Middle Earth-Shadow of War: A Middle Earth fan fiction
Updated: Mar 7, 2019
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have had an undeniable influence on the modern western culture. Lord of the Rings has arguably helped if not created the modern Fantasy genre. It is considered both a literary and a cinematic classic. The gap between the two books however, has allowed quite a bit of speculation as to what happened. What did happen between Bilbo getting the One Ring in The Hobbit and the events of Lord of the Rings? Well we are going to examine the conclusion to that answer with Middle Earth: Shadow of War. The sequel to the original Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. The most highly funded fan fiction ever outside Fifty Shades of Gray.
Shadow of War starts where the previous Middle-Earth game left off. With protagonist Talion crafting a ring of domination (I will get to that) to combat the might of Sauron. Along the way he forges an uneasy alliance with the Spider Shelob (I’ll get to her to) and gets involved in the various historical events. Talion is able to witness such events like the fall of Minas Ithil as well as encountering the Witch King a few dozen times and a number of colourful Orcs. The story and writing are incredibly uneven. Talion himself is an extremely boring piece of wood. He might as well be a silent protagonist.
The conflict of personalities between Celebrimbor and Talion should have been compelling but it is not the case. Both Celebrimbor and Talion are broody, grumpy men, driven by some sort of revenge or to rule the world. There is no real conflict or objection until the end because they practically the same person. The Elven Assassin Eltariel is a generic badass woman with a grim motive to endlessly fight the forces of darkness. They aren’t interesting in any way. Monolith waste a number of cool concepts like the relationship between the Talion and Celebrimbor and famously Shelob herself. Monolith took a terrifying creature, scary for her physical form and her intellect and transformed her into another sexy woman. They turned her into a Morrigan, it cheapens an interaction that could have been unique.
Why it is fan fiction:
The reason why I call Shadow of War fan fiction is for a number of reasons. Talion is a boring piece of cardboard who is overpowered to the point of where all sense of threat is muted is one reason. Not only does Talion have the powers of a wraith and of a human ranger.
He also is immortal. Not only does he have access to magic, super speed and Xray vision but he has a ring of domination. Somehow the ring is safe from Souron’s influence despite established lore that all rings are controlled by the one ring. This ring allows Talion to overwrite the free will of anyone expect not really if they decide to break out of it.
How am I meant to feel threat when I am partially a god? The complete disregard of overarching themes within Lord of the Rings (Technophobia, Christ figures, corruption and addiction lust for power) and the glorification of violence read as tone deaf to the source material which made violence a horrific act. (The camera slows down every time you cut off a body part with the same air as one would film a pornographic scene).
The strange addition of characters like Isidur becoming a Ringwraith did not add anything apart from adding to the fan fiction feeling. Where characters are twisted into situations that otherwise would be impossible within established lore (The nine men doomed to diehad already complete by the time Isidur died.) It seems like an excuse for someone to give Isidur a decent send off and contorted the set lore to make it happen.
Some good things:
However it is not all bleak. The voice acting is very strong all round. Troy Baker gives Talion a smooth honeyed Sean Bean impression that melted in my ears. The only characters with any form of personality are the Orcs themselves. They bubble with visual and vocal flare which makes them instantly likable and hilarious.
The characterisation of Celebrimbor and Talion is all the more jarring because Monolith proved they can make interesting characters but they force us to play with the boring ones. It is telling that the Celebrimbor, a kind hearted fearful Elf who was innocently tricked by Sauron was morphed into another boring angry man looking for world domination. Monolith took a interesting character and made him generic.
Shadow of War, much like Shadow of Mordor is Batman Arkham Asylum style counter combat brawler, the combat is flawless. Fighting feels like a graceful rhythm, smooth and highly responsive. It feels a little easier then Arkham Asylum with clear counter icons which provide enough time for even the slowest to react (played on normal by the way). The environment can be used to the advantage of the player in clever ways. (Blowing up barrels, poisoning food, attracting animals etc) This allows the player to creatively get through large groups of Orcs which prevents the combat from getting stale. Unlocking new abilities gives the player even more ways to get around and new methods to engage foes, it feels rewarding and satisfying to even if you get really overpowered towards the end.
The open worlds themselves are fine; there is a decent amount of stuff to do. The collectables are not entirely meaningless and are modestly spread out. I personally did not go out of my way to gather everything as I found them rather boring after a while but someone with more time I suspect will enjoy exploring every nook and cranny. I personally found them rather dull but that is a personal objection.
Siege them more:
You can now lay siege to fortresses to retake after you have gathered and level up your dominated Orcs. It plays like any other zone capture mode you would find in most online games: you hold a point until the bar is filled, you press a button and then you win that area. Rinse and repeat until you fight the leader in a boss fight. They are not different from each other but the build up to it, that being killing/dominating the Warchief in order to make sieges easier, Inserting spies into the Warchief ranks to make the fight easier etc.
Hunting down Orcs to dominate, gaining Intel to discover their weaknesses and strengths is the strongest element of the game. It’s in these when Arkham and Middle-Earth blur together, you have to investigate to find the weaknesses then scout them out with your Xray vision (Monolith call it something different but it is Xray vision) and then try to get in position. It’s endlessly compelling, whenever I thought I was getting bored I would set myself on another Orc and be instantly drawn back in.
(I have not played the Shadow Wars epilogue as I have no interest in the endless mode)
Some bad things:
If I were to find anything negative to say is that the game gets rather easy towards the end, once I had reached level 40 and had turned my reactions accordingly I rarely died. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment per say but it to my mind drove home how thin the overall threat of failure was both within gameplay and story. I was an overpowered badass where nothing ever really posed any threat to Talion.
Art-Style and Graphics:
Shadow of War is a gloriously beautiful game, the cut scenes have the high quality that one has come to expect from an AAA game. Textures are smooth (after popping in, will come to that) and highly detailed. The models are well animated with expressive facial reactions (shame the main is so one note) and limb movements. The overall look of Middle-Earth is very close to the Peter Jackson films, unmistakeable in design and style. On a very personal note I don’t like design of Nazgul, I couldn’t off the sense they looked rather frumpy, I know that they are not very strong at the point in the lore when Shadow of War is meant to be set. There was however a distinct lack of horror within the design. Compared to the films and their characterisation in the books Shadow of War’s Ring Wraiths were very tame.
(Please note that this section will be more subjective then usual due to uncertainty with PC performance)
Shadow of War ran very smoothly, consistent FPS, no crashes and no visual bugs. That is not to say it was a flawless. The game has some rather bad texture pop in, where blurry textures sometimes jumped in with a rather ugly rendering. It’s not the worst and to an extent it is understandable considering the sheer scale of the maps. It could have been hidden better as it was sometimes distracting for me . Then there was that time for whatever reason I got caught in an endless Orc captain introduction screen, where the captain taunts Talion with some violent threat. However after the taunt ended the camera didn’t zoom out nor did it grant control back. I watched two models stare awkwardly for a minute before I had to restart the game.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, for all the story telling missteps it takes provided an enjoyable experience. I doubt I will play it again but for all 32 hours spent in the game I went away feeling really pleased with the time spent.
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