Middle-earth: Shadow of War will have a much tougher job than its predecessor, largely because few expected Shadow of Mordor to be any good. Now that the element of surprise is gone from its fresh combination of open-world action and reactive, procedural storytelling, what are the developers doing to keep players interested in the war against Sauron?
We asked Monolith Productions' creative direct Michael de Plater at Comic Con - you can watch the interview with him and three of the game's actors above, or keep on scrolling for the best answers.
What's the best way to play Middle-earth: Shadow of War?
"I think what's exciting about the game this time is people do have so much choice in how they want to approach it," creative director Michael de Plater says. "Am I gonna charge in? Am I gonna use my followers? Am I gonna be sneaky or more manipulative? But also at the higher level, of am I going to pursue and follow the story, or am I gonna get lost exploring, or exploring society within Mordor. Am I just gonna explore and discover the history and the lore and the background? So I think now we've really broadened it so that it doesn't matter what type of gamer you are, you're really gonna be able to enjoy the game as you want it."
What did you learn from the reactions to Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor?
"Obviously a lot, because the first one was our first game in this genre, our first third-person open-world game, and that's just an enormous crash course in making these sort of games," de Plater explains. But I think the two biggest things were the importance of the story, so we really tried to make this very epic story that leads up to what people might hope to see from Lord of the Rings and from Middle-earth. And then also the Nemesis System, which was our big innovation last time where the game actually adapts and evolves and watches what you're doing and tries to create these emotions in the player, and really doubling down on that.
"And then the third thing is actually how to marry those two parts of the game so the dynamic and personal stories of the Nemesis System actually weave into the themes of the main story and the main story and the main story arcs. So when we have a main character like Shelob who is about balance and visions and your volition and what we can achieve in this world, then we can set up those things in a way that the player can experience in a personal, unique fashion as they play the game. So both sides of the game really support each other."
What was the best lore "a-ha" moment you've had so far?
"It has actually been really fun because Shelob's character basically is the narrator of our game," de Plater says. "She's taking the same role in our game that Galadriel takes in the films. And so she's been really prominent in all of our trailers and so on, and seeing people speculate about who she is - is it Galadriel, is it some sorceress, is it Ungoliant who was this original spirit of darkness within Middle-earth."