The more we see a bad guy like Sauron onscreen, the less interesting he becomes. In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, he was little more than a whisper, the shadow behind shadows, a boogeyman so beyond the ken of even the great powers who got what he really was that even they didn’t care to mention him. My favorite scene from the Peter Jackson films is in the extended cut of The Fellowship of the Ring, during the Council of Elrond, when Gandalf invokes the Black Speech, the very air darkens, and everyone’s reaching for a Tums.
So I’m conflicted about Monolith’s new Middle-earth: Shadow of War story trailer, which includes Jackson’s Iron-Maiden-album-escapee all rasping and “Release the hounds!” That you-versus-Sauron plot was Shadow of Mordor‘s least interesting aspect. Sure, writer Christian Cantamessa did a fine job dutifully aping the arcane fatalism of the Jackson films, but the premise was dippy: a superhero ghost pals up with a zombie ranger to knock off some preening henchman and eventually Sauron himself.
The game, by contrast, was incredible, one of TIME’s top 10 that year. The “bright” what? Talion-Celebrimb-who? Who cared. What worked was Monolith’s delightful, pliable A.I. sandbox, which when nudged pushed back, often punitively. Shadow of War, its sequel for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One that’s due October 10, may be even grander in that regard.
And look, there’s Shelob, and the Nazgul, and a new ring of power, and a Balrog wearing a helmet. Come for the nerdy Tolkien “greatest film hits” theme park rides, stay—with any luck—for the guileful, taxing, dynamic bad guys in an open world said to be even more nuanced than the last.