Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Is A Triumph of Politics at a Personal Level

Shadow of Mordor ScreenshotThe first time I met an orc captain in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor I had to flee from him before he killed me. This would spawn a longstanding rivalry between myself and this character that would last through roughly the first third of the game — he killed me twice more and then I exploited his fear of being lit on fire and summarily executed him.

Sound awful? Violent? Yet kind of innovative? Yes, yes, and yes. Shadow of Mordor is basically a simulation based off of Thomas Hobbes’ famous quote that without dominance of a state, the life of an orc is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” At least, I think he said it.

The game takes place in that period between the end of The Hobbit but before The Lord of the Rings. You play Talion, a ranger of Gondor whose wife and son are refridgerated in the first two minutes of the game before he himself (in a surprise twist) is also killed by Sauron’s originally named “Black Hand” who when I first saw them, I thought “boy, those are some ugly looking orcs.” They are, in fact, humans.

Anyhow, for some bullshit reason, Talion doesn’t die, instead becoming tied to the ghost of the elf-lord Celebrimbor who forged the Rings of Power with Sauron (and also had his wife and kid killed). Now, it’s up to this improbable duo to stop Sauron and save Middle-earth (which, of course, they won’t because we all know how this turns out). Both Celebrimbor and Talion have little personality worth talking about, though Celebrimbor is at least mildly interesting as a 3700-year-dead ghost with a purpose while Talion is just a blank slate. Together Talion and Celebrimbor decide to assassinate the warchiefs of Sauron’s orcish army, while replacing them with captains they’ve brainwashed to be on their side.

This is where the game shines, and it’s shame it’s about two-fifths of the way through the storyline before you can actually take brainwash orcs. Once you do, though, you finally get the enjoyment of meddling in orc politics. It’s well worth it to set about picking a captain out (I selected mainly on who looked the coolest, and occasionally, personality). figuring out the best approach, making sure you have the right buffs, and then leap down on him to capture him and brainwash the sucker.

Unfortunately, you have to do it as Talion. Talion is the boss of a political party to the orc captains’ politicians. They get the rep, they have the personalities, and they get the glory. Talion just makes sure they do best they can. And there isn’t always a guarantee that your captain is going to survive – I lost my most beloved captain when I got cocky and failed to do the anciliary plotting and assassinations necessary to smooth his rise to warchief. Mix yourself too much and in the mix and you can easily get killed, and you may discover that in the interim between your death and your revival, your loyalists have been killed, and you have to start over with the survivors.

In its gameplay and its look into the bad guys’ side of things, Shadow of Mordor is a great game. You have to wonder why they decided to make the main character a good guy, though.

Also, Ratbag for Warchief!

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