Spoiler warnings if you haven’t finished Shadow of War. You’ve been warned.
The World of Middle Earth has been a place that many of our generation have come to enjoy, not for its fantasy roots but for the history, lore and stories that were put together by J.R.R. Tolkien himself, but how do fans of Tolkien’s books feel when new stories are added that were not a part of Tolkien’s original work? The most recent video game, Middle-Earth Shadow of War, is one such story. It’s a story about a Ranger of Gondor who is possessed by the famed ring maker Celebrimbor, but the story is far different than from the books. In the game we find the Ranger Talion and Celebrimbor fighting for supremacy of Mordor in the hope they can stop Sauron only to find that it is not their destiny to do so and sacrifices will have to be made in order for that to happen.
The story takes place after the first game Middle Earth Shadow of Mordor where Celebrimbor and Talion create a new ring power, one that was not touched by Sauron, however this stirs others to oppose the two heroes and first to oppose them is none other than the dreaded spider Shelob. Now players of the game will then see her transform into human form, which to some was a little strange because none of Tolkien’s work ever mentions that she could do that. This is where different interpretations come into play because they are using the gaps within the story to work with the current story. Throughout the game you come to see Shelob in a different light other than the monstrous spider that we are so use to seeing. She has the power to see the webs of fate and so she can see all possibilities. However there has been some disagreement as to this version of Shelob as of people cannot accept this version of her. As a fellow fan of the Tolkien’s Universe I understand where they are coming from, but in the fantasy genre changing and adapting is part of growing and expanding a great piece of work. What many need to understand is that original works sometimes need a little more flare in order to catch the attention of viewers or readers. Knowing that Shelob is the offspring of Ungoliant the First Spider it does not phase me to see that Shelob has more power than what we know of in the books and the films. It can also be seen that she might have deliberately set herself up to catch Frodo and face Sam so that way they could fulfill their quest and defeat Sauron since she herself has a grudge against him.
There are a great number of foes to face in the world of Middle Earth, but one foe in the game that I have heard players are not too sure about is the opportunity to face a Balrog of Morgoth. Those who have read the books will know that Morgoth was the Dark Lord before Sauron and he was quite powerful since he came close to taking over Middle-Earth. Morgoth created the Balrogs, Orcs and Dragons to serve into his armies, yet many were killed until Morgoth was defeated. Now Sauron has taken the mantle of Dark Lord and has tried to add many others powerful beasts into his army and in the game he tries to enlist the power of a Balrog that was slumbering in Mordor. So why allow a Balrog to be used within the story of the game? It’s quite simple really since the character you play, Talion, is possessed by a Wraith, he has special abilities that no person in Middle Earth has which makes him a powerful character to begin with so the developers had to have him face powerful foes; not just to make the game more difficult for the player but also to see what Talion has to face to order to push back the darkness. It’s one powerful foe after another and he is getting tired especially for a man who is undead. The more Talion keeps fighting the more he feels that he is not making a difference at all. It’s just wave after wave of foes no end in sight and the Balrog pushes him to limits in the story.
Another surprise within the game is the Ringwraiths, servants of Sauron and his most deadly agents, but even more surprising is that the player gets to reveal the identity of at least three of these Ringwraiths. For many years no one really knew the identities of these fallen kings and none of Tolkien’s original work gave any information on the topic. In a way it gave them a mysterious background, which in a way gave them this horrifying persona that they are nothing else but soulless entities under the dominion of another. The first Nazgul the player faces is Suladan the King of the Haradrim. He is only known very briefly in the books but known in the Lord of the Rings Strategy Game. It shows his rise to power with the help of a Ring of Power given to him by Sauron then showing him slowly being bent to the will of the Dark Lord. The second Nazgul the player gets to reveal is the former King of Rohan, Helm Hammerhand. Which many will know is the namesake of Helms Deep.
Much of his story is mentioned more in the books, and it remains the same within the game however him being chosen to be a Ringwraith was something new. It gave a look into Sauron’s plans to dominate Middle-Earth and it shows he traveled throughout to subjugate powerful leaders in order to make his power stronger. Sometimes a world’s greatest heroes can also be the world’s greatest villains. During the fight against Helm Hammerhand you find that he has the power to command beasts to set against you which was vexing, but since he was a great hunter of beasts before his fall I am not surprised. Now for the last Nazgul and the most surprising of all was Isildur himself, the one who cut the One Ring from Sauron’s hand. In the book and films we all know that Isildur was killed, but it is interesting to see that instead of letting his body decay in the river Sauron decided to make him one of his Nazgul. As a powerful King in his own right the player faces not just Isildur but undead warriors that were raised from the dead in a green ghostly form, almost similar to the curse Isildur placed on the Army of the Dead.
Towards the end of the game Talion is able to release Isildur allowing him rest in peace, but then you wonder that there are only eight Nazgul now. Because Talion releases Isildur, Celebrimbor betrays Talion leaving him to die in favor for a host that would not go against his quest for revenge, taking the New Ring of Power with him, yet as Talion is dying he reaches for Isildur’s fallen ring of power and puts it on his own finger. Knowing that he would eventually succumb to the ring’s corruption, Talion plans to slow down the Dark Lord’s plans as long as he can. As the game ends, Talion becomes a Ringwraith bringing the Nazgul numbers back to nine, doing the Dark Lord’s bidding until the One Ring is destroyed and Talion finally passes on to the afterlife.
Many fans might have an issue to how this all came about, but it gives the distinction that the Ringwraiths could be anyone else. It gives them a more human side to understanding how such great men fell so far either through pride, rage, gluttony or even self-sacrifice. In my own opinion knowing the names of these Ringwraiths did not take away the aura of fear that they represent and even more so when facing the Witch King himself. If it was one character whose origins I rather not know, it is the Witch King which thankfully the game does no such thing. He is the entity of evil and figuring out his origins would take away the fear that comes with him when you see in him action. If we knew his origins, would he not seem less threatening than how we perceived him in the books and films? As the years go by though fans will be demanding certain answers or other stories from the series and I hope that if they do they are able to stay true to the source material, but also add a little change to make the series better than it is now.
In the end I believe that this was an exceptional game bringing so much of the lore and myth of Middle Earth to life in a different perspective and it is my hope that fans can accept it for its original creativity within an already expanded world.