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Wraith And Ranger: Shadow Of Mordor's Talion

by Tim Turi on Nov 15, 2013 at 09:20 AM

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 game.

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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