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Old 01-27-2014, 08:06 PM   #1
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The Eye Shadow of Mordor game

Hi all,

I got into a discussion on FB the other day about this game with my brother and a couple of friends. Although it looks amazing graphically, I was skeptical about the idea of a wraith "helping" a random Gondorian ranger in any way. I'm very much a novice when it comes to Middle Earth knowledge but this seemed incredibly lore-breaking to the point of absurdity. Has anyone else seen this? I'll post a couple of links below. The first is a video that walks the viewer through some of the gameplay and the second is an interview with the director of design for the game, Micheal De Plater, where he talks a bit about the design choices. What do you all think?

Thanks for reading.
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Old 01-30-2014, 02:07 AM   #2
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I only found out about this game a few days ago myself and my first instinct was a bit of eye-rolling, because the premise is indeed pretty ridiculous. The idea of a Man gaining, to quote the gameplay video, "wraith powers" without the use of a Ring and yet not being enslaved to a Ring-bearer is playing extremely fast and loose with the source material.

First I'll discuss the gameplay video. Looks a lot like Assassin's Creed, doesn't it? I've played the first four all the way through and some of three (god knows why) and while they're fun I feel like they're very much gaming on autopilot: all the 'cool' stuff the characters do is mostly through simple button commands, like quicktime events. The other one it made me think of was the Batman Arkham games, of which I've played the first two. That kind of gameplay can be fun, but risks being monotonous unless you're given a good reason to use new weapons, abilities and such. I hope there aren't any forced stealth sections in the game, because they're always the most annoying bits of both Assassin's Creed and Arkham.
I notice the big Orc talks about "our lord Sauron." He should call him the Great Eye. Speaking of which, it looks like Sauron actually kills the Gondor garrison in person. So is he a big eye or a big chap in armour who looks a lot like the Lich King from Warcraft III? The orc heirarchy system looks interesting, although again the idea of controlling orcs with "wraith-power" is a pretty long bow to draw. Incidentally, here in Australia at least, "Ratbag" (the orc's name) is a slightly old-fashioned insult for someone mischievous, irritating or annoying. The pettiest complaint I have about this video is the gravelly macho voice over, which just sounds silly. Elvish (and even pseudo-Elvish) always sounds weird to my ear when spoken with an American accent.
My biggest real concern is the violence. I'm not in any way opposed to violence in video games: last year alone I enjoyed BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us, which were both extremely violent games, but they were about violence. Professor Tolkien's work features a great deal of violence, but violence is in no way presented as "cool" or "fun." He had seen real violence and abhorred it. I would like to hope that the violence in this game, such as that orc's gruesome decapitation, serves some thematic purpose beyond the titillation of the audience.

Now let's talk about the interview. The director of design states that the story is set at the end of "a couple of thousand years of not much happening" by which time Gondor's vigilance upon Mordor has been reduced to "a skeleton crew." In fact this had more or less transpired nearly two thousand years earlier during the luxuriant reign of Atanatar II Alcarin, and the fortifications were entirely abandoned as a result of the Great Plague about five hundred years after that. What's more, Minas Ithil had been conquered a thousand years before the time in which this game is set, and Uruks from Morgul had overrun Ithilien about five hundred years previously, establishing a general state of danger in Eastern Gondor, so it's a bit of a stretch to suggest that nothing had been going on around Mordor since the end of the Second Age.
I notice the interviewer (and the voiceover in the gameplay video) use the word "human." It's "Men." Orcs are human. Elves are human. Hobbits are human. Men are human. Dwarves are not human (although they're close). It's a minor gripe but one which, if emphasised more, would probably give people pause for thought when it came to delineating the "races" of Middle-earth.
Speaking of, I don't like the Orc designs, although I realise they're from the films. Orcs should look like soldiers. They should have a uniform. They shouldn't just be covered in random, arbitrarily spiky bits of metal and old bone. Orcs are us, oppressed and debased and denied as much identity as possible. That being said, I appreciated his remarks about the "weakness of evil to turn on itself", something Professor Tolkien himself identified as a failing of evil and one of the reasons we should not despair at the presence of evil in our world.
He talks about "spaces Tolkien deliberately left" in which new stories can be set, but I think that might be exaggerating a touch. Professor Tolkien did like to leave things to our imagination but something this grandiose (a wraith-powered Ranger wreaking havoc in Mordor) doesn't exactly seem like the kind of thing he had in mind.
It's interesting that Peter Jackson was supportive of them not adapting the films, probably because he recognises that games based on films are usually pretty terrible. A few exceptions come to mind, of course - Goldeneye 007 on N64 and the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade point and click adventure game, for instance. I was surprised that there was no video game adaptation of the films of The Hobbit, but I assumed until now that the Estate's lawsuit had something to do with that. That being said, I had the "The Return of the King" button masher on Gamecube when I was a teenager (I still have it somewhere) and despite being stupid brainless action it was an entertaining game to play with a friend. I played both "Battle for Middle-earth" games too. Being able to besiege Minas Tirith or defend the Hornburg was fun, although the second one took some pretty serious liberties with the source material (summoning Tom Bombadil to kill all your enemies with a stupid dance, for instance, or a rather unfortunately-designed "Wyrm" that could pop out of the ground).
Interestingly the designer seems all in favour of this game not just being an adaptation of one of the films in the same way that the films are, in his words, "not just clones of the books; they're amazing movies in their own right." Says you, mister. Funny that he should mention the Batman Arkham games, because a world like the one of comic book superheroes where there's no single narrative set in stone seems to me to be far more suitable for video games than a linear (albeit long) history written by one man sixty years ago. The game looks interesting, and I might keep an eye on it, but despite the fact that he's not around any more I can't help but think that Professor Tolkien would not really have approved. We know, of course, that the "paint and music and drama" quote was not an idea he supported later in his life. In his letters the Professor admits to being a bit of a grump and a curmudgeon at times, but I have a lot of respect for him, and while I'm resigned to the commercial exploitation of his works (I think a compromise we must make for the comforts of an affluent society is a shallow popular culture) I still think it's a shame.

You know what I think would make an interesting setting for a game? The Kin-Strife. It's confronting and deals with issues of racial prejudice, and would break the mould of just killing lots of Orcs.
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Old 01-30-2014, 07:35 PM   #3
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Shadow of Mordor

Originally Posted by Zigūr View Post
You know what I think would make an interesting setting for a game? The Kin-Strife. It's confronting and deals with issues of racial prejudice, and would break the mould of just killing lots of Orcs.
I really enjoyed this thoughtful and thorough analysis of some of the game decisions. This is probably one that I will rent and try out of sheer curiosity. I find the amazing depth of Tolkien's universe fascinating. I own the Silmarillion and it's mind-bogglingly rich, though I have a lot of trouble following the stories. There's SO much out there that could create an awesome gaming experience. With all the stories of valor, courage, political intrigue, racial tensions, oppression, and epic battles within the existing writings, it just seems silly to me to add an element (wraith-powers) that kind of compromises the very nature of the universe Tolkien created in the name of "flashy" effects that may look cool aesthetically but at the cost of a pretty large breach of the lore.

I can see your point that a linear story having a known beginning and end could be difficult to design a game around. I'm no game designer or Tolkien scholar but I think it could be done well if someone could figure out how to capture the emotions of the people involved and get the player "into the moment". Because even though we know how it ends, the characters in those moments, do not. I actually feel like the Jackson movies did pretty well in this regard. They captured my emotion, anyway, and I felt vested in the various characters by the end so much so that by the end of the Trilogy, I felt like I was saying goodbye to old friends. I remember wanting to follow the boat out of the Grey Havens into the West and not have to say goodbye to Frodo, Gandalf, and Bilbo for good; wondering what they would experience on the other side and wishing I could see some of what they saw. I wanted to wander around in the Fourth Age and see how the characters lived out the rest of their lives. I'm aware that many people who really know and love the source material feel very differently about the movies but they created moments of wonder and awe in my life that have never been re-created by any other film.

As I've stated elsewhere on this forum, I'm one who really discovered Middle Earth through experiencing the films. One of the neat things about this is that I didn't really know how the story ended so it played out as if I were seeing it for the first time. I still remember when Aragorn said goodbye to Frodo after the incredibly well-done scene where he proved his loyalty to the Ring-Bearer and then went in to face the Uruks alone. Because I didn't know the story, I wasn't sure if Aragorn was going to make it! I'm thankful for those moments, but I realize I missed out on a lot of richness in the books, which is why I'm working through them now, albeit slowly.

All that said, I appreciate your analysis of the issues with the game. I'm with you that it's one to keep our eyes on, but it looks like another commercially-driven venture, less interested in honoring the incredible world that was created for us, and more in making a game that will keep the twitch-gamer happy and turn a good profit.
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