Saturday!

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I beat the first game, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor and then played around with the various expansions that came as part of the “Game Of The Year Edition”.

Here’s the basic conceit: You’re just another captain of The Black Gate when one of Sauron’s heavies comes and kills your family in front of you right before he kills you. Your dead self then connects with a wraith who doesn’t remember who he is, doesn’t remember much of anything except that he also hates Sauron and all of Sauron’s heavies. This wraith attaches to you and, together, you fight crime.

As the game progresses, you learn more about your wraithlike abilities and learn more about this spirit who has attached himself to you. As it turns out, he’s Celebrimbor. Celebrimbor is the guy who, way back when, made the rings of power for Sauron in the first place. Well, according to the game, soon after making the rings of power, he’s betrayed by Sauron. He takes this poorly and steals The One Ring and uses it for a while in an ultimately futile attempt to fight Sauron with Sauron and, as it turns out, that sort of thing never works. Celebrimbor is stopped, captured, and beaten to death with the tools he used to create The One Ring in the first place.

At the end of the first game, the ranger and the ringsmith reconcile themselves to each other and hammer out that, yeah, neither one of them has particularly lost their taste for revenge and so they decide that they’ll stay together and take Sauron on some more.

Which brings us to the sequel.

Well, in the first cut scene, there is one of the most wonderful “oh crap” moments I’ve ever seen. The ranger and Celebrimbor are talking about stuff that they maybe could do to take on Sauron again and Celebrimbor suggests making another The One Ring. “Oh crap”, I said. “That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard.” (But it was said in an awestruck kinda way.)

Well, they make one and Celebrimbor puts his wraithly heart and soul into it… and, of course, it gets stolen before you get to use it and now you know why your character is starting back at level one despite being one of the most powerful wraiths in Middle Earth at the end of the first game.

And so I kinda understand, I guess, why they had to do that. You couldn’t play this one all powered up from the beginning…

But, still, as swerves go, that was one of the most disappointing swerves ever. I really, really, really wanted to go ring-to-ring with Sauron. Even though I know in my heart that that sort of thing never works.

Which brings me to the game proper: you progress in the game by, among other things, slaughtering hordes of orcs. In one of the somewhat disturbing improvements, they have some of the combat turn into a series of bludgeonings on the ranger’s part and you see his avatar turn from himself into a ghostly shell of Celebrimbor and you are no longer hitting your enemies with your sword but Celebrimbor is hitting them with his jeweler’s hammer.

It does a great job of communicating that these guys are spirits of vengeance and, yeah, it makes sense that they couldn’t give up their taste for revenge. Revenge is what they are.

And they go on to fight Sauron with Sauron.

It’s a glorious grand guignol with tight controls and interesting cutscenes and the evolution of the first game’s nemesis system.

And it doesn’t seem to understand Tolkien’s message at all.

So… what are you playing?

(Picture is HG Wells playing a war game from Illustrated London News (25 January 1913))


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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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26 thoughts on “Saturday!

  1. I really, really appreciate this sentence: “And it doesn’t seem to appreciate Tolkien’s message at all.”

    Very well done.

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    • I suppose that this is the problem with making exciting video games out of deeply moral works with complex moral messages.

      Fighting Sauron with Sauron looks *AWESOME*.

      But if you want to communicate that fighting that way never works, you can’t have 40+ hours of looking awesome followed by a sotto voice speech about how even though it looked awesome, it never works.

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      • Yup. I was thinking “this totally doesn’t understand Tolkien” before I got to the denouement. I have in recent years seen the claim made that modern video games can be Art. This example isn’t making the case. This is totally unfair, of course, in that adaptations from one medium to another almost always suffer in translation, but my (secondhand) understanding of modern video games is that the awesome awesomeness is pretty much intrinsic to the medium. Would it even be possible to have a convincing message that this awesome awesomeness is not in fact truly awesome? Maybe. What do I know? My association when I hear the word “gaming” is pushing little cardboard pieces across a map board with a hex grid laid out on it.

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          • (If so, I would like to eat this sandwich.)

            There’s huge category problems here, huge definition problems, and there’s probably some other mistakes being made.

            That said, if what you’re going for is an interactive experience that says something to the effect of “what if you took Lord of the Rings, but made it a Die Hard story?”, you’re stuck with the questions of whether Die Hard was art (as opposed to craft) and if it was art, whether it was good art (as opposed to trash) and where we go from there.

            There’s a *LOT* of moral takes hiding in the bushes of aesthetic discussions, like so many Gondorian rangers, waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting orc.

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        • but my (secondhand) understanding of modern video games is that the awesome awesomeness is pretty much intrinsic to the medium.

          Not really. You’re thinking of AAA games, which are analogous to summer blockbusters. These generally have budgets in the tens of millions, which requires sales in the millions to recoup the investment. By necessity they’re designed to have very broad appeal. People saying that video games can be art are rarely if ever pointing to those as examples.

          Honestly, the question doesn’t really interest me. Really we’re just quibbling over what the definition of the word “art” is, which is ultimately arbitrary, and not a property inherent to the works in question.

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  2. How about if you fight Sauron with Sauron, defeat him, and become Sauron? Non-canonical, but Tolkien would approve. Maybe your One Ring replaced the original One Ring without anyone ever noticing.

    This is the kind of thing that happens all over the Diablo franchise.

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    • While I admit that I haven’t yet beaten the game (I might be somewhere around 10% done with it and I’m going to go for a lot of 100%s where I can), I think I can confidently claim that they’re not building up to “everything you know is wrong!”

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        • I’m digging the heck out of it and I’ve no doubt that I’m going to get to the end.

          (But I still suspect that even if the moral of the story is “yeah, you can’t win that way”, the game still spent 40, 50, 60 hours giving you the endorphins from random loot drops for killing bad guys.)

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      • I get that. They’d become Sauron-ish. Power corrupts. What I’m saying is that you could create a story where the power corrupted you, and you became known as Sauron, because you-as-evil-victor was indistinguishable from him. Not “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”, but “that’s the same guy, right?”. It could drop right into canon.

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        • I see what you’re saying, but I’m not sure it works. Sauron and Morgoth were both Dark Lords, but no one confused them. Saruman too: had he got the Ring, he would have been evil in yet another way. For one thing, his body hadn’t been destroyed, so he could corrupt people in person, the way Sauron did in the Second Age, rather than having to spread terror via his underlings.

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          • It is a somewhat open question as to what the corruption of a powerful being* would have manifested as, especially had said being used the might of the ring to destroy Sauron. It’s pretty clearly established in LOTR that in order to make the one ring strong enough to subjugate all the others Sauron had to put the greater part of himself into it. With Sauron then physically dying in the downfall of Numenor I think a pretty strong argument can be made that there was way more Sauron within the ring than left outside of it. I personally lean towards them essentially turning into a vessel of Sauron myself. The Sauron that worked outside of the ring was pretty much a shadow anchored and cast by the ring itself. The ring could function fine in the event of Saurons destruction and would draw him back but definitely not in the other direction.

            *As opposed to a human or a hobbit.

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  3. Here’s my question: is the game as poorly balanced as the last one?

    I really really liked the first 45% of the first game (and there was a first-map warlord fight that was short-list best video game moments of the 2010s for me). Then they gave you a “most of what you do is now stupid-easy” ability that you just kind of… used… for the last dozens of hours.

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    • I don’t know how to answer this question.

      I thought that the first game was made a lot easier by the fact that I had spent the previous months playing the Batman games rather than by the fact that they gave me a game-breaker.

      (Can you spoiler what you’re talking about in the response to this, if you don’t want to give everything away?)

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