Development legend Ken Levine has dubbed Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor as the first ‘open narrative’ game, and a prime example of the type of experience he and his team are working towards.
The creator of BioShock remains at Irrational Games – which laid off the vast majority of its employees earlier this year, although has recently begun hiring again – focused on what he describes as "narrative legos", an experience in which players build the story themselves.
While little is known about Levine’s project, his review of Warner Bros Montreal’s latest game suggests what he may be aiming for.
Levine compared Shadow of Mordor’s impact with Super Mario 64 and Grand Theft Auto III, games that redefinied the open world genre, by removing or reducing the linearity of the player’s progression.
He observed that with many other games, including his own BioShock Infinite, the narrative would be broken if players were able to change it significantly (i.e. beyond the branching paths set out by the developer). The latest Tolkien title, however, is different.
"You can change the narrative in Shadow of Mordor," Levine writes. "Kill an important character, fail an important mission and the story heals itself, because the system can create new characters on the fly. It does so without a ‘game over’ screen or a request for the play to try again.
"Players can choose their own paths, not by selecting from a list of three or four predetermined options, but by making decisions in an endlessly combinatorial gameplay system. It’s chess meets Hamlet. Okay, maybe not Hamlet. But it’s a start."
We recently discussed narrative in games with various developers. You can read the full feature here.