“It is said by the Eldar that in water there lives yet the echo of the Music of the Ainur more than in any substance else that is in this Earth; and many of the Children of Ilúvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the Sea, and yet know not for what they listen.” – The Silmarillion.
The Silmarillion is probably one of my favourite books and considering that it reads like a text book at times, that’s surprising. If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a massive Tolkien fan. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings more times than I can remember, I can quote all three movies from the first word to the last and I’ve pretty much bought every Middle Earth related game since I first owned a console. Add to that the fact that I have almost all of Tolkien’s works and you can tell I’m a pretty hardcore fan.
I suppose you think that was terribly clever.
What I haven’t mentioned so far, is how I feel about The Hobbit movies. In short, I loved the first one. Bits from The Silmarillion were used to flesh it out and whilst others would say that it’s all about the money the trilogy will make Peter Jackson, I think scenes like the white council meeting really added to the plot. Obviously, you need to allow for artistic changes to make a book filmable and Peter Jackson has proven to be adept at doing that.
Not so much in the second Hobbit movie though! The last time I was that annoyed coming out of the cinema was after I’d seen Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The extra bits added in just don’t work and deviate way too far from Tolkien’s literature. Legolas has no place in the movie, the whole love story between elf and dwarf is just daft and don’t even get me started on Sauron announcing himself and subsequently imprisoning Gandalf!
With all of that in mind, you could make many of the same arguments about gaming in Middle Earth. I’m not going to talk about every single title that has come out, but mainly some of my favourites and more recent releases.
What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner, Supper?
The first Middle Earth games I really remember playing were the movie tie-ins on PS2. They’re probably classed as hack and slash games and for me, that totally deviates from my normal gaming tastes. There was so much to like about those games though and I can highlight many examples from the way the movie cut-scene’s changed to computerised imagery, the upgrading of your weapons, even down to how the orcs moved. Take all of that and I think you can term those games as absolute classics. Yea, I know you may read that with scorn, but every time I ask someone about those games they talk about them fondly, so there!
Moving onto PS3, there are two titles I want to touch upon. The Lord of the Rings: Conquest and The War in the North.
I want to start by saying that Conquest was a brilliant idea. Star Wars: Battlefront is a series that did extremely well so why not transfer that type of gameplay to Middle Earth? On paper it sounds brilliant but for me it just didn’t work and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Howard Shore’s soundtrack was put to great use and some of the missions inspired by Tolkien lore should have been amazing!
Like I said, I can’t quite place my finger on it but some of the negative feedback the game got was that there wasn’t enough difference in each class and that bigger enemies such as trolls didn’t provide any difficulty when you had to face them. As Han Solo famously said – “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”
I feel slightly different about The War in the North. I was stupidly excited about this game and really couldn’t wait for it to come out. Having pre-ordered it I eagerly awaited its arrival. When that momentous day came, I probably played it for about three hours and didn’t pick it up again. Again, I’m finding it quite difficult to pinpoint what I didn’t like but I think it boils down to the storyline. In my last article, I talked about characters in gaming and how their storylines can really grip you. Middle Earth is full of brilliant characters and for a game that set itself up as having a half decent story, the character development was non-existent. That’s probably my biggest gripe with the game (incidentally, I feel exactly the same about Watchdogs!) but I didn’t really lose any sleep over it.
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
And now onto the newest game in my collection – Shadow of Mordor. The day I opened it, I probably played around 5 hours straight and I’ve not done that since The Last of Us. Obviously, as you can tell, I like the game and I want to end on a positive note so I’ll start with the things I’m not too fond of.
To back my first point up, I want to start with another quote.
“One does not simply walk into Mordor. Its black gates are guarded by more than just orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep, and the Great Eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire and ash and dust, the very air you breathe is a poisonous fume.”
As described by Boromir, that’s Mordor and as far as I remember, in any of Tolkien’s literature, it doesn’t really deviate from that. The first thing that struck me when playing the game however, was how beautiful Mordor is! It could easily be the plains of Rohan with its hilly backdrop and plant life! How ridiculous! Only a small point and if I’m incorrect, please let me know!
The other bits that I found a bit iffy are some of the characters involved. I won’t give too much away but fairly early on, you meet one of the main characters from the books and movies and he’s inexplicably linked to another character in the game that really shouldn’t be there. That’s as much as I can say without giving too much away and you know what? I’m willing to let it all pass.
As a game it’s brilliant. Think Assassin’s Creed meets Arkham City for a showdown in Middle Earth and you’ve got it. Well kind of anyway. In all honesty, there’s so much more to it than that. The first thing I want to mention is how brilliantly Monolith has captured orc society. Petty squabbles, backstabbing, thirst for power, grog and northern accents! It’s sublimely good and it really gives the game the feel of Middle Earth. The other thing that makes it such a good title is the gameplay. The Nemesis System is brilliant and I can see it being used on loads more titles in the future. Let’s face it, it’s how games should be! If you battle an enemy and they escape or you need to run, your next interaction should be affected by your last. Anyway, if you’ve not played it yet, I’d highly recommend it to you!
I know I’ve given very brief overviews of each game but I think looking at it objectively, Middle Earth is changing into something apart from Tolkien and the movies. The world is becoming more expansive and new characters are being created to give the fans their Middle Earth fix. Whereas before I think I would have hated it, Shadow of Mordor has softened me towards it. It’s all about changing with the times right?
Much like “in water there lives yet the echo of the Music of the Ainur”, in every Middle Earth game we play, there lives the echo of Tolkien.