10 years on, leaks have given us a long look at the canned Batman game that became Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

A shot of Monolith's take on the Batmobile from its cancelled Batman game.
(Image credit: Monolith / Dageekydude on Twitter)

Middle-earth was always a bit of an odd setting for Monolith's Shadow of Mordor, the 2014 game that introduced the absolutely brilliant (and criminally under-imitated) nemesis system. Subjecting the game's orcs to harrowing physical and psychological warfare as a one-man guerilla army was great fun, but it didn't exactly fit with the high-minded, mythical tone of either Tolkien's original books or the Peter Jackson films.

Perhaps the reason for that is that the game was, once upon a time, a Batman game. Codenamed Project Apollo, the thing-that-became-Mordor was originally intended as a Dark Knight thing set in the Nolanverse of Batman films. It got some way into production before eventually getting reskinned as a Middle-earth game, but thanks to posts by Twitter user Dageekydude (via IGN), we've gotten a deep look at its original incarnation.

It looks, well, pretty Arkham-y. Which makes sense: Shadow of Mordor's combat and traversal felt very Rocksteady-inspired as-is, and wrapping them in a literal Batman skin is only going to make the comparison more obvious. We see an open world, upgrade trees, traversal by gliding and myriad quest pop-ups.

There's also Arkham-style stealth and detective work that would presumably have punctuated your perp-pounding. In fact, based on the stuff we see in the tweets (which, admittedly, is far short of a full game) it's probably for the best that Project Apollo got retooled into a Middle-earth game. I wonder if the similarities to Arkham in so many other aspects of the game would have obscured the genius of its true innovation: the nemesis system.

Because, let's be honest, none of us would remember Shadow of Mordor as fondly as we do if it weren't for its handcrafted orc-traumatising simulation system (OTSS). It's to my enduring chagrin that so few games have ever tried to rip the game off. Sure, sure, there's the fact that Warner Bros filed for a patent on it, but game devs are clever people. I bet there's some way to get a procgen allegiance-and-rivalry system into your game that doesn't run the risk of alerting a swarm of lawyers.

And if not, well, I guess we'll just have to wait in anticipation for Monolith's upcoming Wonder Woman game.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.