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))