I remember when I first saw footage and read details of The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, I wasn’t overly impressed. It seemed to be stretching the Middle-earth IP just a little too far and associating it with the sort of genre of game that it didn’t quite match. However, I eventually bought a copy in a Steam sale and it was marginally better than I expected. That’s not to say it was ideal. I still think that the focus on combat and violence are a little jarring. It was also far more closely associated with Peter Jackson’s take on Middle-earth than the Professors. Sadly as each year goes by I find myself disliking his interpretation more and more.
Yet despite prior experience, I have tried to keep a relatively open mind about Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Nevertheless, in light of the latest gameplay trailer, I am no longer expecting great things. Sure the alpha footage looks very slick and contemporary but once you strip the somewhat tenuous veneer of the IP away, you are left with just a clone of Assassins Creed. In fact the similarities are so striking that former Ubisoft developer Charles Randall took to twitter claiming “I spent two years staring at AC2. I know [my code] when I see it”. Whether the code has been licensed to Monlith Studios remains to be seen.
Sadly, this is the way movie studios and game developers treat major intellectual properties these days. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor appears to be a text book example of taking a known IP and trying to shoehorn it into a particular genre of game that has proven to be successful and lucrative. Whether the source material is suited for such a project is irrelevant. Such business practices have no interest or respect for lore, artistic integrity or those with an emotional attachment for the source text. Or at least that is how a Tolkien purist may see it.
Irrespective of my opinion, there will be many who have watched the gameplay trailer and are impressed by what they see. Perhaps this situation highlights the differences between those who are fans of Tolkien’s work and those who simply know it from Peter Jackson’s movies. Furthermore I would hazard a guess that it is the latter group that are the target demographic for this title because of the emphasis on action and established aesthetic design. With the recent death of Saul Zaentz, it will be interesting to see if there is any major change in policy from Middle-earth Enterprises with regard to games licensing. Perhaps Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor could be the first of many new titles.