even tho im not a fan of MMO games. The world is amazing and huge, its mythology is huge, spanning from books, comics and what not.


Maybe i should get people onto petition haha.

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S-181

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Shadow of Mordor is the most fun I've had in a game for some time, and I regard it highly as a video game, but I can't say the same for the story. It was in no way a worthy iteration of Tolkien's mythology. Having said that, I never expected it to be, nor hoped it would be. The perks of having an entire world existing within the mind of a single dead author is that the original mythology can never be touched. In this case Tolkien's work will outlast everything else that has his name attached to it - films, video games, whatever. And that's absolutely as it should be. These kind of games remain great fun with a little Middle-earth flavour. They don't, and never can, threaten the integrity of Tolkien's work, and that's why I can enjoy them without having to nitpick the story.

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C-Sanders

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Loved the game Monolith as well as your attention to the lore. Mordor however, has got to be one of the least interesting locales in lotr so It'd be great to see some more variation in future.


Also the wraith powers made the game v easy and the nemesis system redundant cose i could just plow through a force no matter how big.


I'd like to see a more rpg styled hack & slash with more vulnerable and non-wraithy playable characters


Congrats again on not making a movie game, keep it up!

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alpha_unit97

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<< LINK REMOVED >> I feel exactly the same way. I think they should explore regions like Rhun, Harrad or even Mirkwood. Mordor is meant to be a barren wasteland so it makes little sense to keep setting the games there.

The wraith powers could be replaced with something a little less overpowered and more lore-friendly I think.

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<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Moria and Lorien would be nice too!

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ZOR3333L

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this game and Rocket League are my favorite games from 2014

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G_Vakarian

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Cant wait to see what other bastardized cashgrabs they can milk from the LOTR name.

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AzureBonds76

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After playing the game for 30 hours and getting the plat trophy for it, I have to say personally the best part of the game for me was finding out the bit about Sauron. I read the Hobbit like 20 years ago and that is the only book from Tolkien I have read, so the content in the game was awesome and a real eye opener for me.


I don't agree with Ken Levine's statement about the storytelling however. Tallion is a great character (as is the Wraith), and the flashback cut-scenes are the real gem of the game, but the story otherwise is fairly forgettable, mostly I think due to the drab setting (1 section is Mordor. the other is Mordor.with.some.grass). The smooth combat, entertaining orcs, and touches like the song Tallion's wife sung at the beginning are what I remember the most about it.

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seanwil545

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What!?!?...no accolades for Ubisoft (AC:U), Bungie or Respawn for their in-depth story telling, campaign and character development?


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<< LINK REMOVED >> LOL

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charlesdao

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<< LINK REMOVED >> kkkkkkkkkkkk

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Stiler

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I really hope the next game is more rpg-like and a much more varied/open world.


That was my biggest complaint, the world was just very lackluster as far as variety went (sinnce it was mostly set in mordor and all looked the same).


I'd love to see them tackle a much larger worl dwith more variety and have a focus on quests and exploration, using hte nemesis AI to branch out not only for "bad guys" but also npc's you can help (or not) and in-turn they remember it down the line.


Mordor was a great step for a more evolved AI in gaming and I hope the next game they don't just "stick with it" but keep pushing that boundary.

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