The lights are on
In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series, Aragorn and the other
Rangers of the North - along with their counterparts in Gondor - have a
mysterious and alluring quality. These scouts live off the land and steer clear
of the civilizations they silently protect. On the opposite end of Tolkien's good
vs. evil spectrum are the Nazgûl - the twisted shadows of former humans
hopelessly corrupted by Sauron. Similar to Rangers, these stealthy wraiths
glide across the land mostly unseen, doing their Dark Lord's bidding with
otherworldly might. Nazgûl are among the darkest examples of the spectral
undead, called wraiths, lingering in Middle-earth. Talion, the protagonist of
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (our exclusive cover story for issue #248), is a powerful-yet-conflicted combination of a wraith
and a Ranger of the Black Gate. This fusion creates some enticing narrative and
gameplay opportunities for Monolith Production's ambitious next-gen
Diehard Tolkien fans may be flipping through the pages of
the Silmarillion or The Unfinished Tales for any mention of
a man-wraith hybrid. You won't find any evidence save for the fact that in
Tolkien's lore, living creatures can become wraiths. Monolith Productions
doesn't take the Middle-earth mythos lightly, and has created an intriguing
circumstance for this unprecedented transformation.
Talion was stationed at the Black Gates of Mordor, keeping
watch over the troubled lands. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor takes place
between The Hobbit and The Lord of
the Rings trilogy, which means Sauron's power is mounting but Mordor isn't the
tortured environment seen during Frodo Baggins' adventure. Even so, Mordor is a
chaotic landscape in which human frontiersmen struggle to scrape by. Talion's
wife and son stay with him near his dangerous post - a risky situation that his
family ultimately pays for.
"The story opens
with a family and continues elaborating on that topic, and clearly is an inner
part of the story - if not the surface," says lead writer Christian Cantamessa,
whose impressive resume includes Red Dead Redemption. "If you want a cost to
the price of power, then you have to balance it against something else. We
choose to use the concept of family to weigh against..."
Talion and his family are murdered by the servants of Sauron
at the beginning of Shadow of Mordor. Somehow, instead of meeting his fallen
loved ones in the afterlife, Talion is bound to Middle-earth with a curse. He
is resurrected when his being unites with a wraith. Why he is linked with this
wraith is as much a mystery to him as it is to players at the beginning of the
game. Talion's extended stay in Middle-earth opens the doors for revenge on
those who destroyed his life. Tapping into his existing Ranger skills and the
new ethereal wraith powers, Talion sets out into Mordor.
"He reawakens from death, and there is this spirit of
vengeance within him," says Michael de Plater, director of design. "[The wraith
is] the main [force] that gives him the power to not only continue to move in
the world that he's familiar with, the physical world, but now to see into the
world that is normally unseen - into the wraith world."
The wraith and Talion seem to be separate entities existing
within the same body. The wraith is a separate character with similar personal
motives, but the two cooperate on their journey.
Talion literally carries his past with him on his adventure.
He bears Ranger equipment, like a sword and tattered cloak. He also keeps
tokens of his family with him, like his son's broken sword. Visually similar to
the shattered hilt of Narsil, Talion uses this small blade as a dagger for
stealth takedowns and other close-range attacks. His dagger, sword, and bow can
be upgraded by killing Uruks (the biggest, nastiest orcs) and collecting ruins.
In addition to his physical armaments, the wraith unlocks a
host of other moves for Talion. A teleport ability called Shadow Strike allows
him to home in on enemies' locations for quick kills and environmental
navigation. For example, if an Uruk archer takes aim on Talion from up on a
rampart, he can use Shadow Strike to deftly blink up to the foe. He can also bind
foes' feet to the earth, stopping them dead in their tracks. The wraith also
lets him slow down the action to dial in accurate shots with his bow. Some of
Talions' most important abilities involve striking fear into the Uruks.
"Fear is a big part
of the gameplay and combat system," de Plater says. "There are a lot of enemies,
and it's easy to get overwhelmed. One way to successfully deal with masses of
enemies is to make them break and run. It's really helpful if you're fighting a
large group, things like taking down their leaders will spread terror among the
troops. Terrifying displays of your power will make them flee."
Talion's terrifying touch can bend his foes to do his
bidding. Once under Talion's influence, enemy Uruks can become spies used to
gather intel or attempt assassinations. For instance, peering into a crowd of
Uruks through the eyes of the wraith might reveal a handful of enemies bearing
Talion's mark. If a melee breaks out, these turncoats will attack Talion's
enemies on his behalf.
Talion's spectral counterpart not only opens up combat
options, but also connects him to the drama surrounding Sauron and his mounting
power. "Through the course of the game, Talion and the wraith will learn the
identity and the secrets of who it is, what brought these two characters
together, and also learn how that's connected to the larger story of
Middle-earth," de Plater says.
Cantamessa expands on the broader arc of Talion's quest for
vengeance: "The final transformation of the character is not something I'm
willing to discuss today, because that is where the story will take us," he
says. "But it is important to understand that these journeys in life change us
and sometimes make us better persons and worse persons. Whatever happens to him
will change him forever and will have a big impact on the world of the story."
We know the basics of Talion's former life and his current
ordeal, but there are still plenty of questions swirling around his role in
Middle-earth's larger conflict. Will his interactions with Gollum link him to
Sauron's tireless hunt for the One Ring? Is his wraith counterpart a key player in the
wider Tolkien lore? Some Lord of the Rings fans may bristle at any alteration
or addition to the written stories, but we have faith in the Tolkien junkies at
Monolith. The mysteries swirling around Talion have us excited to enter the
land of sleepless evil.
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