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E3 2017: Exploring the Forest in Middle-earth: Shadow of War

E3 2017 was a good week for the creators of Middle-earth: Shadow of War. The upcoming sequel to Shadow of Mordor was one of the most impressive games on display, with Warner Bros. and Monolith Productions showing more of the game's open world, the new Fort Assaults, and the evolved Nemesis system.

With the previous preview not being enough to satisfy those cravings for orc blood, Shacknews returned for another hands-on with Shadow of War, this time getting a quick taste of one of the game's side quests.

First, getting to this side quest was not easy. The marker was on the distant end of the playable demo area, requiring me to traverse a chunk of the open world. This allowed me to grasp the climbing and parkour mechanics, which feel intuitively graceful. Triggering a second jump towards the end of any leaps is a helpful tool to help reach out-of-reach areas and also break any major falls.

The side quest began proper with a mystery, as there's a disturbance around the forest area. The idea becomes to follow a ghostly trail to find the source of whatever is wreaking havoc on the forest. There are no orcs, except for the ones tied up by vines. The idea becomes to interrogate these orcs to get an idea of what happened. Talion uses his powers to relive what the orcs had seen, getting a first-person peek at massive orc slaughter by an unseen force. The interrogations always end the same, with the orc's head exploding like a giant tomato.

A strange voice in the background starts to grow louder, indicating that the end of the investigation is near. Upon reaching the end of the trail, it was time for combat. Woodland beasts formed from the leaves on the ground, offering more of a horror vibe, as the voice of a mysterious forest spirit issued dire threats. While Talion wasn't shaken, the Elven spirit Celebrimbor was clearly distressed. After a brief bout of banter, more of the beasts came out and attacked. They were dispatched easily, but a large troll would not make this fight so easy. Directly confronting the enemy proved folly, as I watched Talion get tossed around like a sack of potatoes. The idea was to attack from the distance with arrows, taking the hulking figure down. This part of the fight wasn't easy, either, as the enemy would hurl fireballs that could cause massive damage.

The nature-made monstrosities kept coming with a nature-made dragon that swooped down and attacked next. This is where the fight got more difficult, though not necessarily because of the enemy itself. The dragon had plenty of cover, as it was frequently obstructed by trees whenever it was in the sky. On top of trying to aim while on the go, it made the dragon fight feel more difficult than it needed to be. After several arrow shots, the dragon went down and it was time to trigger the cutscene.

Talion was confronted by the forest spirit and remained defiant, but Celebrimbor urged him to stand down, obviously fearful of the spirit's power. It turns out that Talion's new Ring of Power has had some side effects, awakening a powerful balrog. The idea is now to find this balrog and dispose of it before it can rain its fire down on the forest.

Sometimes, people need a break from orc-killing and, in that sense, Shadow of War's side quests look like a nice diversion. The atmosphere is where it really starts to feel interesting. It further brings the Tolkien world to life, while also offering some noteworthy tone changes. The game went from straight action to a horror thriller, with Talion even needing to use his powers in a more deductive manner to break down what was essentially a Middle-earth crime scene.

It's too early to break down whether the side quests will be worthwhile in terms of rewards, but for those looking for new ways to play with Talion's power, this E3 demo proved intriguing. It should be interesting to see what becomes of the balrog storyline and whether Talion will be faced with a towering inferno of a beast later in the game.

Explore the world of Tolkien some more when Middle-earth: Shadow of War hits PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on October 10.

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