Experienced Points: Shadow of Mordor is Nothing But Infantile Revenge Porn

By Shamus
on Oct 21, 2014
Filed under:
Column

My column this week is not a work of subtlety. This is one of those cases where I went in thinking I was just going to critique a few points, but the more I analyzed the story the more outrageous it seemed. Usually writing a column is cathartic, but this one made me angry to write.

Now, maybe you’ll argue that Tolkien is fundamentally incompatible with a visceral Arkham-style empowerment fantasy. But for the sake of argument, let’s imagine we’ve been given that very job by a clueless but well-meaning executive. Arkham gameplay is popular, LOTR is popular, they have the license, and it smells like money to them. We can’t do anything to change this, so how can we make the best of a tough situation?

If I wanted something fitting tonally and thematically with LOTR, I guess I’d begin with the idea of the Dúnedain, or (even better) an Elf. The rangers regularly protected places like Bree, and did so in secret. They didn’t want the glory of being heroes (and such glory is corruptive anyway, as the protected have a tendency to ask you to be their leader) and they didn’t want common folk to live in fear. This gives us an excellent setup for a lone protagonist who lives in the wilderness and fights against evil alone, which is exactly the scenario this game demands.

Being an Elf or a man of the west, we have someone who we can broadly justify as being far stronger than typical men. If we can get marketing to let us make the protagonist an elf, then we can even hand-wave the whole “no game over screen” by just saying that elves are immortal. (Immortality doesn’t really work that way in the books, but this isn’t any more of a compromise than what Shadow of Mordor gives us.) I’d also fight hard to make the protagonist female, if only to make them unique. Talion is SO much a boring dudebro, and anyone with common sense should realize that having a unique and iconic character is an asset. PR would shoot this idea down in the end, but I’d try. Maybe I could at least get them to have the protagonist wear some color. And if they’re going to be a man, then they should at least have a beard. That’s slightly unusual(ish) and is appropriate for someone who lives in the wild.

The story would be small-scale, limited to some sub-section of either Rohan or Gondor.

Also, I’d ditch the heavy music for something more orchestral. ORChestral. Huh? Geddit?

Like Batman, our central character would be more or less a fixed element. They wouldn’t go through any huge transformative arc. Someone who is hundreds of years old isn’t likely to experience rapid changes anyway. Our protagonist can be stoic, calm, pragmatic, and extremely slow to anger. They would serve as a foil for the people having character arcs around them: The humans they’re protecting. Orcs invade the human territories in numbers, our hero intervenes, is discovered by the locals, and this drives our drama.

Some people people want the hero to go away, distrusting strange foreigners. Some have too much pride to accept help, even though they are completely outmatched and need our hero. Others don’t want to believe the Orc threat is real. Others dive into hero worship and want the hero to lead them openly. Others want to turn to “magic” (the arts of evil) to protect them, echoing the mistake of Boromir. These conflicting viewpoints form the conflict that drives the story of the game, with our hero doing various deeds to gather intel, build trust, preserve life, and forestall the enemy. All of this would fit with the existing gameplay: Infiltrate strongholds, save prisoners, assassinate leaders, recover baubles, and slay tons of Orcs. At the end the player will have built friendship and trust, which are (in Tolkien) powerful forces.

The bad guys? They don’t get any arcs. They are a fixed thing, an impending doom. A force of nature. The only stories we get from them are the ones that emerge from the nemesis system. (The best part of Shadow of Mordor.)

But Shamus, who cares about a small region? We wouldn’t get to save the save the world! We wouldn’t get to stab Satan at the end! This is so booooring.

Yes, PR department, I know you think stories need to be epic scale to be good, but The Shire was a very small and unimportant place, and the audience managed to care about it very deeply because they saw it through the eyes of the Hobbits. It’s actually way easier to get the audience to care about a single farmhouse of interesting characters than care about “all the unseen people of Middle-Earth”. TellTale managed to make a game where your job is to protect just one person, and it was one of the most emotionally powerful games ever made. If we fill the world with interesting characters that we care about, then the player won’t feel like their job is unimportant.

It’s not perfect, but that’s how I’d handle a job like this.

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A Hundred!20202014Many comments. 174, if you're a stickler

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  1. Duffy says:

    I’m curious how much the licensing rules get in the way with your story idea. I know the LotR licensing is very odd, I kind of assumed that SoM was based on the Movie License and not the Book License. Would be interesting to learn how much licensing impacted their design and story.

    I don’t think they side stepped the thematic ramifications of Talion’s path, I think they show Celebrimbor’s story specifically to foreshadow your eventual failure. While the game-play is in essence revenge porn I feel like the end result is far from ‘and he won despite the themes of LotR’. But I do think the dangling sequel ending does kind of leave that as less of a definitive statement. Especially since you experience the story from Talion’s point of view thus his fall to the Dark Side feels like he’s winning (from his corrupted view he is), we’re basically playing out the bad ending.

    • Ivan says:

      Haven’t played it yet, but I intend to; but hearing that the end is either a cliff hanger or a setup for a sequel is really disappointing. I really with that devs would get over this idea that EVERYTHING needs to be open for a sequel. A single, self contained story would be very refreshing at this point. Besides, so long as they don’t kill Talion they can contrive some reason to build a second game around him. It wouldn’t be hard with him being a ranger and all, it’s kinda in the job description.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        “but hearing that the end is either a cliff hanger or a setup for a sequel is really disappointing.”

        Its not.The ending is a setup for continuing to faff around in the sandbox.

        • Duffy says:

          Given the plot insinuations and the fact that we know Talion can’t beat Sauron I 100% believe they left it open for a sequel, especially given his dark side eye color change in the last scene and the handful of allusions to the inability for Evil to conquer Evil. Otherwise they left a super-powered avenging being running around Middle-Earth.

          • Felblood says:

            Oh yes.

            Talion’s hubris is definitely intended to be his fatal flaw, and I am looking forward to seeing him get his comeuppance. I just wish they had done it in the main game.

            Really, if this game has a fatal flaw, it’s a lack of confidence. The fact that Talion’s plan to kill Sauron obviously has to fail is hinted at, when the writers could have been a bit more open about that. Everyone knows that Frodo and Gollum kill Sauron why bother this has a chance of succeeding, even if Talion doesn’t know that.

            Would it have been that hard for the Black Captains to be just a little more smug about the fact that they are expendable meat puppets, and whatever Talion may think he has accomplished, all his actions will come to serve the ends of the “most subtle of all the Balrogs. The idea that any of this stuff caught Sauron by surprise seems a little silly.

            Really, this game seems to “Get” Middle Earth, it jut has a crippling fear that’s its audience won’t. Maybe it’s right about that.

            • trevalyan says:

              I don’t think they could have left fewer hints or made the Black Captains any more smug without giving the whole game away. Please consider the following:

              – The plot isn’t about you- it’s sparked by the Black Hand trying to summon Celebrimbor, and the wraith seeing a chance for -his- revenge on Sauron.
              – Celebrimbor mercilessly lies to Gollum about the Precious, so that Gollum will deliver the tools he needs for power. It’s the same thing he’s doing to you.
              – “We must use the weapons of our enemy against him.” “Turn that evil against himself.” “There can be only one Lord of the Rings.” “Thief?! It was mine to keep!” Celebrimbor echoes those corrupted by the Ring, like Gollum, Boromir and Saruman, because he’s corrupted by the Ring. He calls himself the Silver Hand, and his “hand brands” directly allude to Saruman!
              – “We will not abandon Middle-Earth… until the betrayer and all his works are undone.” The Bright Lord of Mordor’s true colours, revealed after collecting all the Ithildin.
              – The Hammer mocks you for embracing the Darkness even as you kill him, and the Tower’s boss fight feels easy because he secretly wants you to win. He tortures you with the truth that Celebrimbor is a liar who can release you at any time, and that the elf is the only one who has become stronger for all your have done.

              If you don’t believe me, open the game up again and read the entry for Sauron, or the Talons of the Black Hand. Something seem a little bit off? I wrote a lot about this on Reddit: you can read it if you like, though I’m working on an updated version. http://redd.it/2idoiv

              Remember, the secret to Feanor’s fall is that he thought he was doing the right thing.

    • The Specktre says:

      I don’t think they side stepped the thematic ramifications of Talion’s path, I think they show Celebrimbor’s story specifically to foreshadow your eventual failure.

      But that’s all dependent on the Celebrimbor they invented and not the actual character. Other than helping make the Rings of Power, and Sauron torturing and killing him (and sticking his body on a pole at the forefront of his army while Eregion was burned to the ground), the rest of that crap is made up. The only crime Celebrimbor was guilty of was his passion for creating things. He had no “dark past” they gave him was hogwash. Did the devs even read The Silmarillion? That guy was nothing like his horrible, kin-slaying father. But given the crap they pull, he might as well have been–seizing the One Ring and calling himself the “Bright Lord of Mordor? Raising his own army of orcs? Egads! All for their silly story.

      • Duffy says:

        I think that’s a ramification of the Licensing, I know ‘The Silmarillion’ licensing has only been granted once and they let it lapse back to the estate. He’s probably just mentioned in an appendix which let them use him as long as they made up the details instead of using exactly what happened in ‘The Silmarillion’.

        Regardless, while I agree it’s based on the made up version, they present it as part of the story context so it can and should impact the interpretation of Talion’s story. The merit of those design/story decisions is debatable but it is there none the less.

    • Mike S. says:

      I don’t see anything that couldn’t be done under the movie license. (Which can be assumed, since for all practical purposes it’s the only license there is for tie-in works. And will be at least as long as Christopher Tolkien lives.) The basic rule (as I understand it from a friend who worked on a tabletop RPG) is that you can’t reference anything from Tolkien that isn’t in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Pre-LotR stuff is fine as long as it can be found in the text or the appendices, or else is completely invented, and either way doesn’t rely on information that’s only in the Silmarillion, etc.

      Since those other books don’t add much to our understanding of what the Rangers or the Elves of Rivendell and Lorien were doing in the mid-late Third Age, they’re pretty free to do just about anything this side of giving the names of the other two wizards.

      (I was the only one in the theater who laughed out loud in the first Hobbit movie when Gandalf said he couldn’t remember them.)

      • Bryan says:

        You weren’t the only one who laughed when he said that. Though you may have been the only one in your theater who did, I suppose. Because I found it pretty funny too. :-)

        Especially having read Unfinished Tales, and specifically the sections of “The Istari” chapter that were about the Blue Wizards. And the different opinions Tolkien had about them at various times in his life… “yeah, I don’t really know” is just about perfect.

    • James says:

      I would have got a kick out of something set in Arnor (or the remnants of it) the films didn’t really cover the north, War in the North has shown we can show it in games.

  2. Lord Nyax says:

    I like your basic game idea, but I’m wondering what the best way to play that out would be: would it be better to have an already fleshed out main character with an “assigned” questline (as in, you never give in to people’s attempts to make you a ruler or indulge in dark arts because that’s not the way the story works and you’re never given that option) or whether it would be better to allow players to pursue power and dominance and have those choices result in bad endings where they lose everything, much like Borimir or Denathor or the like.

    Obviously the first option would be less expensive and probably truer in tone and feel, but the second option would be interesting if done right. Of course, I doubt something that complicated could get past executive meddling. I mean it’s still amazing that Spec Ops happened, I can’t imagine it would be easy to convince marketing that the game should tell the player he’s wrong for picking one way of playing over another.

    • Tektotherriggen says:

      The difference is, Spec Ops: The Line was something (a deconstructive criticism of war and war games) that was marketed as something else (a straight dude-bro shooter). Justifiably, in my opinion, but anyway…

      Your suggestion is for a game, advertised as being based on Tolkien, that includes one of the major themes of Tolkien’s work. That’s HONEST marketing (so, yeah, presumably the marketing department would hate it…).

      I do like the idea of taking the kind of karma meter that, in other games, is often a slap-on-the-wrist at most, and turning it into a major punishment for the character. If done well, it wouldn’t need to be a punishment for the player, just as Macbeth punishes the title character, not the theatre audience.

      • Lord Nyax says:

        Definitely. Possible “bad” endings that are still fun to get to seems like a win win to me: the tone and message of the work remains intact, and the player gets more content and autonomy.

        Would still be incredibly difficult to pull of right. You’d need a skilled writing team that is commited to the idea, as well as balancing the mechanics so that players don’t feel that the “wrong” way to play unfairly more viable than the “correct” way and that they’re being “punished” for playing intelligently. Also the whole executive meddling bit. You’d need the focus of and indie with the budget of an AAA, and that’s almost impossible to get. Artistic priorities get fuzzy when that much cash is at stake.

        • AR+ says:

          Dawn of War 2: Chaos Rising KIND OF did this. The more you used Chaos equipment (which was more powerful than regular equipment available at the same point in the game) or committed impure acts (which were often much easier than the pure alternative) the worse of an ending you’d get. I don’t remember how many there were but it was a gradient, instead of just Good/Bad. However, the worst ending, while certainly bad for you and your squad, was not so bad that the Imperium lost the system to Chaos or anything like that, so it could certainly have gone much further, since if it was actually the case that you needed Chaos to win, you might spin it as a necessarily sacrifice, whereas a more thematically appropriate result would pretty much like in LotR, in which you actually fall to corruption and spend the last few levels helping the evils you had been fighting to stop.

          • Mathias says:

            There were four endings in Chaos Rising:

            100% purity: You get promoted to captain of the Fourth Company and the Chapter is declared pure.

            Some corruption: You’re sent on a crusade of penitence to the Eye of Terror for a hundred years.

            Lots of corruption: You are executed for your failure to keep your squadmates pure.

            All of the corruption: Your strike force joins the Black Legion.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        “The difference is, Spec Ops: The Line was something (a deconstructive criticism of war and war games) that was marketed as something else (a straight dude-bro shooter). Justifiably, in my opinion, but anyway…”

        So bait and switch is ok to pull on consumers when the people doing it are making a point you like? What if it was ambushing you with a message you didn’t like? Is it ok to pull bait and switch then? What if it was your favorite game genre and you’d paid good money only to have it savaged and for you to be told you suck for playing it?

        I’ll bet you wouldn’t appreciate being tricked into spending your hard earned money that way.

    • ET says:

      I think it’s worth noting that the second option is basically what the original two Fallout games did. I mean, I don’t know how much meddling the executives would do, but as far as gameplay, story, etc, it’s technically possible to keep track of choices, and show the consequences to the player at the the end. :)

  3. Arctem says:

    I just really wish that the game had been set in any other universe. Sure, the story would have still mean mindless and uninteresting, but at least then it wouldn’t ALSO have been embarrassing an existing mythos.

    The gameplay is solid and the nemesis system works fantastically. So long as developers can take those and transfer them into a setting that meshes with them better, I’ll be happy.

    • Lord Nyax says:

      Weirdly enough, as I was trying to think of better setting alternatives, I was struck at how well Eragon would have worked for the game. I mean, I know Eragon doesn’t have as huge a fandom as LOTR (or Harry Potter or Game of Thrones, or any number of other popular things) but it would have worked really well. The main character could be a rider whose dragon was killed by Urgals, which would get the boilerplate revenge motive out of the way. The main character could still have the dragon’s soul crystal thing (forgot their name) so the dragon’s disembodied soul could take the place of the wraith, and the books had a strong focus on swordfighting augmented by a magic system that would transfer well to a video game (leveling up and learning new spells and wards by finding new “spell words” ala Skyrim).

      Granted the story probably still wouldn’t have worked out well, but I think it would have gelled a lot better with Eragon than LOTR.

    • Brandon says:

      You know what kind of game would work amazingly with a Nemesis system? A space combat game. Player uses escape pods to safety before their ships are destroyed, and their enemies promote the pilot that destroyed their ship them to ace pilot.

      Similar enough. It would work fantastically with a space game.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      I’m with you. I’ve generally avoided LOTR video games because the ones I’ve seen (including this one) look suspiciously like they’re going to miss the point of the work. I was having second thoughts about buying this one because I’d heard good things about the gameplay but thanks to Shamus, I now know I can skip this one entirely and move on. No amount of gameplay justifies a game set on Middle Earth that violates Tolkien’s themes.

      At least it doesn’t for me. If any of you are enjoying it, thats great. This isn’t moral outrage on my part, just my own pickiness.

  4. SlothfulCobra says:

    It’s a really fair point. Tolkien himself experienced war in a way that is totally alien to most western audiences today. He saw action in WWI, and he saw the horrors of WWII. To most audiences today, war is fun and cool, but he saw it differently, and that really comes through in Lord of the Rings.

    Then again, this is the nature of IPs being co-opted into new works of fiction by unrelated third party groups, everything’s going to trend more towards the mainstream, like it or not. It’s like how all the weird utopianist futurism that was in Star Trek goes out the window after Gene Roddenbarry leaves the picture, or how Michael Bay’s Transformer movies don’t really do that great of a job of advertising toys. Everybody leaves their own spin on things, and there’s not that much that’s going to stop it. Monolith isn’t going to make a game about stabbing dudes and pretend that it isn’t a videogame where murder equals fun. That’s the way the industry goes, for better or worse.

    Also you misspelled the word “masturbatory” in your article.

    • Lord Nyax says:

      I think you’re right about creators always putting their own spin on things. Of course that doesn’t make all spins equally acceptable, as I’m sure you’d agree. Peter Jackson’s spin on LOTR, or even some of the LOTR movie tie-in video games of the past didn’t change the tone up to this degree. It makes one wonder why it is worth the effort to use a particular IP if you have to twist it so out of shape to achieve your design goals.

  5. Mike says:

    Good article. The headline is awkward, though, as “revenge porn” is an actual criminal thing, not the revenge equivalent of “food porn.”

    • Shamus says:

      Forehead slap. I’d totally forgotten about that usage. Yes, the headline is awkward. The url contains the title I originally gave the article. This is the first time I’ve been disappointed in the change they made. I might talk it over with the escapist and have them run title changes by me in the future. I don’t mind them making titles more click-bait-y, but this one kind of strays from what I was saying.

      • Tizzy says:

        If it makes you feel better, the second meaning of the term never even occurred to me until I read the comment above. I guess we live sheltered lives…

      • The Mich says:

        But “revenge porn” is also written in the column itself. Have they modified the article body as well?

        Also, having a more click-bait-y title is not enough of an excuse for them to remove “tawdry”. It’s just a word that sounds too funny. Heh.

      • The Rocketeer says:

        Actually, you’ve just mentioned something that’s been bothering me.

        On a lot of Escapist articles, particularly yours (and I think some of MovieBob’s), the title indicated by the URL and the actual title displayed on the page and on the links to the piece aren’t the same. And in almost all of these cases, the title in the URL will be more toned down and on-topic, while the displayed title will be something much more provocative and click-baity.

        I’d had my suspicions for a while that this was a discrepancy between the title that the article was written and submitted under and the title that had been countermanded onto it for marketing purposes. I know you’ve said before that you don’t mind the Escapist re-titling your articles, but sometimes- including this case, I think- the new title goes a bit too far, becoming noticeably more aggressive or accusatory than the article itself, or even somewhat misrepresenting it.

        I guess I don’t really have a question. Some of the more skewed occurrences just leave a bad taste in my mouth.

  6. Mechaninja says:

    I’ve never read a game review that makes me regret playing WoW constantly.

  7. Mechaninja says:

    Enormity.

    Dear Internet:

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    AKA – LOTR is not excessively wicked.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    You know what I found most baffling about those that say the story of shadow of more door is the wrong tone for an adaptation of the book?That they never said such a thing about the movies.And the thing is,the movie is as far from the book as the game is from the movie.You are looking at the wrong medium as the source of adaptation here.

    • Lord Nyax says:

      Ehhh, while definitely its own take on LOTR I’d argue that Peter Jackson, while spinning the story his own way, had significantly more respect for the tone of the original than Shadow of Mordor does. Remember, nobody thought that LOTR could have a successful movie adaptation and PJ had to fight hard just to get money for three movies instead of two. It was definitely a project he cared about enough to fight hard to make it happen, and to make it happen right. Shadow of Mordor on the other hand looks more like an easy profit based decision: LOTR is big, lets use that license because it will sell more games. So while both adaptations and definitely different, and by necessity different because of the change in medium, I still think people are well within their rights to complain about tone. There are levels of dissonance, and SoM is pretty noticeable.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        “had significantly more respect for the tone of the original than Shadow of Mordor does.”

        Thats because,as Ive stated,shadow of more door is not an adaptation of the original.It takes inspiration from the movie,not the book.

        • Lord Nyax says:

          Ooooooh, I see what you’re saying here. My bad, I misinterpreted your comment.

          And now I can see your point. I suppose in contrast to the film (with its glorified action sequences where a lone elf takes out countless foes by himself) it’s not that far off.

        • Thomas says:

          Then it’s a really frigging awful adaptation of the films too. The tonal clashes with the film are almost as bad. The films aren’t a violent super cool gore fest, dwelling on the awesomeness of decapitating orcs. Orcs get decapitated but the films have a medieval epic tone, not a gritty action hero one.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            And the book is not full of hobbit gay romance,immense focusing on character deaths,forgotten plot points,characters going on life changing adventures for the lulz,laughing at the dwarves and immensely hydrophobic nazgul.So,whats your point?

            I mean how is this scene closer to the book than the game is to the movie?Or how about this scene?Or this scene?Or this one?Or how about this piece of ridiculousness?

            • The Specktre says:

              Well, that first one is an actual song the hobbits sing in the story, although they DID change up the time, place, and context for it. The last one is a Hollywood touch-up of a part where it’s strongly implied that Sam sees Ringwraiths as they finish crossing the river in the book. Annoying, but I think those are better than the silly action scenes.

            • Joe Informatico says:

              Ahem.

              “Well, you have now, Sam, dear Sam,” said Frodo, and he lay back in Sam’s gentle arms, closing his eyes, like a child at rest when night-fears are driven away by some loved voice or hand. Sam felt that he could sit like that in endless happiness…

              -J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

              Because lifelong friends marching to their likely deaths can show unguarded affection, or at least they could, before the modern cultural conception of masculinity deemed it a sign of weakness. Tolkien would have known this first-hand, having witnessed it in the trenches between men who’d known each other only a few weeks.

              What’s wrong with the crossing at Buckleberry Ferry? Just because it’s more immediate than the book? The Nazgul might not be hydrophobic, but their horses are still animals. That’s why their horses are later drowned by the wave of river water conjured by Glorfindel (Arwen in the film).

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                The first part,I dont mind quote.In the book,it is described well,as two friends brought together by tough stuff during a war.But in the movie?Its gay hobbit love.I dont know if its due to the thing being shortened,or due to the acting,direction,or whatever,but the movie resents it as man on man hobbit love.

                The second part,I know exactly why it came out wrong:Its a 3 feet gap that the nazgul refuses to jump because he is intensely hydrophobic.And,like The Specktre pointed out,they did it just so it would look more intense for the big screen.And thats exactly why that scene is the first instance I stopped looking at the movie as a good adaptation of the book.Its stupid and its done in a stupid manner for the sake of useless action where it was not needed.That and the scene with merry and pippin coming along just for lulz.

                • Rymdsmurfen says:

                  The ferry-scene is also the spot when my hopes for a good adaptation died. In the book (if I recall correctly) the hobbits spot the black rider in the distance, after they have crossed on the ferry. That’s a much more menacing image, and PJ decides to replace it with a cliché chase scene… But then again, that’s the man who thought a skate-boarding elf would fit perfectly in a Tolkien setting.

                  I think PJ’s only saving grace is that he managed to surround himself with some skilled people (that did seem to care) and that’s why the films have some beautiful visuals.

                  Also, while I’m nagging, what’s with the orchestral soundtrack playing constantly in almost every scene? It’s like someone shouting “THIS SCENE IS EPIC! AND THIS ONE TOO!”

                  • Peter Jackson is amazing at casting, and usually pretty good at extracting good performances. The casting talent seems to have extended to getting excellent artists and craftspeople and (motivating them)/(giving them free reign) to do an amazing job. And I think he’s very good at landscape stuff, which is important to Middle Earth–so some of the scenes just showing places, whether wilderness or Edoras or Minas Tirith or Lothlorien or Rivendell or the Shire, are excellent. And he often (not always) did a very good job with the more emotional scenes.

                    Oddly for an ex-horror director, what struck me about the movies is that for the most part he fell down worst depicting the horror elements of LoTR. So for instance Shelob, the Paths of the Dead, and the siege of Minas Tirith were handled very badly in some ways. Partly because of the same urge to show everything which works so well for many other scenes. So like what makes Shelob scary is that it happens in the dark, with glowing eyes and burbling hissing and half-seen spiderwebs and bulk looming out of the darkness. Instead Peter Jackson gives us “Wow, isn’t this an awesomely nasty-looking giant spider?” The Paths of the Dead are all about vague, half seen half sensed, sort of grey, sorrowful spirits accumulating around the edges of your vision. Peter Jackson gives us bright green glowing ectoplasm with gleefully cackling leaders–“Look at these nifty skeletal spooks in loving detail!”. What-ever. And the siege of Minas Tirith was all about Sauron’s artificial night, and the fear that came to men in darkness with no dawn as they watched files of red torch flames approaching the walls and black riders in the sky swooping out of the night. So Peter Jackson gives us an overcast day and “Look at these nifty trolls and sweet catapults and ranks of ugly orcs and cool pterodactyls”. The funny thing is he’d gotten the atmosphere a lot more right (give or take a surfer or two) at Helm’s Deep.

                    • Mike S. says:

                      His other big problem is that he clearly doesn’t grok nobility. Doesn’t like it, doesn’t get it, neither wishes nor is able to portray it sympathetically onscreen. Just about all of his recharacterizations: Aragorn as reluctant ruler, Gimli as comic relief, Denethor as cackling villain, Faramir as thug, etc. come down to the fact that he strips that out, and then has to replace it with something he finds more relatable. (Usually a standard Hollywood characterization pulled from central casting.)

                      The more ground-level characters fare better, and his Boromir is arguably an actual improvement, because they don’t present the problem.

                      (Except to an extent for Sam, who has the opposite issue. So he’s transformed from devoted servant– and it’s no accident that Tolkien, for whom service was a religious ideal, made that character the one on whom the quest wound up hinging– into “friend who happens to be Frodo’s gardener”.)

                    • Hmmm, that makes a lot of sense to me. And I mean, PJ himself always gives the impression of being a very earthy, hobbitlike sort of person so it would fit that he’d fail to mesh with the nobility stuff.
                      Even down to the dialogue . . . as a rule I found the script’s attempts at grander speeches distinctly flat and unconvincing where they departed from Tolkien’s words. Luckily some were saved by good performances.

                    • MichaelGC says:

                      @Mike S.

                      Never previously thought of it that way but that’s hard to argue with! Definitely on to something, there.

                    • Come to that, he even has trouble with it on the bad guys’ side. Again, siege of Minas Tirith–I kept thinking back to a line that was repeated more than once in the book. Just after the good guys got a minor, or even apparently important, victory the text would then say something like “But it was no brigand or orc chieftain that led the assault upon Gondor”, and the Lord of the Nazgul would bring forth some more bad news to turn the tide again. So what does PJ do? He has some brigand or orc chieftain mostly lead the assault upon Gondor. I never understood why, but there again he’s substituting a more ground-level non-noble not-elevated antagonist for the Witch King, a fearsome undead loremaster of ancient days. Basically bringing in someone PJ could come to grips with, as it were.

                    • Mike S. says:

                      It also makes me shake my head when people dream of Jackson getting his hands on the Silmarillion. (Over CJRT’s dead body, of course. But he’s no longer young, and I have no idea what the rest of the Tolkien family’s response would be if Peter Jackson pulled up with a bunch of dump trucks full of money.)

                      I’m not convinced that the Silmarillion as such is adaptable period. It’s more of a collection of legends in various modes than a single story. But even if you picked something (Beren and Luthien, the tale of the Children of Hurin, the Fall of Gondolin) and ran with it, there are almost no characters for Jackson to really grapple with.

                      (I think he could just about manage a flawed, angry, and tragic figure like Turin, but only half or fewer of the characters who surround him. I really don’t want to see Peter Jackson’s Thingol.)

            • Chris says:

              “Hydrophobic Nazgul” would be the ultimate band name.

            • Zak McKracken says:

              “Gay Hobbit Love”?

              I completely agree with the silliness of the action scenes (especially the skateboarding, the AT-AT-Walker-killing and the Legolas-Move thing), but … what?

              I’ve watched those movies about three to four times but I’ve no idea what you are talking about. There’s friendship, lots of it, and that is as it should be, but the most gay thing I can remember is that Haldir looks a bit funny in the movie …

    • Thomas says:

      The films are 100x closer in tone to the books than the game is. Sure they focus on the combat a little more and switch around the personalities of one or two characters slightly, but the central theme is still there, it’s no uber gory. Aragorn doesn’t disembowel orcs and then strut towards the camera (he strides :P).

      The game makes the films look the most precise translation ever. The idea of a series of films that were as far away from the books as the game was is really kind of hilarious to me. It would be a super gritty 90’s action flick where Aragorn breaks the ring on the face of Sauron and then slow mo walks towards the camera. The hobbits would die off in the first ten minutes because the world is too grim for little people to survive. Boromir would be begging the Fellowship not to try and frontal assault and instead sneak the ring into Mount Doom.

      Denethor would be a jacked up version of the Punisher dispensing his corrupt justice Up Close and Personal.

      • Ivan says:

        While I’m not exactly a Tolkien Buff I’m going to say I agree with that. I’ve read the books, Hobbit then Fellowship, watched the movies some years later, then read the Fellowship again much more recently. I really don’t have an issue with the movies. The only time I was disappointed by them was when Pippin and Merry tricked Treebeard into going south towards Isengard and essentially tricked him into the hasty decision of going to war against Saruman. I thought it made Treebeard seem childish and gullible which is a complete betrayal of his character in the book and even up to that point in the movie.

        While I can’t yet speak for the game, it doesn’t sound promising. I understood the books well enough to understand that a revenge fantasy that doesn’t end in the utter destruction of the perpetrating character would not be something you would find in any of Tolkien’s work.

        • Shamus says:

          It’s interesting how everyone has a “worst movie moment”. The Treebeard moment didn’t bother me at all, but I went nuts when Aragorn CUT OFF THE ENVOY’S HEAD IN PARLEY. Rage!

          And some people didn’t bat an eye at that, but were incensed that Bombadil wasn’t in the film.

          We are indeed a tough group to please. :)

          • The Specktre says:

            I think what bothered me more was that scene with Treebeard made the ents out to be terrible guardians of the forest. The film tries to establish them as that, then turns around and makes them oblivious to the fact that entire square miles of their own forest got chopped down and dragged off without their noticing–which they were completely aware of in the book. It’s not even “Oh, this isn’t how it ACTUALLY HAPPENED,” so much as it’s a herp-derp movie moment.

            • Ivan says:

              Yeah there’s that too, I kinda thought I had implied that though because for the Hobbit’s “trick” to work, Treebeard (and all the other Ents) would have had to be oblivious to the going’s on around Isengard. Which is, as you said completely silly.

          • syal says:

            Didn’t they do that in the book? I remember them specifically killing the Lieutenant, though I don’t remember if it was in parley or not.

            Mine was Faramir trying to take the ring, with I think weakened both him and Denethor as characters.

            • The Specktre says:

              No. The Mouth of Sauron was never killed during the parley. That was a movie thing.

              • Felblood says:

                Speaking of the Mouth of Sauron: Does anyone else think it’s odd that he isn’t one of the Black Captains yet in ME:SoM?

                How much would you bet that Talion is The Mouth?

                Even if that never becomes the official story, I can’t suppress this feeling that it was pitched in a meeting at some point.

                Likewise, does anyone else get vibe that this Talion guy was slapped together after they decided to to make Isildur the protagonist?

                • The Specktre says:

                  “How much would you bet that Talion is The Mouth?”

                  Huh. Well, it’s certainly an idea.

                  “Likewise, does anyone else get vibe that this Talion guy was slapped together after they decided to to make Isildur the protagonist?”

                  Wait, Isildur’s in the game what now?

                  • Felblood says:

                    “not to” rather than “to to”

                    Working at the tutu shop is scrambling my brain.

                    Anyway, I think they considered a number of canon characters for their protagonist, before creating Talion the Amalgum.

                    He’s one part legolas, one part Gimli, one part Boromir, one part aragorn, one part isildur, one part Gollum, one part Celebrimbor classic, and two parts Sauron himself. (Seriously, why are they dropping all these quotes if not to roll out, “To wield the Ring is to become Sauron”? –and yet random orc captains are giving me “We’re not so different” speeches. Who throws away an opportunity to do that?)

                    You’d think will all that DNA he’d have managed to come out more interesting, but the game didn’t have the guts to really take him any of the places those characters went. It feels like the game is constantly teasing me with the story we could have had, but someone in marketing vetoed that so we could have more straight white dude growling.

                    Still, hope springs eternal for the sequel.

                • Felblood says:

                  BTW: I would lose this bet.

                  The Mouth is explicitly stated to be a living Numenorean sorceror, and Talion is a wraith sorceror from Gondor.

                  Also, he has been working for Sauron since the rebuilding of Barad Dur, so I don’t know what he’s doing during this game.

                  It was a fun headcanon while it lasted.

                  Here’s to hoping that there’s an even worse fate in store for Talion.

            • Isy says:

              Ugh. I’m with you. Faramir in the books was one of my favorites. Faramir in the second movie was just awful. I especially laugh when, after dragging the hobbits on their ear and bullying them all the way to freaking Gondor, Faramir suddenly changes his mind, and Sam tells him he’s shown himself to be a man of highest quality.

              Sam, you don’t need to be polite. He was a grade-A douche.

          • ET says:

            Count me as one of the people wanting Bombadil. Not for mindless “be 100% accurate translation” purposes, though, but because I think it would have been a good change of pace in the films. Like, a lot of the time, it’s almost non-stop action, or intense non-action drama. Bombadil would have been a decent 5-10 minute scene, to let us goof around and settle down, to get a break from the other stuff. :)

          • Ivan says:

            Ha! True, I have to wonder if it’s just people falling into different points on the same spectrum (where I’ll give the movie Helm’s Deep because action and epic battles are fun, even if they’re not the point of the story, and someone else won’t even relent Bombidil even though he’s kinda a bit of an unproductive tangent even in the context of the books) or if we’re all just disappointed that our favorite parts of the book were misrepresented.

            • MichaelGC says:

              It’s pretty idiosyncratic, I think! For me it was Aragorn ‘looking like he might take the Ring for moment.’ Nope, sorry. Gandalf was tempted; Galadriel was tempted; obviously boatloads of other folk were also tempted.

              Not Strider.

              Although it works both ways, I guess. Before I saw the movies I’d worked myself into a preëmptive froth because they were going to get Galadriel wrong. And then they (for me) knocked Galadriel out of the park (er… as it were).

              Given the number of people who really care about LotR, and who care about it in multifarious ways for all sorts of different reasons, I think the amount of vitriol the films didn’t generate* speaks volumes.

              The “original trilogy,” that is: I certainly can’t say quite the same about the “prequels” …

              *In aggregate, I mean. Certainly don’t want to diminish anyone’s specific grievances! I just mean it had the potential to be ‘Mass Effect Ending x100 if not x1000.’ And it fortunately didn’t live up to that potential.

              • Mike S. says:

                Weird. I hated Jackson’s Galadriel, substituting a special effects extravaganza for what should have been an acting job in the temptation scene, and losing the humane kindness of her interactions with the hobbits and with Gimli.

                Conversely, I don’t really have a problem with anyone being tempted by the Ring per se– it’s what it does. (Bombadil excepted.) How they respond to the temptation is what in Sam’s words shows their quality.

                (Faramir is never tempted not because he’s immune, but because he knows better than to expose himself to it for any longer than absolutely necessary. “I am wise enough to know that there are some perils from which a man must flee.”)

                • MichaelGC says:

                  Indeed: I wouldn’t try to claim Galadriel was objectively knocked out the park (I really should have chosen a better metaphor originally), but it worked for me: my original assumption was that there would be no way to portray all of that on screen. Just, no way. So I take my hat off that they found a way … but given it didn’t work for you I’ll put my hat back on!

                  Other than that I don’t really have an argument other than ‘what could have been a total abomination wasn’t, at least not totally,’ which I’m happy to admit is weaksauce salad dribbled with dressing from the Last Homely House Salad Co.

                  PS Shamus’ commenting system seems to have deleted ‘and Aragorn’ from your ‘Bombadil excepted’ parenthesis. ;D

                  PPS Totally with you on Faramir! Was Tolkien a younger brother? If not I’m not sure how he nailed it so exactly.

                  • Mike S. says:

                    Wikipedia says he had one younger brother. Though by the time he wrote Faramir he had three sons and a daughter, and it may be significant that youngest son Christopher was the one who worked most closely with him.

      • Mind you, Denethor’s characterization was the single worst of the movies. Not the actor’s fault. They took a proud, stern, highly competent man who finally cracked under the strain and turned him into a jackass and then had Gandalf whack him over the head with his staff right in front of the guards before he even went nuts. Whaaaatttt??? That makes not the tiniest bit of sense; even if he had been a dork (which book Denethor wasn’t, like, at all) there is no possible way Gandalf would have stayed un-jailed pulling a stunt like that. Minas Tirith is a formal place with serious guardsmen who are no way in hell gonna sit still for their Steward being attacked by some traveller with a dubious reputation.
        Most of the things PJ did that I disagree with, I can kind of see why he might have wanted to do them; “audience will want this or that” considerations or whatever. But the way they handled Denethor, I have no idea what he (and his wife the scriptwriter) was thinking.

    • Tizzy says:

      I haven’t played the game, but if it is anything like Shamus wrote, I would have to disagree with you here.

      Are the movies true to the source material? No, of course not.

      Do they have an agenda of their own that deviates from the book? Yes, to me, the conflicts within the forces of good that we find in the film is turned into ludicrous bickering, turning their disagreement from understandable to laughable. The films strike me as too dark overall. Which is amazing, given that the books were written in a much darker time than the movies were made.

      But did the movie try to drive home the main points of the story, the points that Shamus raises? Yes. Not alway very well, but they’re all there. They read the books, and they got it.

      The movies have added a lot to make the offering suitable to mainstream audiences, and I’ve surprised myself at how little interest I’ve had in seeing them a second time, but I think the essentials are in there, and the extra stuff may betray the tone of the story but not the essential message.

      • Felblood says:

        Bear in mind that Shamus lost faith in the writers pretty early, so he’s picked up a lot of niggling issues that most players would let slide by.

        For example, I will actually defend the decapitation mechanic, on grounds of both lore and gameplay, but it clearly set his teeth on edge. Your mileage may vary.

        As promised, decapitation defended on two counts:
        Lore and Theme:

        What’s Gimli’s signature finishing move in the books? Combat decapitation. –often 40 times in a single battle. After he learns of his uncle Balin’s death, he becomes particularly hateful of orcs, and relishes humiliating them with this signature move.

        Gameplay:

        In Shadow of Mordor, slain enemy mooks can “cheat death” and become a new nemesis, if there is room in the hierarchy. These tend to be the most troublesome captains, because they are more likely to gain the Ambusher trait, paired with the humiliator, elusive, coward or battle hardened traits, which means they will show up magically when you are already in a bad position, and be harder than normal to kill off. They are also very likely to have become immune to whatever technique you used to kill them the first time, or even to becoem more powerful if you try to use it on them (Hate of Burns).

        This is a pretty clever idea, not only because it’s an excuse to create enemies with sweet scars and origin stories, but because it forces players to use all three combat styles, and discourages players from standing around grinding trash mobs all day. If you stealth kill lots of orcs, you can expect to start seeing captains who are immune to your favorite style. If once of those guys cheats death again, you might suddenly have a foe who can only be beaten using the moves you need to practice most. When a game is built around having bags and bags of fairly shallow mechanics, good design comes from finding ways to keep players moving from mini-game to mini-game.

        This can be a problem though, because combat finishers are your best weapon against captains who have no specific weakness (you might open with a stealth finisher, but unless a captain is vulnerable to stealth it will only take a huge chunck of his health meter, rather than kill him outright, a combat finisher is then the go-to method for finishing the job) Also, you’re likely to kill far more orcs via combat finisher than by Elven Sorcery or Stealth, which could lead to a world full of captains who all “died” to sword techniques.

        Enter, decapitation. Decapitated foes are far, far less likely to cheat death. It’s only happened once in any of the let’s plays that I watched, and it caused enough odd behavior that I think it was a bug.

        If you’re good at the Arkham style combat, but weak in all the other minigames that pay out in dead orcs, it’s good to know that every orc you can decapitate is one less guy who might come back later with an iron collar* to ruin your day. It’s a great incentive to push your hit streak higher, since higher hit streaks mean finishers decapitate more reliably even if you are using finishers, and thus resetting the speed bonus you get for building your hitsteak (another interesting mechanical departure from AC and AA).

        *(Wouldn’t it be sweet if that was how the game visibly denoted captains who are immune to combat finishers? I love it when game make those little references.)

  9. Thomas says:

    A couple of people have implied that it’s too hard to adapt and I agree it would never be perfect, but Shadows of Mordor is an order of magnitude worse than every other Lord of the Rings game that’s been made. The Hack ‘n Slashes felt true to the films, the RTS’ weren’t bad, LOTRO tries more than other MMOs do.

    It’d be hard to truly capture the message of the books about how fighting and power isn’t the answer, but it’s not hard not to spit in the books face like this game does.

    Having the protagonist move like a character in a medieval drama would have been a simple enough improvement. Playing as an actual Ranger doing Ranger stuff sounds fun.

    • Lord Nyax says:

      Yeah, I agree. Of course, the hack and slash games were focused on being movie tie ins, so they pretty strictly followed the plot of the movies. That left them less room to change the tone, especially in contrast to SoM where they are creating the story from scratch.

      The RTS’s followed pretty much the same formula: hey, you remember how cool the movies were? Well here’s everything from the movies, exactly as you enjoyed it! I mean they did start to innovate in the second one with the Dwarves and Arnor faction, but at that point it’s really more about lore and scenery than story. Harder to mess up.

      SoM, in contrast to other LOTR games, really tries to do its own thing…and funnily enough, that’s the problem. I love originality, but if this was the kind of story they wanted to make they should have made an original setting to put it in.

      • Ivan says:

        Ironically enough, the story is neither original nor even uncommon in the world of video games. It’s very safe from a marketing perspective even if it is new and risky for The Lord of the Rings.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Actual ranger stuff you say?You mean stuff like this?Or stuff like this?Or maybe stuff like this?Or are you saying thats not an actual ranger doing ranger stuff either?

  10. The Mich says:

    While reading the column I was reminded of a couple of instances that went (kind of) against the revenge fantasy.

    Once, Mr. T said to Elf Casper that despite killing many more orcs than the number of people he wanted to avenge (not only the family – all of the rangers and soldiers he knew), he couldn’t feel any satisfaction, to which Cerebral Bimbo replied “deal with it. It’s never gonna happen, you’re destined to a pain that revenge won’t soothe” or something like that.

    Also I had at least one orc captain that, just before dying, observed sarcastically that all of Tally-O’s mayhem would have never brought him his family back, and in the context of the moment the impression was not “typical bad guy last words”, but “well… this orc’s got a point”.

    Are they enough to make the rest of the game less of a revenge fantasy? Probably not. But maybe it’s something, at least.

    A final thought, related to how the premise could be improved: one of the trailers had Not-Aragorn say, in reply to an orc captain who had announced his desire to kill him for good, that he wished that the orc could. While just after the tutorial Tal says that he wants to remove the curse so that he can see his family again in the afterlife, the rest of the game doesn’t really use the angle of the hero who just wants to die, and tries hard to make it so. Maybe this could also have made a more interesting story than what the game presents.

    • MichaelGC says:

      Still chuckling over ‘Elf Caspar.’ :D

    • Felblood says:

      Er… it could be spelled out better I guess, but that’s actually the twist at the end.

      At the start of the game it’s stated the finding the black hand and interrogating him is the only way Talion will find out how to die. Casper is down for this because he also want information from the Hand, so they team up.

      Over the course of murdering their way up the ranks to the Hand, Casper learns more about why he was summoned (the original reason he wanted to find his summoner) but gains memories of a new motive. Sauron is a dick and he wants to break his traitorous pupil’s toys.

      A million dead orcs later, at the end of the game, The last black captain spills the beans:
      Casper could have let Tal die at any time. He just kept him around because he needed him to kill the black captains.

      This revelation leads Talion to realize that he’s found a more interesting motivation as well. He wants to stop Sauron from ruining any other people’s lives the way Sauron ruined his family’s (after) lives. He chooses to delay reuniting with his family in order to protect the families of others. (Foolish hubris, but still pretty noble.)

      The fact that I can summarize the plot that quickly, and without mentioning any of the other characters is pretty sad, but there is the skeleton of the first part of a good story under all that brooding 90s anti-hero crap.

  11. doppleganger says:

    Thanks for the warning about the sorry state of the story in the game. I was not expecting much, judging from the trailer I had seen. Its good to know that I can forget about that aspect right of the bat. And frankly, I dont care all that much, IF the gameplay is at least somewhat interesting, and it looks like it is, thanks to the Nemesis system.

    I suspect I will be far less annoyed by the story in this game than I was in Witcher 2 (far too close to real world politics and way too much “ploughing” talk going on, it was almost depressing)

    People should stop getting their panties in a twist, each time a LOTR adaption somewhat strays from Tolkien’s words. I read the books when I was a teen, and found them interesting and somewhat boring at the same time. I tried re-reading them some years later and stopped by the time they were arriving at Tom Bombadil, I was literally bored.

    I generally like the world that Tolkien has created. And I remember it with just the right amount of recollection for me to enjoy movies or games done in its setting, and not be annoyed by the “adaptations” done to it.

    So, I am waiting for some discount at christmas holidays and staying away from any ‘lets play’ of the game until then!

  12. Tizzy says:

    I have nothing to say about the game (haven’t played it, didn’t sound appealing, frankly, no game based on LOTR has ever enticed me).

    I have to say, though, I am amazed at how well Shamus’s column managed to capture the essence of the books in so few words.

  13. mwchase says:

    Hmm. The description of the tutorial sequence kind of reminds me of Marlow Briggs. I wonder if there’s any percentage in comparing the games overall, or if this is just a case of games falling into the same beginning tradition as, say, Spawn, and then doing their own things.

  14. Trevel says:

    I pretty much spent the entire game thinking “wouldn’t this be more interesting if it was his wife doing this instead of him?”

    • nerdpride says:

      Yeah, probably. I wonder if dialogue were rewritten for a female character how much would change and for what reasons.

      I haven’t played the game but I wish typical orcs were done differently, more satire of modern industrial society somehow. Like the captains are abusive corporate managers and some others work out logistics and argue who lives and dies and still more do the tough bro-warrior-thing because there’s no other good option for young orcs. I think orcs were supposed to represent people (you know, us, “we the people”, humanity) with a bad society engineered around them (especially the leaders), knowing little other than violence, and some other muck. Videogames tend to make them just look like mean primitive hordes.

      • Trevel says:

        Honestly, you wouldn’t have to change much, if anything. The only potential snag is the “this person reminds you of your wife” bit, but since that didn’t go anywhere anyway, no big loss.

    • Felblood says:

      Why are brooding female characters less likely to have boring voice actors?

      Actually, …

      http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0354937/

      Yeah, I’d be on-board for that.

  15. evileeyore says:

    Played it. Felt like the devs had waaaaaaaay too much love in their heart for The Crow.

  16. Joshua says:

    Glad I’ll never play it then. I’m not sure I’d agree that the Dwarves are always brusque, though. Gimli was quite poetic at times, even enough to persuade Legolas to check out an underground gem cavern based upon the passion in his words. Gimli as crass and uncouth butt-monkey was definitely more of PJ’s thing.

  17. David says:

    I haven’t beaten the game yet, I admit, but I’ve had my suspicions that they’re at least trying for a Spec Ops: The Line descent-into-corruption deal.

    After reading this article, I went out and looked for spoilers to see what the ending actually was, and it does sound rather like we wind up with a corrupted Talion. In which case it’s hardly saying Tolkein was wrong…

    e.g. this discussion of it: http://www.reddit.com/r/shadowofmordor/comments/2idoiv/major_spoilers_shadow_of_mordors_plot_is_amazing/

  18. The Specktre says:

    Hey Shamus, you know what else is fun? The devs are on record for saying that “Sauron is not purely evil.” (This whole article is completely hogwash.)

    I didn’t have much faith when I first heard of the game’s premise, but the moment I read this article, I lost what little I had.

    And depending on the time frame, your game idea would also be a good set-up to incorporate some actual lore/events. King Theoden remembers Aragorn fighting alongside the Rohirrim when he was a child, which I believe is around the interim between Hobbit and LotR, if you want to stick to that part of the timeline (yes, Aragorn is THAT old). That would be a neat cameo. One reason Gandalf settled on burglary is because he outright states that “all the great heroes are busy fighting in other lands.” Otherwise, you could set it…. anywhere else. Pirates plaguing the south of Gondor. The wars in the North around Rivendell, Mirkwood, or Dale during the War of the Ring. Heck, what about even during Sauron’s war with the elves in the Second Age?

    And there’s so much more I could rant about. Black Numenoreans sacrificing people to Melkor was a thing right before Numenor was consumed in the Sea (courtesy of Sauron’s deceptions–yeah, “not purely evil” my butt), but why they would want to summon the spirit of an elf lord makes NO SENSE whatsoever. They hated elves and wanted nothing to do with them or their allies. Not to mention them summoning or retaining spirits in the world is an impossibility, as that’s not how souls work in Tolkien. If they had figured out how to keep someone from dying, they would have been performing those rituals like crazy, because that was their primary motivation behind all the stuff they did–they were trying to cheat death. So this whole curse thing flies in the face of the Black Numenoreans on so many levels, not to mention what Tolkien wrote about death and spirits. What were they even planning to do with the spirit of Celebrimbor anyway? Why did they want it? What was the goal? Why did he go to Talion instead? Was that the plan? Why would the bad guys want that? That seems like a recipe for screwing themselves over–oh wait, that’s what happened. WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY
    It looks like the Black Hand and his goons upped and left after the ritual was complete. Did they get what they wanted? Did they just mope, shrug, and walk off when what they realized it didn’t work? Do we know it didn’t work? Hng.

    Oh, here’s something fun. Gondor’s watch on Mordor was looooooooong since gone by the time between Hobbit and LotR. So that’s the events of the timeline are out of order. Also, Talion’s name did seem odd to me, but at least serviceable. But according to the game wiki, the devs derived the name from Latin, meaning “an eye for an eye”. Such a subtle and positive name for your kid. In Middl-earth, of all places. Also, I’m pretty sure that makes the etymology of the name all wrong.

    I feel like I’m only just scratching the surface of the nitty gritty.

    • Lurker says:

      There seems to be some evidence that Tolkein also believes that Sauron is `not completely evil’ (see e.g. the quotation in the wikipedia page for Sauron under Second Age).

      • Joe Informatico says:

        In the Universe of Middle-Earth, evil is not an inherent phenomenon or metaphysical force of the universe, but the absence of or turning away from good. Sauron and his master Morgoth were not inherently evil; they were evil for rebelling against the rest of the Ainur (angels, essentially). Elrond says it himself in The Fellowship of the Ring: “Nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.” It’s the same with just about every villain in Middle-Earth. Gollum wasn’t originally evil. The Nazgul weren’t originally evil. Saruman wasn’t originally evil. Wormtongue wasn’t originally evil. Even the orcs were probably originally corrupted men, elves, or Maiar.

        (This was obviously informed by Tolkien’s own devout Catholic faith: Morgoth is the Satan of Middle-Earth, not the Ahriman.)

      • The Specktre says:

        Yes, it’s referring to the opening of the chapter “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age” in The Silmarillion. It talks about how Sauron supposedly repented before the messenger of the Valar at the end of the First Age when Morgoth was overthrown. But when he was commanded to return to Valinor and stand trial, he was unwilling to properly be held accountable, “for the bonds that Morgoth had laid upon him were very strong.” So he fled back into Middle-earth and returned to his evil.

        I get why Monolith POSSIBLY might have looked at that and thought what they did. And while this revelation was (and is) fascinating to myself when I first read it, I think people put a lot of undue emphasis on the fact that Sauron was (possibly) genuinely sorry for one time in his life. Wife beaters and manipulators can be sorry too. Then they go right back to what they were doing before. Being sorry doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t going to be intentional about it and hold yourself accountable, which Sauron was loathe to do. It’s important to look at what Sauron did both before and after this event.

        Sauron’s domains were deceit and torture. He was known as “Gorthaur the Cruel” by the Sindarin Elves, and he tortured, manipulated, and murdered a whole lot of people.

        After his encounter with Eonwe, the Valar’s messenger, he deceived the Elves into making the Rings of Power so he could use his Ring to dominate them, and therefore, through them, dominate and enslave the very wills of entire peoples. He then deceived the Numenoreans into believing that Eru was a false god and Morgoth would grant them freedom, effectively enacting the equivalent of Satan-worship. The Numenoreans then practiced lovely things like human sacrifice. After the destruction of Numenor by the wrath of Iluvatar in an Atlantis-style catastrophe, he went back to trying to enslave Middle-earth. Cue the story of The Lord of the Rings. Sauron passed the point of no return a long time ago. Even the letter referenced in the wiki implies a twisted-ness that never really removed itself.

      • NotDog says:

        The writer of The Last Ringbearer certainly didn’t think Sauron was completely evil.

    • Felblood says:

      Sauron isn’t pure evil. He’s just the smartest, most talented evil guy in the universe.

      As warped as his ideology is, he’s still a less horrible person than say, Melkor, Valar-God of Being a Childish Dick.

    • Taellosse says:

      I know this was written 2 years ago, and the chances you’ll ever see my reply are vanishingly small, but I just recently finished playing Shadow of Mordor myself, and was re-reading Shamus’ posts on the game now that I had the proper context, and wanted to reply to you.

      but why they would want to summon the spirit of an elf lord makes NO SENSE whatsoever. They hated elves and wanted nothing to do with them or their allies. Not to mention them summoning or retaining spirits in the world is an impossibility, as that’s not how souls work in Tolkien. If they had figured out how to keep someone from dying, they would have been performing those rituals like crazy, because that was their primary motivation behind all the stuff they did–they were trying to cheat death. So this whole curse thing flies in the face of the Black Numenoreans on so many levels, not to mention what Tolkien wrote about death and spirits. What were they even planning to do with the spirit of Celebrimbor anyway? Why did they want it? What was the goal? Why did he go to Talion instead? Was that the plan? Why would the bad guys want that?

      So this actually is explained within the game, and given added context by The Bright Lord DLC. Celebrimbor isn’t just any random soul. Within the altered continuity they created, Sauron duped Celebrimbor into helping him make Rings of Power. They collaborated on the ones for Men and Dwarves (all part of Tolkein’s original story). Then Sauron made the One Ring, but it wasn’t quite right. So he sacked Celebrimbor’s kingdom, and captured Celebrimbor and his family. He forced Celebrimbor to “finish” the One Ring. But Celebrimbor tricked Sauron, and put a bit extra into the Ring – he gave it a measure of free will and awareness. In the moment of its completion, he coaxed the Ring onto his own finger and escaped from Sauron into Mordor.

      Sauron still had Celebrimbor’s family, so the elf smith used the Ring’s power to gain control of his own army of orcs. As his control of territory grew, he compelled his subject orcs to build “Forge Towers” in his honor, calling himself “The Bright Lord” in contrast to “The Dark Lord” Sauron. But by binding himself to the Ring’s power and using it, he essentially fast-tracked himself into becoming a living wraith – he, too, cannot die as long as the Ring itself exists. And it’s pretty clear that the Ring’s malice corrupts him almost at once (possibly helping make it had already done most of the job). In the end, he confronts Sauron directly and fails. Sauron reclaims the Ring, recaptures Celebrimbor, slays his family before his eyes, then kills Celebrimbor with his own hammer (all of this is shown in flashbacks late in the main game, and expanded upon in the DLC I mentioned).

      But Celebrimbor is bound to the Ring. No longer controlling it himself, he cannot be reborn in flesh, but his soul remains trapped in Mordor, much like Sauron’s own spirit remains in the world after Isildur takes the Ring from him later. The game proper begins in the time between “The Necromancer” being driven from Mirkwood and Sauron regaining power enough in Mordor to rebuild Barad-Dur – it opens with Sauron’s Lieutenants retaking Mordor from the forces of Gondor (Talion is a Captain guarding the Black Gate). It isn’t explained until the end, but it turns out that the chief of the Lieutenants is actually Sauron possessing a corpse just like Celebrimbor does Talion, and his reason for summoning Celebrimbor (who isn’t in the afterlife, just a ghost trapped in Mordor all along) is to siphon his power, and gain greater control over the Ring once he regains it (and possibly also sense it’s location/summon it to him more strongly). Talion was supposed to just be nothing more than bait for a trap. Talion isn’t aware of it during the ritual, but Sauron tried to coax Celebrimbor’s soul into his own possessed body, and the elf-wraith refused, choosing instead to possess Talion and try to oppose Sauron once more. It’s unclear whether he lost his memories when he first died/during his centuries without a body, or in the act of possessing Talion, but either way, he no longer remembers who he is or what his motives were once he can talk to Talion. So regaining his memories is his main motivation, and once he remembers enough, he conceals from Talion what he’s really after until the very end.

      All of which I actually rather liked. It fits reasonably well with the established themes of Tolkein’s work. The problem really is the conclusion of the game, in my opinion, when the game’s writer(s) failed to follow through on the themes they incorporated. Talion and Celebrimbor needed to fail a lot more definitively than they did, and they needed to be much more obviously undone by their own thirst for vengeance and power. The ending hints at this a tiny bit, but accedes to the urge for a power/revenge fantasy for the most part.

  19. Kristoffer says:

    Is “masterbatory” really the right term for this? I paused when I read it in the article(partly because I was already thinking about what exactly “revenge porn” would mean, probably). Thought it meant celebrating yourself, in this context. I hear it a lot of time when people who don’t like Smash Brothers or Hyrule Warriors talk about those games, and I can understand that those since they are crossovers from Nintendo’s catalog, for the people who played those guys and people who like the gameplay of the crossover. I don’t think revenge working in this game and not in the actual Lord of the Rings really reflects those uses.

    This is probably the most I’ve read about the story in the game. People don’t talk about it, and I guess it was for this reason. The article was a nice companion piece to Yahtzee’s about his own adventures in the nemesis system.

  20. Eathanu says:

    I’d say making the protagonist female would go against the tone of Lord of the Rings more than anything the game actually did. Tolkien had a hate-on for women who did anything of value, judging by what I remember of the books. Sure, there was Eowyn, but that’s literally it.

    • Shamus says:

      “Tolkien had a hate-on for women who did anything of value”

      If he HATED the idea, then why put Eowyn in there at all? Also, Galadriel was a major person of power in the books.

      He was very… traditional in his portrayal of gender, but let’s not ascribe malice to such things.

      • Eathanu says:

        She was ostensibly a powerful woman, yes, but her actual role in the novels could have been replaced by a store selling elven crafts, ultimately.

        I’m not saying that he was necessarily any more misogynistic than other men of his time, just that a female protagonist in the game would be more jarring (from a Middle Earth perspective) to me than joyful, wanton slaughter.

        Then again, you all but lost me at “It’s a masterfully crafted work…” referring to the books, so I suspect we are too different in terms of what constitutes faithfulness to the source material to agree on virtually any point. Personally, I found the books to be a horrific drag with only Fellowship being even remotely readable, but I do like to see what people do with it. Namely, the movies, the Battle for Middle Earth series (I’m probably the only person ever to prefer the first), and the pictures of people posing with Elijah Wood on imgur (http://imgur.com/Uz77Tvm) (I have no idea either)

        • Mike S. says:

          There’s Luthien Tinuviel in the Silmarillion, who invaded Sauron’s fortress and defeated him to rescue Beren, and then proceeded to confront Middle-Earth’s biggest bad ever, Morgoth himself, and escape with her life and her prize.

          (And Tolkien put her name on his wife’s gravestone, and Beren’s on his.)

          Tolkien obviously wasn’t actively interested in female protagonists as a general rule any more than anyone writing adventure fiction at the time was (the occasional Jirel of Joiry being a vanishingly rare exception). But on the rare occasion he was motivated to do it, he demonstrably had no problem making the female half of the team by far the most powerful and effective one.

          (Also true of Galadriel and Celeborn, for that matter, though they’re less active as characters, and Luthien’s parents Melian and Thingol.)

          And if someone in the 21st century wanted to create a protagonist who was consciously modeling herself on Luthien, I don’t think that would run at all against the grain of Middle Earth.

          (Far less than Peter Jackson’s Tauriel, who appears to have been created primarily to be the hinge of a love triangle rather than as an active character in herself.)

          • Ofermod says:

            I believe Tolkien’s issue with female elves being warriors was primarily that the female elves tended to be healers, and killers *were not* healers. Aside from Aragorn, which was why the whole “The hands of the King are the hands of a Healer” thing was so important. I could be mistaken, though.

        • Felblood says:

          You have completely missed the point of Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel’s roles. As keepers of the three rings, it is their duty to have awesome cosmic powers that they never used, and to instead provide support for the real heroes.

          THe fact that one of those 3 was a woman doesn’t make her less important than the other 2, and she’s actually a bigger help to Frodo and Sam, the two heroes who actually matter.

          JRRT valued the will to have power and not use it, over any actual action. There are some battles from which a man must flee. Humility triumphs over hubris. Etc.

      • Steve C says:

        oops. got 2 characters mixed up.

    • The Specktre says:

      For you, I would recommend reading this article and my additional commentary.
      http://mythgamer.mymiddleearth.com/2013/10/30/eowyn-and-chauvinism/

      I would also recommend reading the book “Following Gandalf” by Matthew Dickerson.

      • The Specktre says:

        There are also several other (female) characters of note in The Silmarillion. Any time a female character comes into play in Tolkien, they almost always serve an extremely important role, or have some prominence of their own.

        • Zeta Kai says:

          Exactly. Tolkien used female characters in a very interesting way, a deliberate manner that is almost unique in fiction as far as I’m aware. He seems to reserve women for Very Important Purposes, & made sure that each one embodies specific aspects of femininity. As such, there are only a handful of notable females in the legendarium, but they are each remarkable characters with important roles & indelible traits.

          This is a fascinating contrast to the use of men, as males make up the vast majority of the named characters, but the bulk of them are just cogs in the machine of the narrative. Sure, there are notable personalities, such as Frodo, Sam, Boromir, Gollum, etc., but there are literally thousands of named male characters, & most of them serve their purpose in a perfunctory, almost-interchangeable manner. It all serves to reinforce an idea that Tolkien may have thought men were human, with flaws & blemishes & feet of clay, but women were special, magical, nigh-celestial beings, not to be used lightly or in vain.

          • Mike S. says:

            While Ioreth represents a certain aspect of femininity (or at least a character type much associated with women), I’m not sure I’d call her magical, nigh-celestial, or without flaws. :-)

            (I mean Ioreth the dotty nurse in Minas Tirith. Googling to confirm the spelling, I see that they also used the name for Talion’s wife in Shadows of Mordor.)

            • True, although at the same time she had a better idea of what was what than the master of the houses of healing.
              Thinking of the more “homey” female characters, let us not forget Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, a generally negative character but a tough lady who fearlessly went at some human thugs with her umbrella, despite them being twice her size and her being an old lady. When rescued from the lockholes she got a big round of applause from those assembled even though nobody had much liked her before. She was probably the Shire’s most individual minor character.

          • The Specktre says:

            It all serves to reinforce an idea that Tolkien may have thought men were human, with flaws & blemishes & feet of clay, but women were special, magical, nigh-celestial beings, not to be used lightly or in vain.

            That’s not it either, really. Furthermore, he was against that specific idea. Tolkien once wrote a very long letter to his son Christopher, who at the time was serving in WWII, on the subject of men, women, marriage, and (gasp) sex and a couple of his points actually address this idea you’ve brought up. He wrote that one of the greatest pre-conceived notions in our culture was the idea that men were “animals” and women were “delicate or pure angels” (cue large tangent from the professor on the origins of these ideas and the Middle Ages–it’s fascinating actually). Condensing this down, he writes about how men and women are equally imperfect beings, and all these notions we have tend to create problems between the sexes.

            As I recall, both Luthien and Arwen (and Melian I suppose) are the closest Tolkien gets to a seemingly perfect and nigh-angelic woman with the explicit purpose of conveying a “proper idealization” of the archetype for a greater story theme (and in two of three cases, the men involved are noble/idealized/outright good people as well). Everyone else in the story, men and women, are regular, imperfect people with attributes ranging across the spectrum. If you read the article I linked above on Eowyn, you see how even she has her flaws. Boromir (obviously) has his, Sam has his… I’ve seen other people in this particular thread mention characters like Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. She’s a good example. You might have noticed I didn’t have Galadriel on the list. That’s because even she showed pride and arrogance in her younger days (The Silarmillion), although nothing she did comes close to the crimes committed by her uncle and cousins, she was still this imperfect character. But she did learn from her mistakes and grow wiser, becoming the sage we see in The Lord of the Rings.

            Hopefully, that I’ve properly illustrated this point. I love getting to talk about this stuff.

            • Mike S. says:

              Galadriel’s an interesting case, because Tolkien invented her for LotR with an implied but nonspecific regret and need for repentence relating to the revolt of the Noldor, and then he had to try to wedge her into the First Age legendarium.

              (I remember the light bulb moment where this explained why she’s always sort of off to the side in the Silmarillion: not quite part of the revolt, never directly involved in any of the important stories. Because when he was first shaping them, she didn’t exist.)

              Tolkien also seems to have been really tempted to exonerate her of any serious wrongdoing. She had a separate plan to return to Middle-Earth that only inadvertently got caught up in the general revolt (because she knew she wasn’t going to get permission now), she manages to stay aloof from the Kinslaying, and she’s never actually caught up in any attempt to possess the Silmarils and the consequent doom.

              The only real wrong she does is that she’s too proud to apologize and accept parole on Tol Eressea (and the loss of dominion over her realm) after the War of Wrath. Which from Tolkien’s perspective is serious enough (pride was the sin for that Catholic). But it could be argued that she hadn’t actually done anything that seriously warranted repentance besides violate a hastily-imposed restriction on emigration. (And being banned from the mainland of Aman forever just for that is actually kind of harsh.)

              Of course for story purposes she couldn’t accept parole, since she needed to still be in Lothlorien in the Third Age.

              (I also find it sort of funny what an afterthought Celeborn is, with his three separate origins, and Galadriel insisting that he’s the “wisest of the Elves of Middle-Earth” at the same time that she’s explaining that what he really meant wasn’t the insensitive insult he just spoke or anything.)

              • The Specktre says:

                Hm. Maybe I missed or confused something, but in the +dozen times I’ve read The Silmarillion, I don’t recall anything about Galadriel getting “perma-banned” from Valinor. As I recall, the Noldor were more or less pardoned* by the Valar after the War of Wrath, and allowed to return. Galadriel simply chose to stay in Middle-earth.

                Furthermore, a perma-ban for Galadriel really doesn’t make sense when you consider the pride of Feanor and his sons, and everything that led to because of it (not to mention his ranting speeches; oh my goodness he was a Prima Donna!), including three kinslayings and the utter ruin of everyone and everything around them. Meanwhile, Galadriel had no love what-so-ever for Feanor, her fiery uncle. He far outstrips her for pride.

                *(Although the remaining sons two of Feanor feared to be put on trial and bolted, but not before killing a few people and making off with the remaining Silmarils–eesh.)

                • Mike S. says:

                  Tolkien went back and forth, so there’s room for interpretation. The Silmarillion as published says the Elves of Beleriand were resettled on Tol Eressea but were allowed to visit Valinor. On the other hand, there’s this from Unfinished Tales:

                  “But my heart is still proud. What wrong did the golden house of Finarfin do that I should ask the pardon of the Valar, or be content with an isle in the sea whose native land was Aman the Blessed? Here I am mightier.”

                  But there were also versions where she stayed for love of Celeborn (presumably with him as a Sindarin Elf from Doriath, as opposed to the version where he’s also from Aman), and wasn’t under any other restriction or need to sue for pardon.

                  • The Specktre says:

                    IIRC, Galadriel staying for love of Celeborn (yeah, the Sindarin elf from Doriath) is what’s in The Silmarillion, which I’d contend is the most canonical. Reading that quote though, I could kind of see why the Valar might respond with, “Well fine, be that way, and don’t come back.” But it still doesn’t feel consistent with other stuff in The Silmarillion and some of the themes. At least to my mind. But I’ll concede it’s debatable.

                    In either case, the original point remains the same: Galadriel did not go on my list of “the idealizations of idealized angelic women in Tolkien” because she was not “flawless.” Also, in her temptation scene with the Ring, which I was just thinking about today, there really is an echo of her old desire to be a ruler of lands and peoples.

    • Tam O'Connor says:

      Ah, to the contrary! Admittedly, most of the action-y stuff (apart from Éowyn) is in the Silmarillion, rather than the Lord of the Rings. But let’s lay aside Luthien, Galadriel’s backstory, Ungoliant, the various important Queens of Numenor and more that I’m not remembering, and stick to the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.

      And you’re right, there isn’t much. There certainly could be more, especially among the Nine Walkers. But what is there is pretty good.

      Lobelia has a massive grudge against Bilbo, but she’s also the more characterized of the Sackville-Bagginses, and she stands up to Sharky, which is more than be said of most of the Shire.

      Goldberry doesn’t do the rescuing that her husband does, but she also restores the spirits of the hobbits, and she sets the theme of ‘safe places’ in between perilous travels.

      Elbereth (though only mentioned) is moderately instrumental in keeping Frodo from getting more than shanked. She also leads us to…

      Galadriel, whose influence is felt throughout the rest of the work. After all, she made the cloaks that keep Sam and Frodo safe from orcish eyes. And, here’s the big thing: she gives gifts to the Fellowship. On the surface of it, it doesn’t seem like much. Like much of Tolkien, extra context is required. The Old English word for ‘king’ is ‘cyning’, meaning ‘ring-giver.’ The general arrangement was that the king gave gifts to their warriors, in return to loyalty. Galadriel gives gifts on the behalf of, at the very least, all of elfdom.

      The scene at the mirror of Galadriel is an interesting commentary on temptation. Galadriel offers the sight of distant things, and it almost makes Sam turn back. Frodo offers the Ring, and and it almost makes Galadriel fall. But the tempters, in this case, are only offering what they have, not doing it maliciously. Heck, I could write an essay on that scene.

      In any event, the gifts of Galadriel keep coming up. The cloaks, lembas bread, elvish rope, the boats (which deliver Boromir, as well), the phial… The individual gifts are personalized, despite the Fellowship being new-come to the woods. I mean, Aragorn’s gift is a ward against Anduril being sundered like Narsil, and also echoes the magical scabbard of King Arthur.

      She even gives three of her hairs to Gimli. And for the significance of this, I need to dip into the Silmarillion. The titular Silmarils were crafted in an attempt to capture the light in Galadriel’s hair. Their crafter begged Galadriel for a single thread of her hair. And she turned him down, because she sensed the evil in his heart. But Gimli? Gimli asked for one, in the same appreciation of her beauty and received three. Galadriel, by her honest generosity, stands in opposition to Sauron’s manipulative gifts.

      Shelob may not be a protagonist, but she comes pretty darn close to ending the quest. And she survives, unlike most of the big villains.

      And then there’s Éowyn. Who has more personality and character growth than most of the Fellowship.

      Again, yeah, it could totally be better. But to look at the Lord of the Rings and conclude that Tolkien hated women who did anything of value? The text doesn’t support it.

    • SlothfulCobra says:

      The whole thing was written over 60 years ago. I’d cut Tolkien some slack so far as progressiveness goes.

    • TWS says:

      By writing this you reveal you know only what the modern world has entirely twisted about Tolkien. Gender studies and modern deconstruction of literature is my guess why so many believe falsehoods like the above. Tolkien knew war was no place for women in any civilized society because he lived it. He lived the horrors of war and saw his entire generation more than decimated. Europe was changed by the experience. Tolkien knew war was no place for men and that some received such wounds in war that they never fully recovered. Before we were ‘civilized’ we used to try to protect the women in our lives from that kind of pain and suffering. Being the user of violence can be just as wounding as being the victim of violence.

      He knew that decent men would do anything to keep their female kin off the battlefield and knew what happened when they got swept up in war anyway. The torments of the Orcs that Elrond’s wife suffered were sufficient to kill her even after she was rescued. He was well educated enough to know what happened to women on the pre-technological battlefield. It wasn’t nice it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t Xena Warrior Princess.

      Before Western society started to believe in 90 pound pixies whipping the snot out of men two or three times their size everyone else believed the same thing as Tolkien.

      He also spoke of what could and likely would happen afterward if the men failed as appeared likely. There would be deeds of valor that would not be chronicled. Who would do those if not women. Tolkien had nothing but respect for women. He certainly had too much respect to insert them in the story for the sake of ‘diversity’ or showing ‘grrl power’. Why assume attitudes our society has held for less than one lifetime are universal, timeless, or even correct?

  21. JRT says:

    I usually don’t agree with a lot of Shamus’ thoughts–he’s a little too cynical and I’m a lot more forgiving…for instance I love Assassin’s Creed…

    But he’s really dead on with how off this is as a Middle Earth game. There’s very little motivation for the protagonist. There were good little bits but why was most of the Tolkien lore confined to treasure hunt quests–there was some stuff about the blue wizards, etc. The use of Gollum was well done…but the other stuff…the weird dwarf who was a hunter who looked like he’d be more at home in the Witcher. Why the name change for what could be Trolls and Wargs?

    And the weirdness of Sauron’s presence. Three human avatars? But none of the other people? Where was the Mouth of Sauron? The biggest thing for me was where were the Nazgul? You can’t tell me he was building the Orc army and the Witch-King was nowhere to be found!? I felt that at the end Talion would end up fighting one of them. I was actually hoping for a tragic ending where he either dies as a matyr or ends up becoming one of the unknown Nazgul (or perhaps replacing one of the unnamed ones).

    There’s gotta be some weird licensing thing. Does anybody remember the recent concern about marketing to YouTube users…they promoted the game but asked the YT not to mention LoTR or The Hobbit (say what) but to promote the Nemesis system. That makes me believe they just want to use this to promote a spiritual sequel that they can use this tech for and not have to deal with the licensing.

    I’m not really as picky about Tolkien as some die-hard fans, but I did love Battle for Middle Earth II as it was well done and in the general spirit of the movies. I hated Conquest (why did all the fighters have flaming swords), but I did like War in The North as I felt while it did have a few flaws, it was a neat “What if there was a B team taking care of another front”. But this one–I mean, I am very surprised it was approved–I worry that Tolkien Enterprises is not vetting the games for quality anymore. (And yes, I know they aren’t the Tolkien Estate, but at the same time they really should be trying to push quality as a bad game can affect the brand).

    When I bought this, I expect it to be a snippet to get me excited for the final Hobbit Movie. War in the North had a bit of that effect. But all I can say is that its’ a great beat-em-up for quick orc killing and nothing else.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “The biggest thing for me was where were the Nazgul?”

      Seeing how gollum is in more door at the time of the game,that would put them outside,searching for baggins and the ring.

  22. The Specktre says:

    So, I feel like I see why they did what they did with Shadow of Mordor, but that was also because they were approaching the game from the very action-oriented philosophy that pervades most games–both out of (especially originally) necessity, and now habit–or because it’s the path or least resistance, as well as what we have, of course, refined the most. “We want a AAA title where you fight orcs Arkham/ Assassin’s Creed style, so we need to throw some crazy magic in there to mix it up. It’s the simplest and safest solution.” The problem with Tolkien’s legendarium is that I’m not sure a combat-centric philosophy is appropriate for a Middle-earth game. Combat and war certainly serve their places in Tolkien, and they shouldn’t be left out. But the way they are handled in the industry now, you can’t really pull it off in a compelling way without resorting to the kind of stuff you see in most Tolkien games (D&D/WoW style “hard” magic and such). Battle for Middle-earth II (and the expansion, Rise of the Witch-King) and War of the Ring were fantastic though.

    Anyway, I’m not sure what the proper platform for a Tolkien game would be. Depending on what it is, perhaps an exploration game where the emphasis is on the journey. There was that massive Middle-earth Skyrim mod that WB killed. Or an adventure game like the ones Tell Tale Games designs, with moral choice (in a Tolkien style), puzzles… and adventure–it feels like adventure and sandbox games would be well suited to it. LotRO is still probably the best we will ever get out of a LotR game–too bad about all that MMO bullcrap. The idea of a Silmarillion-themed Dynasty Warriors with the five great elf battles does make me smile though.

  23. Mike S. says:

    “And if they’re going to be a man, then they should at least have a beard.”

    [TolkienGeek]Though only if they’re not a descendant of Elendil, since (pace Peter Jackson) one of the things they kept from their distant Elvish ancestry was lack of facial hair.[/TolkienGeek]

  24. syal says:

    So I haven’t played the game and my recollection of Tolikien is fuzzy, but would the game have been more in place if it had taken place in one of the southern lands? Would the setting’s kingdom serving Sauron remove any of the problems?

  25. Vermander says:

    I’d like to see a game that explores the concept of “hero worship” in a fantasy setting where superpowered heroes exist. Have the effects kick in when the player exceeds a certain level. The more powerful your character becomes, the more it effects their relationship with everyone else in the game. Eventually every npc reacts to you by literally worshiping you like a god or fleeing in terror at the sight of you. Formerly loyal companions become bitter and jealous or stop following you because they feel they have nothing more to offer you. Your only choices for love interests are obvious gold diggers or psychotic stalkers.

    Eventually everyone expects you to be infallible and any mistake you make, no matter how small, is seen as a betrayal of your followers.

  26. Ravens Cry says:

    I wouldn’t even call all the superficial lore they added the skeleton, it’s just the skin, the superficial stuff that’s easy to see, but not the part that holds it together.

  27. StashAugustine says:

    It’s really too bad I’m a huge Tolkien nerd cause the game actually looks pretty great from a gameplay standpoint.

    • Avatar says:

      Maybe one day I’ll reach the point where a licensed game that has a genuinely neat, original gameplay mechanic, and pretty decent play in other respects, will be on the “don’t play it” shelf because the writing of the story wasn’t up to J.R.R. Tolkien.

      That will be a great day, because presumably at that point I’ll have played several games that were both good games AND had writing which could stand up to the very highest standards.

      Today is not that day.

      I’m not saying that it was a great story – “forgettable” sums it up properly (Yahtzee’s point that it was less interesting than the procedural storytelling is pretty damning, no?) And I can certainly understand how someone who’s seriously invested in the Tolkien stories, not just the big four but the Simarillion etc., would have a lot of problem just ignoring the offenses against the lore, which are many. But I still had plenty fun, and it’s not like I’m some kind of Tolkien-hater, or taking some kind of hipster “oh, I’m so over Tolkien” stance here, I’m just saying that it’s quite possible to not worry too much about the specifics of the story and have a great time killin’ orcs by the truckload.

      Heck, I’m not even orc-racist. I play 40K orks even! There are orks on my desk right now, man…

  28. Seriem says:

    I guess I did not see that game as a revenge flick, because I didn’t think that it was Talion’s motivation. The use of his powers was motivated by his attempt to break the curse and die. I didn’t finish the game yet but by this point he seems very uncomfortable wit using them. I wonder if anyone else had similar feeling or is my suspension of disbelieve in overdrive? :)

    • Felblood says:

      Nah, I got the same thing really.

      Thing is Talion briefly explains both of his motives, and then neither of them really come up, except in a couple of boss defeat cutscenes.

      I think a lot of the problem for this game is the fight with The Hammer. It’s a really crap bossfight, and then at the end Talion executes Him. Leaving both Celebrimbor going, “WTF dude! We just went through all that work to take that guy alive!”

      Talion let’s his anger get the better of him and murders a prisoner for revenge, at the exact moment the audience is least ready to forgive him for it.

      I think that’s the moment that peoples opinions on this game really start to turn irretrievably rotten, which is a shame because beating the hammer gets you into the second, much better half, of the game.

  29. Akuma says:

    Looking over the general loathing or apathy directed at the story and the love thrown at the Nemesis system, I’m made to wonder if the games story would have been made better if you were an Orc.

    You can have all your wanton killing then, because your an Orc, driven by a lust for power and the thrill of the kill.

    • Felblood says:

      Let me put it this way:

      Does anyone know a good Middle Earth themed Crusader Kings Mod, for playing as the children of Morgoth?

      Being Sauron and having to manage a pack of infighting warchiefs sounds like a really good time, after playing this game.

  30. Rattus says:

    Dammit!

    Just after I bought the season pass, you kind of spoiled ME:SoM for me. As in: you took the joy out of it, NOT that you spilled the beans on story details.

    Just to explain: while not a “Tolkien scholar”, I am a huge fan of LotR ever before the films were even announced, and have read LotR and the hobbit about 20 times, with the other books of him not as much…

    So it really hit me off guard that I didn’t notice the tonal failure of SoM, as it is actually a valid point, and thus has soured my experience with it in hindsight.

    Still, I do think it’s a pretty fun game if you can overlook it’s now obvious flaws in both it’s source and it’s story (which is bad even if it weren’t connected to LotR). I like the combat, the world feels adequately sized and there’s plenty things to do (or at least, plenty excuses to combat the baddies, as that’s what most of the optional quests boil down to). It’s actually one of the very few sandboxy games that made me achieve the 100% completion.

    But thinking about it now, it’s quite frustrating, because the devs actually had everything in their hands. To me one of LotR’s most appealing facets was that it concentrates on smaller, more personal drama rather than going for the big picture, even though they were intertwined. In SoM, we have a sorry attempt at personal drama that is never really brought up again, and a small cast of sideshow characters whose role in story was negligible.

    It would have been a much better game if it ditched all of the story missions, gave access to all the mechanics early on, and not on the halfway point, and made it all about the struggle between an newly immortal undead wanting and trying to die for good and a malevolent spirit (which shouldn’t have been Celebrimbor in the first place) keeping him from dying for revenge reasons.

    The final boss (which was dissapointing compared to many of the awesome warchiefs I encountered) oculd even have been said spirit instead of some black numenorean…

    So, less conflict with tolkien, less insubstantial and sub par story, more emergent gameplay and an ending that doesn’t upset the status quo of the source material.

    And on a sidenote: Is it really a licensed game? I find it somewhat ominous that it’s called “Middle-Earth” and not “Lord of the Rings”. To me that looks like there are some rights issues with it. Or ist it to set it more clearly between the hobbit and lotr movies?

  31. poiumty says:

    I particularly loved the set-up before the game proper (and by loved I mean got disappointed by). You get a short tutorial, a short cutscene and a conversation that can easily amount to:

    Talion: I R DED!
    Celebrimbalimbalimbor: NO. U R CURSE.
    T: HOW BREAK CURSE
    C: KIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL
    T: OK LET’S GO

    Fucking seriously! That’s like the Twitter approach to exposition. Imagine if the opening dialogue to Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver went something like this:

    Raziel: What-?
    Elder God: You are- Soul Reaver-
    R: Release me from this- travesty-
    EG: You- devour- souls-. Kill your brothers. Return them to the Wheel.
    R: Your will be done.

    This would be hillarious in a game I could forgive for not giving a shit about its storytelling, but freakin’ LORD OF THE RINGS? WHAAARGARBL

  32. RyanMakesGames says:

    When I saw the game, I read it as a sort-of parody of how dry and boring LoTR can be sometimes. A friend of mine really loves that “Visualize your goals” line because of how much it breaks established cannon. It seems to have been written just to make you mad. I think your quote at the end fits:

    “It feels like a Tolkien story by people who neither like nor understand Tolkien.”

    I don’t think they even wanted to do a LoTR game, but they had to anyway. It feels like a game made by designers, not artists. The game has lots of intesting interlocking mechanics, so who cares about the lore that no one is going to accept as cannon anyway.

    I can understand why you don’t like it, I just don’t think they were even trying.

  33. Majromax says:

    As an attempt at Tolkien world building, Shadow of Mordor is cheap, shallow, obvious, and masterbatory.

    I think you mean masturbatory.

  34. Deadpool says:

    It’s interesting how polarizing this game seems to be… I listened to a podcast with Alexa Ray Correia, a self proclaimed Tolkien fanatic and game reviewer and she had the almost opposite reaction.

    The interesting tidbit is that she argues that the revenge for loss family motivation is kind of commonplace in Tolkien lore and well fitting…

    It’s a long podcast, but an interesting listen, if a bit erratic: http://www.quartertothree.com/fp/2014/10/08/qt3-games-podcast-tolkien

    • The Specktre says:

      Revenge is a common theme with Feanor and his sons in The Silmarillion, but the build-up and pay-off is just how ugly it turned out for them, and countless others only remotely involved. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions perish in a war the Noldor were doomed to lose. All the elf kingdoms fall. Most men get screwed over. The dwarves retreat to lick their wounds, and the entire northern and eastern regions of Middle-earth’s continent are broken asunder and eventually consumed in the sea in the War of Wrath, when the Valar finally took pity and came to their aid. Then when the remaining two sons realize it was all for nothing, one committed suicide and the other spent the rest of his days composing sad songs.

      But it’s not just the revenge aspect, it’s also the fighting fire with fire thing when Talion dominates the very wills of orcs (total domination of will being the very power everyone fears the One Ring for) at no cost to himself. Not to mention the whole trapped soul thing is literally impossible.

  35. MikhailBorg says:

    “This is like a Superman story where Superman brutally murders [the villain], and that fixes everything and he’s still a hero.”

    Oh, you mean like “Man of Steel”.

    • Bloodsquirrel says:

      Wait, there’s a scene in Shadows of Mordor where Talion rescues a school wagon full of children and his father tells him he shouldn’t have?

      • Mike S. says:

        Yeah, it’s a little before the part where they’re crossing Caradhras in a caravan when a storm sets in: Talion’s dad goes to the cliff edge to save their beloved pony from falling off, then stops T. from preventing him from being blown over it himself in front of witnesses. (Smiling sadly as he falls to his doom.)

  36. Phantos says:

    This is like a Superman story where Superman brutally murders Lex Luthor, and that fixes everything and he’s still a hero. It doesn’t matter how “realistic” that might be, because it runs completely counter to the themes of the work.

    So, “Man of Steel”.

    (I’m sure that’s been pointed out before, but that movie is basically Superman’s “Shadow of Mordor”)

    EDIT: Called it. Beaten to the punch. And by the comment right above me.

  37. krellen says:

    Super late to the game here (but the Diecast got me through approximately 250 miles of empty road on I-40 today), but I just wanted to mention one little thing because I’m an old grognard that can’t let go.

    Randy (I think) offhandedly mentioned “reskinned enemies” in MMOs and how that was lazy, and it got me thinking about City of Heroes, which had some reskinned enemies, but it wasn’t lazy – it was a great way to demonstrate your character’s progression, a way to make you actually feel SUPER (a thing which, so far, only CoH has really managed to accomplish).

    See, you would often fight the same enemy groups for many many levels, and see a lot of the same enemies, but with a twist: as you rose in level, the enemies you faced dropped in power. Enemies that used to be Bosses would become Lieutenants, and later those former Lieutenants would become mere Minions. You were still fighting the same enemy, but that enemy was no longer the same sort of threat to you.

    The same way Josh goes on and on about SWG, I could go on and on about CoH. It really was a thing of beauty and it’s a shame that it’s now gone.

  38. Utencil says:

    I would just like to add that there have been games made in the past which have diverged from their source material in terms of themes and mood, but still manage to be contribute to the original universe in a good way.

    Take KOTOR 2 for example, which completely runs counter to the main trilogy’s black and white morality.

  39. Blacky says:

    If I were given that job, I would probably try first to play an orc. A violent person in a violent world, climbing the stairs of powers and Power. Which would allow a Mordor setting (although much farther than the Black Gate), and a stronger emphasis on the hierarchy and intra military relationship, betrayal, power struggle, and such. Make the baseline story something personal, don’t care about saving anything, just engage the player by having a personal emotion toward a few elect NPC (the goal). Could even be set during the LOTR films, with something like playing a White Hand Uruk Hai sent amongst the Mordor orcs. It’s not about grandeur or good vs evil, it’s close and personal: he took my toy, my prey, my whatever, he betrayed me, he humiliated me, I’m going to crush him/them.

    After marketing shut me down, I would have pitched a skin changer. A shape shifter. You could do a lot of crazy things combat wise, and capitalize on Movie 6 which should depict Beorn in fights. And not piss away too much the Tolkien Jyhad, since it’s pretty much free reign here. Still in a small region like you said, the specific would be dependent upon technology (it’s easier to do a wasteland than to do Fangorn Forest for example). And have a territorial story: my land, my domain, don’t care about big wars far away.

    In any cases, I didn’t play Shadow of Mordor as a Tolkien game. First of all it’s a movie license not a book one (I assume), and even without being a Tolkien fan (far from it) I knew before hand it would not be something Tolkien-esque. It’s like I assumed the worst, and I had a few hours a fun. Kinda the opposite of Wasteland 2 I’m playing right now too (well, waiting again for a patch) were I had reasonable hopes being crushed by this… “thing”.

  40. Odoylerules360 says:

    Your game would suck. A lone warrior protects some little medieval wherever from evil mooks? That’s been done a thousand times. I love Shadow of Mordor, and I wouldn’t have given that game a second glance. No one who likes Shadow of Mordor cares about the main story, because it’s dumb and happens only in skippable cutscenes anyway. The stars of this game are the orcs.

    I would have made Talion an uruk.

    We would have Celebrimbor, an old elf with experience controlling his own orc army, juxtaposed with a young uruk slowly recognizing his people’s place in the world. Together, they have the strength and resilience of an uruk, combined with the dexterity and skill of an elf, with the wisdom and magic of a wraith. That’s as good a recipe for Middle-Earth Batman as any.

    Initially, our uruk resents the wraith, but later on, he sees that the uruks are slaves to Sauron even more that the humans are slaves to the uruks, since if the humans escape, at least they have a somewhere safe to escape to. Uruk society is still horrible, which is part of why our main character doesn’t have too much of a problem with killing orcs. The wraith retains his power to dominate individual orcs, so the central question of the game becomes:

    When faced with a culture that is naturally evil, will you destroy it, exploit it, or use immoral means to change it?

    These themes aren’t explicit in any Lord of the Rings anything, but they’re definitely worth making a game about. And if we wanted to make yet another generic Lord of the Rings game we’d have made, like, “Hobbit Tales” or something.

    TL;DR: You played it wrong, Talion should have been an uruk.

    • Shamus says:

      Looking back through your comment history, I don’t think you’ve ever left a comment that wasn’t an angry tantrum.

      You don’t have to like the stuff I like, but you do need to be able to handle critical discussions without lashing out. Because that’s what we do here. If you’re not up for critical analysis of tones and themes, then you are on the wrong website.

      • Odoylerules360 says:

        I think one or two of them were short, positive ‘way to be’ messages, but I don’t know how to check my comment history on this site, and they may have been under different names or email addresses. None of my comments are written while actually angry, even though they read that way. I like most of the same things you do, and when I don’t, you have something worthwhile to say about them anyway. When you hate something I liked, it’s usually because you got too focused on an overwhelming number of flaws and missed the best part. (I can write up some specific moments of why Shadow of Mordor is great in another comment)

        As for the wrong site, I’ve been coming here for north of 4 years, and I’m pretty sure what you write is what I want to read. I read most of the the articles here. I comment almost never. This next bit feels incredibly wankish, and you should ban me for the hubris of writing it, but it’s succinct:

        You are the Gardener here. If everything with thorns is a weed, then prune away.

  41. Corsair says:

    I see this mindset a lot, but when I played I didn’t get this feeling. I felt like the game was a lot more clever than it looks on the surface – and on the surface it does look like just revenge fantasy bullshit. A big theme of Tolkien’s is that revenge leads to nothing and to use evil methods is to become evil yourself, and while revenge and the use of evil means is the name of the game I think there’s something missed:

    The game knows it.

    Tolkien’s theme was that these things are bad, but that never stopped them from coming up. Boromir pushes for the use of the Ring and is consumed by it. Feanor leads the Noldor race into five hundred years of pointless bloodshed for the sake of revenge and his own wounded pride.

    My frustration with the game is that it doesn’t finish the story, instead setting up a sequel hook. At the end of the game Talion has lost it completely, and it’s going to end in tragedy – enslavement at Sauron’s hands, or death at their own when they realize their mistake.

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