Shadow of Mordor is Nothing But Infantile Revenge Porn

Danny91

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The funny thing is for me is, I just don't tend to see that many infants engaging in revenge fantasies.
 

Silvianoshei

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I actually don't give a shit about the story with the dead family. I was much more interested in getting revenge on Gimub the Elder, a resilient bastard who I killed 6 times (and who killed me 3 times) before he finally died. I was more interested in building my power and subtly manipulating some relationships between Orcs for 3 hours just so I could get revenge on a warchief that had killed me twice at the start of the game. The story was just noise...I came for the mechanics.
 

Savryc

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Yeah I'll take revenge porn over Tolkiens glorified travellers guide for Middle Earth.

"That's great J.R.R., but if you could stop describing in detail every blade of grass and gnarled stump on the way to Rivendell I'd actually be able to read Fellowship without rigormortis setting in!"

If your book is dryer than fucking Dune you've gone wrong somewhere. The first 2/3rds of Fellowship anyway. It's great after that.
 

ailurus

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EternallyBored said:
This is actually a good point, and ties into the a lot of the complaints about Talion being too powerful too. The Lord of the Rings featured magic as fairly subtle and low key compared to a lot of modern fantasy, with even the ring doing little more than granting invisibility to Frodo and Bilbo.

The Silmarillion on the other hand, had a lot of epic smackdown fights with high level magic getting thrown around, and depicts Sauron with the ring at full power as basically blowing anything shown in the Lord of the Rings trilogy out of the water power wise.

I agree with the point about themes too, the game should not need to be chained to only the trilogy, and the fact that the wraith is celebrimbor seems to indicate that the game makers were aware of this and consequently decided to bring in a character from a much earlier age in Middle Earth's history, an age where much more powerful magic was getting thrown around on a regular basis.
Even if that does excuse the power level differences (which I don't think it does since they chose to insert it in the timeline right around the films rather than setting it in one of the other ages. The same game set around or immediately after Nirnaeth Arnoediad would have made much more sense in many regards - but then it wouldn't have had as strong a marketing pull), it still doesn't touch on what I read as Samus's main point, which is the theme differential.

This is even more infantile when you realize that one of the themes of the books is that revenge -- and the lust for it -- is poisonous and destructive.
If anything, that theme is even stronger in the extended source material.

Lets start with Turin, who is a very close character to Talion (minus the wraith powers, of course)
His whole story is about wanting revenge on orcs (sound familiar), Morgoth and dragons for killing his family (again, sound familiar?).

How does his life end? Everyone he ever knew or loved is dead, he had an (unknowing) incestuous marriage with his sister (who then jumped off a waterfall), and it all culminated with the following suicide:
"Hail Gurthang! No lord or loyalty dost thou know, save the hand that wieldeth thee. From no blood wilt thou shrink. Wilt thou therefore take Turin Turambar, wilt thou slay me swiftly?' "

And from the blade rang a cold voice in answer: 'Yea, I will drink thy blood gladly, that so I may forget the blood of Beleg my master, and the blood of Brandir slain unjustly. I will slay thee swiftly.'
Poisonous and destructive? Check.
Instead of that, Talion
gets to stab the big bad in the face, save a whole bunch of people (living and dead), and then rather than taking the happily ever after he was offered he presumably decides to try to make a new ring and invade Mordor


From the Silmarillion
The central plot point of the Silmarillion can be summed up in the Oath of Feanor
"Be he foe or friend, be he foul or clean, Brood of Morgoth or bright Vala, Elda or Maia or Aftercomer, Neither law, nor love, nor league of swords, Dread nor danger, not Doom itself Shall defend him from Fëanár, and Fëanár's kin, Whoso hideth or hoardeth, or in hand taketh, Finding keepeth or afar casteth A Silmaril. This swear we all... Death we will deal him ere Day's ending, Woe unto world's end! Our word hear thou, Eru Allfather! To the everlasting Darkness doom us if our deed faileth... On the holy mountain hear in witness and our vow remember, Manwë and Varda!"
And how was that lovely revenge speech followed up? The following prophecy/curse:
"Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever. ..."
If that doesn't flag something as poisonous and destructive, I don't know what can do it better. Except for maybe the centuries of war, countless deaths, and destruction of every major elven and human civilization in Middle-Earth that come about as a result of it and are detailed throughout the book.

Numenor
Sauron's attempt at revenge against the Numenorians does get them wiped out, but he ends up with his powerbase annihilated, his body destroyed, and he's forced to spend the rest of his existence either as a wraith or dressed up as an Evil Overlord.

Additionally, the ill-conceived attack on heaven he convinces the Numenorians to undertake works out great for them - except for the whole "army being buried underground", "home island getting blasted into ruins and then sunk underwater" and "the geography of entire world is altered" aspects that came about as a result.

And don't get me started on the Dwarf stories leading up to and including the Hobbit, because the whole premise there tends to boil down to "These guys wronged the dwarves in the past and now need an axe in the face."

About the only big arc that I can readily recall in any of Tolkein's work that doesn't end in catastrophe because of ill-conceived revenge and greed is Beren and Luthien, but even that gets tied back to it in the end when Doriath is destroyed as a result of Beren's actions because of the Oath.

Now, if people want to like the game for the gameplay, sure. Its great. I'd love to see the mechanics (especially Nemesis) adapted to other stories, as several people have suggested. But, I've got to agree with Samus that its nowhere close to resembling the setting its in. Shadows of GenericOrcland would have been much better, even though it probably wouldn't have sold as well.
 

EternallyBored

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ailurus said:
Yes, revenge is poisonous in Tolkien's works, but it is also being portrayed as corruptive and poisonous in the game as well, while leaving it as a sequel hook is annoying for a series with no guarantee of being continued, the game sets up the main character for a fall. We already know from the books that unless the game makers go into alternate timeline territory then Talion fails and Sauron conquers Mordor and ends up almost conquering all of middle earth.

They've already set up his fall with the increasingly evil rhetoric that gets spouted as the game moves on, all the way to the end where they make a direct and obvious visual reference comparing the protagonist to Sauron himself. The story is a bit shallow in itself, but both you and Mr. Young seem to be missing the obvious signs that Talion is not going to come out the winner in this scenario, there is no happy ending for this story, and the game makers are making it pretty obvious that Talion is being thoroughly corrupted by his poisonous desire for revenge and power, it just seems a bit presumptuous at this point to criticize the story for being shallow revenge fantasy when it is obvious that the characters arc has not finished playing out, and the game has already started to set the foundation for the character's inevitable fall.

While certainly not done with the finesse of Tolkien himself, the game makers are almost definitely going to stick to the themes of revenge destroying those that seek it, it's pretty obvious at this point that Talion's revenge will destroy him just like Tolkien's canon characters.
 

Kain Yusanagi

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Dear Shamus Young,

THANK YOU. Yes, if you disclude the narrative and the source material- in short, divest the game of any of its non ludological components- from consideration it is a pretty decent game, along the technical level. When you actually factor those things into consideration you see, as your article so eloquently broke down, that it is a completely trite piece of revenge porn that is disgustingly insulting to at least some lovers of Tolkien's Middle-Earth. If the world had been simply brutal and terrible throughout, if evil truly could be conquered by violence, it would have been fine- But I found they spat in his face with this game, narratively (going by what I have seen and read). I, for one, shant be getting it until it drops in price significantly, because at least the technical aspects of it- especially the nemesis system- are very well done.

Again, thank you.
 

Amaror

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ForumSafari said:
Off topic slightly but this is about the most fun I've had with a hack 'n' slash in ages, the only wrinkle in my funtime is that everyone and their uncle is invulnerable to ranged.
Yeah i noticed that too, but on the other hand, i had one particular ork, who was the bane of my existence. He kept interrupting my attempts to kill other captains and quickly grew so strong that he was pretty much invulnerable to anything ... except range. But your observation is true for the most part.

Well, shamus a shame that you can't look past the story, because the game itself is pretty damn great. And i really doubt anyone went into this game expecting a masterfull story that stands well together with the original books.
 

Hawki

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Kahani said:
Middle Earth has thousands of years of history, along with geography that has shifted around and been reshaped, most of which has barely been mentioned other than to note that Morgoth was the bad guy and various elves, humans and dwarfs were fighting against him and his minions as well as amongst each other. As long as a game is set a decent time before The Hobbit and not at the same time as one of the few major events actually recounted in other books, you have virtually free rein to do whatever you like without any fear of contradicting any of Tolkien's work.
I don't think the Tolkein Estate lets anyone use 'Silmarillion' material though. The only game that ever came close was 'The White Council'. I've noticed this in other works, where the boardgame manuals tried their best to reference Morgoth without actually naming him. 'The Third Age' is another example of limited creative license, where EA wasn't allowed to use any book material, only stuff from the Jackson movies. There's a great article on Polygon that documents the CDev hassles the game faced.
 

CaitSeith

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Wow! I hope the next thing you thought after coming up with the title was to upgrade your fireproof shields.

Now I see why the condition for the YouTube reviewers included not to mention the films or the books at all. I would call the game, LotR fan fiction generator; because with the nemesis system you can deliberately (or accidentally) create your own story of conflict against a powerful Orc, beginning from the point he wasn't that powerful.
 

SharedProphet

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Shamus Young said:
For the record, I'd forgotten that "Revenge Porn" now meant "posting pornographic pictures of someone to get revenge on them". I was using it in the old-fashion sense, like "food porn".
This should be edited in as an addendum, since I came to the comments section specifically to point it out. : )
 

Darmy647

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I dont disagree with any of your points. The BIG reason I shrug off most of what you said is its literally "Shadow of Mordor". Not Lord of the rings:Shadow of mordor, not J.R Tolkiens shadow of Mordor, and certainly not J.R Tolkiens Lord of the Rings: Shadow of Mordor. Its simply Shadow of Mordor. Maybe the studio was not 100% dedicated to making the games lore and story super mega ultra on the money with Tolkiens works. Maybe it was intentional. Maybe it was not and the studio failed to appease to the reading crowds who adore Tolkien. But i still feel the game justified itself nicely since it was not slammed in my face that i was truly playing a lord of the rings fully dedicated title. "OH BUT ITS TOTALLY IMPLIED". Yes. Yes it is. I know a few people (less educated on video games) who bought Hyrule Warriors hoping it was a new zelda with new combat and awesome amounts of enemies in each dungeon and on Hyrules field. I wont say anything negative about them..but hey, they kind've got what they wanted...right? The distinction IS there. The title Middle-Earth Shadow of Mordor DOES throw some heavy reference to what you can expect, but if you did not get 100% of what you wanted, im certainly sorry that you feel upset, but I don't feel bad about it because honestly it barely carries the FULL IP, so i do not EXPECT a full perfect conversion. Good Points that i fully agree with, but they fall short because its not an entirely dedicated game even in the title.
 

zumbledum

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BrotherRool said:
And then they called it a Lord of the Rings game
No actually they got it right and called it a middle earth game.

Shamus Young said:
This is even more infantile when you realize that one of the themes of the books is that revenge -- and the lust for it -- is poisonous and destructive. In the original work, the forces of good win at the end because nobody had the heart to murder Gollum, even though they all knew he deserved it. The Hobbits were the key to victory not because they were fierce and cunning, but because they were guileless and gentle. Their innocence protected them from the allure of a ring that devoured normal guys just like Talion: Guys who want to solve the world's problems by stabbing.

Power was seen as a dangerous thing, and even the very wise (no, especially the very wise) feared to wield the power they had

Shadow of Mordor doesn't just use Tolkien's rich world as a stage for cheap revenge porn, it uses that stage as a place to say that Tolkien himself was wrong. Power doesn't corrupt, evil can be defeated with swords, and Boromir should totally have taken the One Ring to overpower Sauron and made himself the benevolent ruler of Middle-earth.

It feels like a Tolkien story by people who neither like nor understand Tolkien.

And your article reads like a failed journalist who had to take a job in games and resents it. while not understanding Tolkien.

"good win at the end because nobody had the heart to murder Gollum" really that's what you took away from it? so it wasn't a combination of Sams devotion, Frodo's courage, Aragons suicidal charge, the elves fighting the long defeat and the thousand other sacrifices made. it wasnt a story about hanging on and doing what you know to be right regardless of the cost. of never giving up about struggling on when there is no hope, no chance but still finding it in you to get the fuck up and try?
no it was because no one bothered to murder a guy. seriously? Smeagol is to my mind the most damning vision of evil he came up with he was a liar and a murderer he killed his friend. it was a complete and total accidental he destroyed the ring. despair is a huge part of Tolkien's work , infact to quote from memory(and so might not be word for word) "despair is not a sin , its a simple mistake only those who know the future can be doomed and no human has that horrible affliction" Denethor and Théoden play out the starring roles in that theme but the ending is laced with it to. no one won, but because everyone sacrificed everything and held on dawn finally broke and a stroke of luck destroys the ring.

"Tolkien himself was wrong." Well its a mixed bag here, Tolkien did use power as a corrupting force. see the ring wraiths. But the deeper point was that all men are corrupt power simply shines a light on it. desire is the actual well spring. frodo was resistant not because he was weak but because he didnt desire to be any more than he was.

The one ring has no power (other than to control the other rings, yes that invisibility thing but that was a piss poor retcon from writing himself into a corner in the Hobbit (Tolkien freely admits it im not dissing him) it doesnt corrupt its wielder by giving them power it does it by whispering to the dark parts of a mans heart where desire lays.

"Infantile" you say the Hobbit i say. the Hobbit was a childrens book a simple good ole story of adventure dragons and treasure! so its ok for Tolkien to write a childs story in Middle Earth but woe unto anyone else that dares to put anything in Middle Earth that isnt an epic saga like LOTR?

Tolkien was a pluralist an inclusionist, he spent his entire life making Middle Earth , creating its languages and then races to speak them , Middle Earth was meant to fill in for English mythos, he loved the norse mythos and deeply lamented the loss of any English one in the Norman invasion. he wanted other people to tell there stories in his mythology. i think if you went back in time and told him about this game it would please him Immensely to know that to this day people still love and work with the world he created.


On the subject of Shadow of Mordor, well yeah the story is act one of whats bound to be a river of DLC and not a good or well told one. but to fault a game for not being a book is just plain silly. and comparing anything to LOTR a book that over a decade to write in a world he devoted his life to is just asking to be disappointed. personally i think they did the lore right , making it optional , i mean its a GAME it should focus on game play! i did like that we got to see Annatar and Celebrimbor that was cool.
 

Darkness665

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Well stated, Shamus. Extremely well stated.

I am not a Tolkien fan, I read the hobbit, LOR and don't recall getting through the twin towers much less anything else. So your viewpoint was helpful.

If you have the time, a comment or two regarding Yahtzee's position on the game would be worth reading (by myself for absolute certain). He tugged on a point that has constantly bothered me in video games. Your actions as The Hero are mostly negative if not exclusively so. While the Orcs are fascinating in the game from a technology standpoint once The Hero (your dead body worn like a cheap suit) interacts with them they are toasted. As in their clever interactions are gone, erased. At least that is how I understand it to be.

Which brings me back to the first time I was really frustrated with that tendency in a game. Fallout NV has the courier arrive at Novac. Where some dude that spends his eternity wandering the fenced in parking lot of the old time motel. The dude in my game was hurt. Actually had a crippled leg and I tried to help. But the only method I had was to reverse pick-pocket a health pack (stimpack). Which I failed the attempt at. So for the rest of the game this guy wanders the parking lot, gimping about and I could do nothing to address it. It was pathetic and frustrating.

But, only if you have time. You know, that mystical ethereal reference that we know that others have copious amounts of.

Thanks again for the article.
 

lassiie

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So I don't know if anyone else mentioned this, but when it comes to tone, I think the thing that needs to be taken into account is the fact that this story doesn't take place in the kingdoms of man, elf or dwarf, it takes places in the land of the orcs. To me that means there will OBVIOUSLY be a shift in tone and thematic structure. Even just looking at sporadic scenes in the movies where orcs kill each other, yell at each other or fight over inane shit, it doesn't surprise me how violent this game is, given the little bit of culture we have seen with the orcs, it seems perfectly understandable the tone of this game is the way it is.
 

Alarien

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As one of the people who is not a Tolkien/Middle Earth lore light-weight, I will chime in to support those who point out that the story that is given (weak and cliched, though it may be) does not in any way have the tonal dissonance that Shamus claims. It does have a certain amount of dissonance with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but revenge as a major plot point and motivator for major characters and events in Middle earth is a recurring theme throughout The Silmarillion which clearly is the background source material for the game, if you were paying attention. The fall of the Noldor and the pride of Feanor is actually the one cohesive theme for the entire First Age. Given the clear sequel baiting of SoM and the given fact that Talion must eventually lose, the pride/fall mechanic is definitely being hinted at in some future iteration of the game. Perhaps it will also have the eventual redemption arc that was also a part of the story of the Noldor of the First Age.

Someone also mentioned the story of Turin Turambar, which is one of other major First Age tales of pride, revenge, and fall. That one, however, is a pure Shakespearean tragedy, with no happy~ish ending.

Certainly, I don't think anyone would argue that SoM, as a game, has a narrative, characters, dialogue or depth that could really live up to Tolkien's work. I don't think I've read much that can. However, it's important to point out that it's just that: a game. Do we all think that Battle for Middle Earth is really representative of Tolkien's world, or just a way of putting familiar skins on an RTS game with "sorta-ok" mechanics? At least SoM is genuinely fun to play. It is, as others have said, a fantastic Assassin's Creed game without the silliness that has come to define that IP.

Also, while WB has the license, they are free to pump out games with the Middle Earth theme; but do any of us, for a moment consider these canon, in any way, and take them seriously as an addition to the Middle Earth saga? I would hope not. Middle Earth is what Tolkien wrote. Period. Even Peter Jacksons good, though flawed, adaptations are not really representative of Middle Earth's themes. This is not the much more gray Star Wars Expanded Universe where canon requires significant amount of definition, controls and levels as managed by appointed corporate middle-management. Rather, this is a game where we get to play around in a Middle Earth themed murder sandbox and drop bees on the heads of orcs. I fail to see the problem here.

Could this have been better as a new IP? That's certainly debate worthy. Is it "masturbatory power-fantasy?" Probably so, but just using that phrase is also needlessly insulting to those people who enjoyed the gameplay.
 

faefrost

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ZZoMBiE13 said:
As I've been saying to anyone who'll listen, as much as I like Shadow of Mordor it's a game crying out for a different license.

Star Wars. It's a game begging to be a Star Wars game. The revenge as motivation would work fine in a game about a Sith lead character, or a rogue Jedi fighting against a colony world of Mandalorian Bounty Hunters who threaten the Republic.

ME: SoM is great fun. But I honestly don't feel like the license adds much to the game. And Talion (as much as I like Troy Baker) is just a boring lead to play. I have no problems with the voice over work they did for Talion, but they just did not make me care for him at all. He's just an empty vessel to me. I dunno, maybe that's the point?
This or just something else. It's a great game, it just doesn't feel well matched to its license. I mean LotR was among other things Tolkien working through some rather serious PTSD from what was arguably one of the most horrifying conflicts in human history. Weren't he and C SLewis soldiers in the trenches at Flanders? A90's grim dark anti hero seems about as far from what old J R R was trying to say and release as you can get. But the game is still great and if it had been wrapped around a better matching IP it would have been a showstopper. This would have been phenomenal bundled onto a darker IP like Warcraft.
 

wizzy555

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I think the license is fine if it turned out he was being played by Sauron the whole time. What makes the LOTR license good is the orcs aren't expected to have any personality so they can be brought to life with just a few interchangeable lines. Other enemies would require more sophistication in the nemesis system.
 

Kahani

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Hawki said:
I don't think the Tolkein Estate lets anyone use 'Silmarillion' material though. The only game that ever came close was 'The White Council'. I've noticed this in other works, where the boardgame manuals tried their best to reference Morgoth without actually naming him. 'The Third Age' is another example of limited creative license, where EA wasn't allowed to use any book material, only stuff from the Jackson movies. There's a great article on Polygon that documents the CDev hassles the game faced.
If that's the case, that's a real shame, since it means the people in charge of ensuring the IP doesn't get screwed over by people messing with it are actually ensuring that all we'll ever get is the IP being screwed over by people who have no options other than endless contradictions and retcons. On the other hand, there's still plenty of material even without having to go to different times. LotRO, for example, did a pretty good job of showing various conflicts that had no more than a passing mention, or even no mention at all by must have been occurring at the time of the books.

EternallyBored said:
it just seems a bit presumptuous at this point to criticize the story for being shallow revenge fantasy when it is obvious that the characters arc has not finished playing out, and the game has already started to set the foundation for the character's inevitable fall.
"Presumptuous" seems a pretty weird word to describe people who expect a game to actually be a complete game. I don't care in the slightest what might happen in a sequel that may or may not be available a few years from now; the story that happens in this game is a shallow revenge fantasy. Finishing a work with an obvious sequel hook or letting everyone know that you're writing a series from the start is one thing, but simply stopping in the middle of the story arc and letting people guess whether that's the end or not is, at best, utterly terrible storytelling.
 

ERaptor

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Carsus Tyrell said:
Yeah I'll take revenge porn over Tolkiens glorified travellers guide for Middle Earth.

"That's great J.R.R., but if you could stop describing in detail every blade of grass and gnarled stump on the way to Rivendell I'd actually be able to read Fellowship without rigormortis setting in!"

If your book is dryer than fucking Dune you've gone wrong somewhere. The first 2/3rds of Fellowship anyway. It's great after that.
I'm right there with you. Years ago when I first read the original, I was regularly skipping pages after pages because the guy insisted on introducing every leaf one very tree along the road. In that regard, I prefer Shadow of Mordor's approach instead of getting a 6 hour hiking trip with a character that only talks about the nice the flowers look this time of year.

Now, I see where Shamus is coming from, but this is a subject where would disagree with him. I can see it in the Boromir example, because we're talking about the "one ring" there, which is KNOWN to have an active, corrupting influence upon those near it. But in Talion's case, I think its strange to critique how he tackles the threat he's confronted with.

I have the same issue with Batman (Altough Bats does far worse than anyone Tolkien ever presented), and his insistance on saving even the villains from their demise. It doesnt matter that the very same guy will break out of whatever "high security" installation you've put him in, and that he will probably kill another few hundred people. "It's not the way he does things.". And everyone just accepts it, basically going "Eh, whacha gonna do."

I'm irritated similiarly by the people calling Shadow of Mordor out for something like this. The guy get's the power to quite literally turn the troops of the dark lord upon themselves, potentially ridding THE worst place in Middle Earth of Sauron's scourge before it can reach beyond the black gate. And if I follow this reasoning correctly, he's not supposed to use it, or the story should at least make him fail, similiarly to how Boromir fell? Why? It just seems like insisting on fairytale logic, turning the whole thing into something you tell your kids before they go to bed. The equivalent of those movies where the power of "friendship" or "hope" was the key all along!

I never got that vibe from Tolkien. I liked the fact that sometimes, even the good guys had to get down and dirty. That there isn't allways a "good" and "evil" path, there isn't some morale highground in every situation, where you can be a 100% certain that not taking a certain chance might be the better choice. So I dont see how there couldnt be room for a story like Talion's in Middle Earth. Or at least, why he would do anything BUT act against Sauron and his goons.

On the other hand, I agree with everything else you said about the story. Dead family is a pretty old hat (At least if you dont try to bring at least a BIT of fresh air into it) and Talion himself is pretty bland. I also very much agree on the speech patterns. The only one that was more or less decently done in this regard was the Dwarf. Simply because I could tell thathe was supposed to be one without actually seeing him. Celebrimbor on the other hand, I mistook him for a regular human until you get to the Flashbacks.

Also, about the "Visualizing" thing. Ratbag is very much comedy relief, and as far as I can tell, he was the only Orc stepping out of the line in this regard. (Correct me if I'm wrong, tough.)
 

BrotherRool

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zumbledum said:
BrotherRool said:
And then they called it a Lord of the Rings game
No actually they got it right and called it a middle earth game.
It still doesn't feel like a game set in Middle Earth. It's total quibbling to think that the setting doesn't also come with the tone and expectations of the setting