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Middle-earth: Shadow of War Full Experience Review

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Story:

Following the events of the first game in the series, Shadow of War continues with Talion and Celebrimbor forging a new Ring of Power that is 'perfect' and, in theory, will allow them to defeat Sauron. Things do not go as planned as immediately after finishing the ring, Celebrimbor is pulled away from Talion, who would succumb to his fatal wound if not for the ring. You soon discover it was Shelob that took Celebrimbor, and she will only free him if you give her the ring.

Depending on your familiarity with The Lord of the Rings, either the book or the movies, you might find this depiction of Shelob unusual, as she is not shown solely as a great spider but as a woman. While this is definitely an atypical representation of the being, I personally like it. My reason for this is that I do not associate Shelob as just a great spider, but as a force of darkness and destruction, so great a force that Sauron actually sought to not challenge her. Instead he takes advantage of her incidental existence as a watchdog for him, as her tunnels would serve as a passage to Mordor, if she were not there to devour any creature that would try to travel them. Her presence in these tunnels is older the Sauron's rule of Mordor. Being a force of darkness and destruction, I personally feel it is appropriate that she could assume forms other than that of a spider if she wished, as she does in Shadow of War, when she feels it is necessary. This concept is supported by her parentage as well, as her mother is Ungoliant, a primordial being of darkness that took the form of a great spider, which directly suggests she could assume other forms. It is not then unreasonable that Shelob, the greatest of Ungoliant's children, would possess the same ability.

There was an interview with one of the people behind the game around the time of release and he explained part of the reasoning behind this form of Shelob and the importance she plays in the story is to cast her as a balance to the elf-queen Galadriel. As much as Galadriel is associated with light, Shelob is with darkness, but both serve a role of guiding, and to a point manipulating the protagonists on their respective quests.

 

 

Initially Shelob quite directly manipulates Talion, with the bargain to free Celebrimbor in exchange for the New Ring, but then her manipulation becomes more subtle as she shares with Talion visions from her ability foresight. While this manipulation seems favorable to Talion, as it lets him see future attacks against the humans in Minas Ithil, he is unable to protect the city, which eventually is captured, along with its Palantir, and becomes Minas Morgul, the seat of the Witch-King, mightiest of the Nazgul.

While Talion does feel betrayed by Shelob, because the visions were not enough to protect Minas Ithil, you do eventually learn her intent in showing him what she did and it does provide a level of redemption for her. All throughout the time Shelob is sharing with you visions, and when you discover memory fragments, a collectible in the game, Celebrimbor constantly and consistently warns you to not trust her, because even though she deals in truth, that does not make her honest or an ally.

  

 

Besides Shelob you also encounter and work with Carnan, a nature spirit, and two survivors of Minas Ithil, Idril and Baranor. Idril is the daughter of the general that leads Minas Ithil while Baranor is a captain. Both of them have the specific focus of protecting the Gondorian refugees following the fall of Minas Ithil, though at first their approaches differ with Baranor seeking to escape and Idril wishing to wage war against the orcs. At first Idril is really just acting out a death wish, which Baranor cannot involve himself in, but both change by the end of these missions, with Baranor deciding to stay with Idril and Idril, though still dedicated to fighting the forces of Mordor, appears to have lost the death wish. (This is just what we see in the events of the base game. The expansion The Desolation of Mordor has you play as Baranor and will add onto his story.)

Carnan, as a nature spirit, is actually a very powerful being which Celebrimbor fears. She commands Talion to surrender to her, but he refuses and the two fight, with Talion eventually winning. At this point we learn why Carnan has such animosity toward both Talion and Celebrimbor: when they forged the New Ring it awoke Tar Goroth, a Balrog. Based on statements by Carnan, she and Tar Goroth have fought previously, actually in a cycle, with her a force of life and creation and he a force of death and destruction. Now that he has been awoken by your actions, she tasks you to help defeat him again, especially as an orc necromancer wishes to resurrect him to create an undead army and become a new Dark Lord. With Carnan's help you are eventually able to defeat them both, even though the necromancer consistently taunts that necromancers never truly die. After the fight, at least the avatar of Carnan fades away, undoubtedly a result of how weak the fight left her.

  

 

Other characters you encounter are Eltariel, Bruz, the Nazgul, and Ratbag, who apparently survived an attack from the Hammer of Sauron in the previous game. Ratbag now has a friend, an Olog-hai he calls Ranger, in honor of Talion. Olog-hai are specially bred war trolls, making them more intelligent than others and resistant to sunlight. Ranger is a somewhat amusing character, though not on his own, but because of Ratbag's idiocy. Though he understands what everyone says around him, Ranger only speaks in Black Speech, which Ratbag does not understand, so he says one thing and Ratbag translates it as something else. (At least with subtitles enabled, you see what Ranger is actually saying.) While it is clear Ranger dislikes this arrangement, he remains close to Ratbag just the same.

Like Ratbag in the previous game, Bruz, another Olog-hai, serves as an in-game tutorial, explaining how fortresses work, how you can have your dominated captains infiltrate warchiefs as spies, and how you can level up your dominated captains through the fight pits. Bruz is directly amusing as he talks about the joy of killing other orcs and trolls and comes to be a more significant supporting character than you might initially expect.

  

 

The Nazgul are the Ring Wraiths, powerful beings that were once the kings of men, but after being given Rings of Power were ultimately corrupted by Sauron and are not bound to him as ever-loyal servants. You will encounter them on several occasions, even witnessing their memories of falling to Sauron's corruption, which is definitely interesting, but their role is as more than tragic figures. Throughout the game they tell Talion he will become one of them, serving the Witch-King, their leader, and therefore also Sauron. Eltariel is an elven assassin sent by Galadriel to Mordor to fight them. As they are banished from death, her efforts are limited as she cannot destroy them, but she recognizes stalemate can be a victory in war. She becomes an important ally as she possess the Light of Galadriel that can ward off the Nazgul. She also has a very significant role at the end of the base game (and is the playable character in the The Blade of Galadriel expansion).

 

 

Overall I found the story of Shadow of War to be interesting and engaging, though it can be easy to forget some story developments. I advanced through all of the quest lines before going to the endgame, and this resulted in a gap between when I learned some things in the quest and the revelations at the end that they relate to. This is only a real concern with the Shelob and Eltariel missions, so try to pay attention to the story of these missions, for easier recall at the end of Act III. (They impact what Act IV represents, but I have not reached the end of Act IV, the Shadow Wars yet, which I will explain in the Gameplay section.)

This does risk spoiling the ending, so do not read the remainder of this paragraph if that is a concern of yours. A fundamental theme to the story is the corruption of Sauron not only on those beings he has tainted, like the Nazgul through the Rings of Power, but also on his enemies and their obsession with defeating him. As Nietzsche once said, "if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you," and this comes to pass with some of the characters in Shadow of War, allowing Sauron to survive the attack against him. (We knew he would survive since he is present in The Lord of the Rings which takes place after this story.) Additionally, Eltariel's statement of a stalemate being a victory becomes very impactful at the end, as does Shelob's statement that sacrifices need to be made.

  

 

A significant theme within Shadow of War is that of corruption, which is actually a theme throughout The Lord of the Rings as well, with a number of characters being corrupted, directly or indirectly by Sauron. It is a powerful theme here, not only because of how you see characters turn to the corruption, but also because of which characters are able to resist it, and in one case, why. Perhaps ironically, this theme, though significant, is not the motivator but defense and vengeance are. The goal is always the defeat of Sauron, with corruption coming to shape how some parties seek to achieve it, and putting them at odds with other 'heroes.'

  




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