How Shadow of Mordor Embodies the War on Terror

How Shadow of Mordor Embodies the War on Terror

Shadow of Mordor falls flat thematically because it transplants a War on Terror mentality to a fantasy world inspired by World War I.

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About Talion having his cake and eating it. I really don't think it's too late to switch Talion from an anomaly in Tolkein lore to a huge cautionary tale in the span of about a sequel. Sure, he already got his revenge, which I was hoping they would dangle on a stick a little bit longer, but seeing as he's still in the game I'm hoping that allying himself to all these malevolent or self-serving characters is going to come back to bite him. Actually, having him lose everything and perhaps realize he hasn't even dented Sauron's army would be a really satisfying ending.

Then again, I feel like Shadow of Mordor's success was more of a happy accident than crafty writing/design. Oh well, looking forward to a sequel.

Okay - so clearly this isn't what SoM does, but it's raised the question in my mind: Could a game explore the contrast? Use the Middle Earth setting to explore how our perception of war has changed? Contrast Talion and Celebrimbor to Aragorn and Frodo? And if so, could it do that while retaining the Nemesis system? (You'd need two versions - presumably contrasting Domination to Co-operation.)

Or is the Nemesis system just too out of synch with the themes of Middle Earth?

It is an interesting reading. The fact the ghost was more pragmatic than most characters in Tolkien lore made me suspect he was, in truth, a bad guy in disguise. Until his identity's reveal, I was half-expecting a heel turn. Lets face it, using slaves as distractions for the Uruk to attack is hardly a characteristic of any of the good guys, even those less virtuous.

But I don't really think it is the result of our mindset changing because of the war on terror. If anything, that change is way older than that (but still newer than Tolkien). After all, Tolkien fought in WW 1, a war that took several generations worth of romanticism, idealism and honor and grind it to a pulp. Before (and during) that, it was not uncommon to see war as a gentlemanly business, full of honor, bravery, friendship and simplicity. After the war, many of those concepts were discarded, and some were tested to the breaking point. By the time we reached WW 2, there was nothing of the romantic, gentlemanly way of war; but it still did't have the cynicism that characterized US foreign policies in the following years.

This game is the result of someone in the Post-Vietnam era trying to get into the mindset of a survivor of World War 1.

This was a really fascinating article that brought up a lot of ideas about this game I would've never picked up on had I not read it. Though it really doesn't affect how I play or take in the game, I feel it was a great read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Oh I'm sorry, I meant this is bad because it's not objective, or something.

Absolutely fantastic article! I don't think there can be a discussion about this game that is more important than the one presented. I haven't played Shadow of Mordor yet, but I have seen quite a few reviews and gameplay videos for it. It had always struck me as being out of place in the Tolkien universe and I couldn't put my finger on it until this article.

In a period where many people want to see games taken more seriously, this article proves to me that it is possible. Keep up the amazing work!

Fascinating article, thanks for posting that.

(I hope the discussions that follow won't be too...stimulating. You may wish to get some ear plugs ready. I don't know which can be considered the hottest button these days, an attack on SoM or anything touching on the war on terror.)

I'd never thought of your take on this, it's really interesting, and I think you're right; it wasn't necessarily intended, but a 'smarter' (please note use of quotes, please note use of quotes, please-) way of doing warfare has trickled down into our collective way of thinking. And I have to say, this makes me want to play the game even more :)

As for tonal shift...maybe, maybe not. The way I'm seeing it, what we're seeing in Talion is what, in a lesser way, Boromir wanted to do. Using the enemy's weapons (terror, and the orcs themselves) against him, fighting a losing war any way you can, letting despair and a need for revenge for the fallen eat away at your ideals until suddenly anything seems justified. Of course, Tolkien is very clear that Boromir's approach was wrong - very, very clear, Boromir is the only one in the fellowship who gets killed shortly after his fall from grace. His redemption, right before the end, is to lay down his life for the ideal of fellowship, and acknowledge his mistake.

What I regret is that the creators went with dead-wife-and-kid-#252. Because PERSONAL revenge doesn't say 'Tolkien' for me. If Talion's motivator had been an echo of Boromir's - a montage showing the inevitable advance of the orcs, the desecration of the land, the gradual morale-sapping falling back of the rangers, the way nobody else outside of Gondor seemed to notice/care, culminating in the slaugther of Talion's fellow rangers and his own death...it would have worked better for me.

I don't know how SoM ends, so I don't know if in the end Talion is 'punished' for his decision and fall, or if he's shown as rewarded and victorious. The former would match Tolkien IMO. The latter...not, but I'd have to play the game all the way through to decide if it's tone-deaf as to the original, or a counter-argument, an alternative.

EDIT: Not having played through yet, please no spoilers as to the end if you answer my post

The_Darkness:
Okay - so clearly this isn't what SoM does, but it's raised the question in my mind: Could a game explore the contrast? Use the Middle Earth setting to explore how our perception of war has changed? Contrast Talion and Celebrimbor to Aragorn and Frodo? And if so, could it do that while retaining the Nemesis system? (You'd need two versions - presumably contrasting Domination to Co-operation.)

Or is the Nemesis system just too out of synch with the themes of Middle Earth?

The first half of the Nemesis system is perfectly in keeping, its all about forging your own legend while knowing about your enemies own story. Instead of that story being told to you you dynamically effect how the captains grow. It only breaks away with the interrogation mechanic and the domination power being used to make an army of evil for the greater good.

A good aligned system could definitely work, operating as a diplomat running around Middle Earth trying to get the good aligned species involved for the final battles of the books. Trying to balance the demands of the lords of Gondor and Rohan, or smooth talking the reluctant Dwarves would be a very different game, but a very rewarding one I think

I never read too much into the game to pick up on the 'War on Terror' vibe, but all the 'strategies' employed in it are good solid strategies. Know your enemy, Get your enemy to fight themselves, and if you must pick an alliance with an enemy, expect betrayal.

It smacks of the 'war on terror' as that is the 'big war' at the moment. If there was any other war going on, it would smack of that instead. While i get the parallels, I am not 100% sold on this view, but that's just my two cents.

sid:
About Talion having his cake and eating it. I really don't think it's too late to switch Talion from an anomaly in Tolkein lore to a huge cautionary tale in the span of about a sequel. Sure, he already got his revenge, which I was hoping they would dangle on a stick a little bit longer, but seeing as he's still in the game I'm hoping that allying himself to all these malevolent or self-serving characters is going to come back to bite him. Actually, having him lose everything and perhaps realize he hasn't even dented Sauron's army would be a really satisfying ending.

Then again, I feel like Shadow of Mordor's success was more of a happy accident than crafty writing/design. Oh well, looking forward to a sequel.

I completely agree with this. All the writing hooks are there for a fallen hero.

I also agree with the happy accident the writing in just on the side of capturing the atmosphere of the Jackson movies without being too annoying with the wink wink nudge references and the nemesis is just a hair width away from being a pointless randomly generated fad.

I'm still of the opinion that this isn't necessarily counter to Tolkein's work. There's ample setup for a sequel, and there are enough clues in the game as to Celebrimor's corruption and lack of trustworthiness(Bright Lord, Blue Hand, literally stealing Saruman's techniques, setting himself up as a Lord of the Ring, building an army of Orc's, using the enemies power against him, he even basically quotes lines used by the corrupted in the films and books), that I think there's still a lot of space for the game to move to more familiar Tolkein themes in a sequel, or sequels. If it does manage that, it gets extra credit in my book for playing the long game, and using a violent revenge fantasy to condemn revenge, and ideas like using the enemies power against them.

It feels like this would be complaining that the start of say, "Spec Ops: The Line", is a third person shooter that glorifies military interventionism. And further, it's convincing in it's sincerity and encourages players to do things, in a setting where they have choice and agency, to do the wrong thing, to set themselves up for their own fall, using exactly the reasoning of Boromir, Denethor, Saruman, et al, because branding Uruk's with the White-Blue Hand of Talion, and butchering them by the bucketload, whilst trying to raise an army of them for their own purposes, is not only useful in the game, it's fun and empowering.

It depends if they can stick that landing.

I'm going to have to disagree here on factual basis. Going after command and control is tactic that old as the hills and its not new. The start of the modern version of the tacit comes from WW1 in the shape of T.E Lawrence and the arab revolt. They targeted Turkish command and control in what's now Saudi Arabia. Lawrence's cousin Ord Wingate took up the baton between the wars with his training Haganah during the Arab revolt of 36-39 and latter the Chindits in Burma. WW2 also the birth of the SAS which raided all over North Africa and Western Europe. SOE operations included the targeted assassination of Germans officials, all over Europe. Ironically Sir Christopher Lee, Saruman himself, was part of SOE operations. He apparently scared the hell out of Peter Jackson when Jackson gave him the direction " imagine the sound of knife going into someones back", Lee replied " I don't need to, I've heard it". Other less well known outfits like the LRDG and Popski's private army were all heavily active during WW2.

albino boo:
I'm going to have to disagree here on factual basis. Going after command and control is tactic that old as the hills and its not new. The start of the modern version of the tacit comes from WW1 in the shape of T.E Lawrence and the arab revolt. They targeted Turkish command and control in what's now Saudi Arabia. Lawrence's cousin Ord Wingate took up the baton between the wars with his training Haganah during the Arab revolt of 36-39 and latter the Chindits in Burma. WW2 also the birth of the SAS which raided all over North Africa and Western Europe. SOE operations included the targeted assassination of Germans officials, all over Europe. Ironically Sir Christopher Lee, Saruman himself, was part of SOE operations. He apparently scared the hell out of Peter Jackson when Jackson gave him the direction " imagine the sound of knife going into someones back", Lee replied " I don't need to, I've heard it". Other less well known outfits like the LRDG and Popski's private army were all heavily active during WW2.

While all of that may be factually true, it doesn't have much to do with the discussion because that wasn't a factor in the Battle of the Somme from Tolkien's perspective, which is what influenced the Lord of the Rings and associated materials.

I've been suspicious of Tolkien-franchised gaming for decades... even as far back as Iron Crown Enterprise's Middle Earth Role Playing. No one gets it right. MERP was all about overt, unsubtle magic and critical death charts that focus on maiming and gore almost gleefully. And I don't know of anything that has made a game more in the spirit of Tolkien's works since. I'd argue that a game truly in the spirit of Tolkien's works is borderline impossible. I'm sick of seeing giant publishers cynically exploit Middle Earth to publish things that have nothing to do with it's heart. Maybe, like zombies, it's time to just give the idea a rest. How about publishers exercise some basic creativity and make their own fantasy world for a change?

DANGER- MUST SILENCE:

albino boo:
I'm going to have to disagree here on factual basis. Going after command and control is tactic that old as the hills and its not new. The start of the modern version of the tacit comes from WW1 in the shape of T.E Lawrence and the arab revolt. They targeted Turkish command and control in what's now Saudi Arabia. Lawrence's cousin Ord Wingate took up the baton between the wars with his training Haganah during the Arab revolt of 36-39 and latter the Chindits in Burma. WW2 also the birth of the SAS which raided all over North Africa and Western Europe. SOE operations included the targeted assassination of Germans officials, all over Europe. Ironically Sir Christopher Lee, Saruman himself, was part of SOE operations. He apparently scared the hell out of Peter Jackson when Jackson gave him the direction " imagine the sound of knife going into someones back", Lee replied " I don't need to, I've heard it". Other less well known outfits like the LRDG and Popski's private army were all heavily active during WW2.

While all of that may be factually true, it doesn't have much to do with the discussion because that wasn't a factor in the Battle of the Somme from Tolkien's perspective, which is what influenced the Lord of the Rings and associated materials.

I've been suspicious of Tolkien-franchised gaming for decades... even as far back as Iron Crown Enterprise's Middle Earth Role Playing. No one gets it right. MERP was all about overt, unsubtle magic and critical death charts that focus on maiming and gore almost gleefully. And I don't know of anything that has made a game more in the spirit of Tolkien's works since. I'd argue that a game truly in the spirit of Tolkien's works is borderline impossible. I'm sick of seeing giant publishers cynically exploit Middle Earth to publish things that have nothing to do with it's heart. Maybe, like zombies, it's time to just give the idea a rest. How about publishers exercise some basic creativity and make their own fantasy world for a change?

The point I'm making that is that tactics are not new and the current version are 99 years old and has nothing to do with the war terror. You can easily go back further to the Napoleonic wars and the Spanish Guerillas. Thats the origin of the modern usage of the word. Here we have Spanish irregular forces attacking supply convoys, messengers and assassinating French army officers. At end of the peninsular war for a simple message to get through it need a battalion escort.

Trying to say that its a theme from the war on terror is just factually incorrect, its older and more universal than that.

albino boo:

The point I'm making that is that tactics are not new and the current version are 99 years old and has nothing to do with the war terror. You can easily go back further to the Napoleonic wars and the Spanish Guerillas. Thats the origin of the modern usage of the word. Here we have Spanish irregular forces attacking supply convoys, messengers and assassinating French army officers. At end of the peninsular war for a simple message to get through it need a battalion escort.

Trying to say that its a theme from the war on terror is just factually incorrect, its older and more universal than that.

But you are missing the point of the article, it has nothing to do with the facts of combat or historical war tactics. I am sure that headhunting for officers is as old as war itself.

The point of the article was discussing how the cultural portrayal of war has changed. Up until the war on terror, war was still portrayed in movies, games and books as a conventional war where soldiers face their opposite number on the battlefield, no spec ops or designated targets. Just raw bravado.
Since the war on terror, the way our culture at large views war has changed. The article mentions or ponders on how this has affected how war is portrayed in this game. Instead of the epic and grandeurs battles of prior LOTR games and Peter Jacksons film series, we have war in middle earth as interpreted with post war on terror goggles.

In this context actual tactics and their real life use, are irrelevant.

JennAnge:

What I regret is that the creators went with dead-wife-and-kid-#252. Because PERSONAL revenge doesn't say 'Tolkien' for me. If Talion's motivator had been an echo of Boromir's - a montage showing the inevitable advance of the orcs, the desecration of the land, the gradual morale-sapping falling back of the rangers, the way nobody else outside of Gondor seemed to notice/care, culminating in the slaugther of Talion's fellow rangers and his own death...it would have worked better for me.

Are you playing the game right now? Try noticing how very little Talion ever acknowledges that he's a dude hellbent on revenge. I don't think revenge is what he's about at all. Either through intention or sloppy writing, Talion is just some guy who seems comfortable with the idea that he and his loved ones are all dead, who's being carried along for a ride by a wraith, and every now and then he even has to step in and call that wraith out on being very un-Tolkien.

Actually yeah, how's this for a sequel? It all ends with Talion straight up choosing death over whatever Celebrimbor is trying to get accomplished, thus redeeming one character for doing the right thing and punishing another for doing the wrong one. It could even allow the gameplay to continue past the plot ending by just having Celebrimbor fighting the orcs endlessly without truly accomplishing anything plotwise, thus sticking him into a repeat cycle forever. That's a proper unredeemed wraith.

Although lets face it. This isn't a story-based game, this is what everyone wishes Assassins Creed's gameplay would be, so the plot takes a complete backseat and the setting is just there for the brand value. The story is practically begging for a change of heart, and it left plenty of doors open to do so, but I don't think that's the developer's primary focus.

Bleh, I feel like I'm just babbling at this point. Captcha is okey-dokey.

O maestre:

albino boo:

The point I'm making that is that tactics are not new and the current version are 99 years old and has nothing to do with the war terror. You can easily go back further to the Napoleonic wars and the Spanish Guerillas. Thats the origin of the modern usage of the word. Here we have Spanish irregular forces attacking supply convoys, messengers and assassinating French army officers. At end of the peninsular war for a simple message to get through it need a battalion escort.

Trying to say that its a theme from the war on terror is just factually incorrect, its older and more universal than that.

But you are missing the point of the article, it has nothing to do with the facts of combat or historical war tactics. I am sure that headhunting for officers is as old as war itself.

The point of the article was discussing how the cultural portrayal of war has changed. Up until the war on terror, war was still portrayed in movies, games and books as a conventional war where soldiers face their opposite number on the battlefield, no spec ops or designated targets. Just raw bravado.
Since the war on terror, the way our culture at large views war has changed. The article mentions or ponders on how this has affected how war is portrayed in this game. Instead of the epic and grandeurs battles of prior LOTR games and Peter Jacksons film series, we have war in middle earth as interpreted with post war on terror goggles.

In this context actual tactics and their real life use, are irrelevant.

Err the clue is in the title "How Shadow of Mordor Embodies the War on Terror", this statement is factually incorrect. HIstorically speaking these kind of actions are not new.

As to your contention that up until the war on terror that war was still portrayed in movies, games and books as a conventional war where soldiers face their opposite number on the battlefield, no spec ops or designated targets, you are also factually incorrect. Try reading or watching the following.

1 Heart of Darkness
2 Apocalypse Now
3 Carve her name with pride
4 The Guns of Navarone
6 Force 10 from Navarone
7 Tobruk
8 Raid on Rommel
9 The Cockleshell Heroes
10 Heroes of Telemark
11 The secret army
12 Gunga Din
13 North West Frontier
14 Sea of Sand
15 Play Dirty
16 Above Us the Waves
17 Merrill's Marauders
18 Odette
19 The Man Who Never Was
20 The Pride and the Passion

Those 20 come from off the top my head, with research I could extend that list comfortably to at least 50.

albino boo:
Trying to say that its a theme from the war on terror is just factually incorrect, its older and more universal than that.

Yes, that's one of the points I was going to make. The idea that targeting training camps, supplies, leaders, logisitics, and so on is somehow unique to the war on terror is just complete nonsense. Hell the article even alludes to how relevant this was in the Somme itself with mention of how communication lines were constantly being cut. It's particularly worth noting that The Lord of the Rings was written largely during WW2, in which bombing civilian industrial centres, shipping, and so on were huge factors in both sides' strategy. Claiming that:

Robert Rath:
striking at Sauron's organizational structure in order to weaken it before it leaves Mordor -- to fight them over there before we have to fight them over here. This isn't how you attack an enemy army, it's how you root out terrorist networks

is just complete and utter bollocks. That's exactly how wars have been fought since wars were invented, and it's very explicitly how the two large wars Tolkien lived through while writing LotR were fought.

In addition, this:

Robert Rath:
They fight monsters when necessary, but very few are professional soldiers

is also utter bollocks. In fact, the vast majority of Tolkiens characters absolutely are professional soldiers. Every single dwarf who appears in his books is a soldier. Gandalf is a soldier specifically sent to fight Sauron. All the men of Gondor and Rohan who actually get a mention are soldiers, and even Eowyn is described as a shield maiden who is just as competent at fighting as any of the men. The rangers are an entire race/extended family tree of soldiers. Even out of the Hobbits, two are explicitly professional soldiers by the end. The only people who aren't explicitly soldiers are the elves, and that's largely because they're just generally good at everything and don't need to take soldiering up as a profession when they can already kick everyone's asses. In case anyone's keeping count, that's 2/9 of the Fellowhip who are not soldiers, and 1/14 of the group in the Hobbit, along with virtually every other named person in either book.

Of course, none of this should be a surprise. As the article itself points out, Tolkien's writing was obviously influences by his experiences in war. Tolkien was a soldier himself, and everyone he knew was either a soldier or heavily involved with soldiers and the war effort through much of his life.

O maestre:
Instead of the epic and grandeurs battles of prior LOTR games and Peter Jacksons film series, we have war in middle earth as interpreted with post war on terror goggles.

So The Lord of the Rings didn't feature a small strike force specially chosen to infiltrate the enemy's stronghold and destroy his weapons in order to specifically avoid having to fight epic battles? I guess The Hobbit didn't feature a small group of carefully selected fighters sneaking into their objective via a back door and getting others to do their fighting for them either.

I mean seriously, has anyone here actually read any of Tolkien's work? I really don't see how anyone could possibly look at two books about small groups of people sneaking around behind enemy lines to sabotage their ability to fight, and then turn around and claim that small groups of people sneaking around behind enemy lines to sabotage their ability to fight is somehow a completely different idea.

I agree with Robert's analysis, and Peter Jackson's works based on Tolkien are likewise far more dark and cynical than Tolkien.

It's like Sacha Baron Cohen said, while frantically running around and to limited extent away from a pack of ignorant angry Americans - it's the War OF Terror. Talion is a terrorist. The West employs terrorist tactics to take down a wide range of modern oppositional groups, from freedom fighters trying to exert self-sovereignty to terrified idealists bastioning themselves with religion to dissident groups in the United States itself.

The problem, once again, is that video games never examine the supposed virtue and righteousness of the protagonist, it's always ASSUMED. The focus is always on the mission, the quests, the saving the world, one corpse at a time - whether the missions and quests are RIGHT in the first place is always assumed, never questioned. What exactly is being saved one corpse at a time is either not addressed or put in vague ridiculous terms, like saving the world from evil.

Video games have no means of allowing the player to within the game oppose the video game itself. All the player can do is either play the game (follow the plot, mechanics, and structure enabled by the developer) or not play the game.

There's no evil in the world. Both Dick Cheney and Osama Bin Laden are wrong about that. We live in a terrible distressed confused world with various powerful groups creating various bad outcomes. Dick Cheney, Osama Bin Laden, the American military, ISIS - none of these things are evil but ALL of these things produce bad outcomes and need to be opposed.

The meaning of "saving the world, one corpse at a time" is the age old mantra - Might makes Right. Talion is blessed by the developer - given immortality, super-powers, the only character wielded by the almighty *player*, and the player is instructed by the game to reconfigure the game world itself (like the American military reconfigures the Middle East), one corpse at a time.

The reason 61% of modern mainstream games are about killing is that the primary ideology of video games is about the player restructuring, redefining the condition of the gameworld. Usually, from one which contains a plethora of "monsters" to one in which the "monsters" have been genocided, either entirely or at least until they no longer comprise a group capable of effective opposition to Talion and others pursuing a War of Terror.

Monsters don't exist. Until gamers understand that, they'll be all too happy to continue with virtual genocide after virtual genocide, waving away meaning with claims of "fun".

Game critics have long been only half correct - games have been said to be about interactivity but most mainstream ones are actually about transformation. Classically, they present a world full of monsters and the player transforms the world into a "safe" one without monsters. We interact with games *in order* to transform them into a better state.

But better for WHO, exactly? Certainly not for the corpses and for the corpses' loved ones, now bewildered and living a shadowy twilight existence of genocided despair, as the Native Americans do now and the Palestinians are moving toward. Better, clearly, for the VICTORS, for the Might side of Might makes Right, who now have additional control of land, resources, and space - physical, cultural, and psychological, to impose their will.

Power has a snowball effect - the more power one has the more additional power one can get. Games are about the protagonist increasing his own power and the power of *his* civilization, with the underlying understanding that this increase in power positions oneself to be more secure and able to effectively increase one's power in a similar manner in the future.

As in the game Risk - the game is only over when the entire map is the same color. Prior to then? Well, it's Kill or Be Killed.

I thought this article was quite thought provoking. I'm not sure I agree with the conclusion though:

However, there's a difference between emphasizing one theme in a work and adding elements that aren't there. Shadow of Mordor does the latter. Bringing the modern understanding of war to Middle-earth contradicts Tolkien's most prominent themes

What you're doing here is imposing your interpretation of the game onto of a reading of Tolkien's work that commits the intentional fallacy. Rather than considering how these themes might fit his work, you argue from a position of authorial intent that he would never have wanted them in there and thus the two works are incongruous. That's not a strong argument.

his suspicion of violence and power

I don't really get how this game contradicts any of that. It's not as if they end up defeating Sauron in the books without drawing blood.

hate for modern cynicism and belief that good should never engage with evil

His broader works examine fairly deeply what happens when good engages with evil - consider the fall of Numenor. I don't see what makes it inappropriate for this game to explore such a theme.

Tolkien's heroes didn't thirst for revenge

You can't deny though that revenge becomes a motivating factor at multiple points in Lord of the Rings: the Bridge of Khazad-dum, the fall of Boromir, etc. Also, again you're making the mistake of confining your analysis to LOTR: revenge on Smaug is one of the primary motives driving the Dwarves in The Hobbit, and there are so many revenge plots in The Silmarillion you lose count quickly. The most obvious one being the War of the Jewels.

They didn't use terror tactics against their enemies.

Depends how broadly you define terror tactics. Considering that your examples included just generally sowing confusion and terror in enemy ranks, the Rohirrim raids and the appearance of the Army of the Dead could well be good examples.

They never dabbled in shades of grey or tried to use the enemies' weapons against them.

Uh... Boromir? Saruman?

I really feel like this whole story fits better if you change Talion to one of the human kings who became the Nazgul. Think about it, at that time Sauron was totally taking over various human kingdoms and maybe he kills this guys family the guy finds one of the nine rings(maybe he kills one of the other wielders) goes on a quest for revenge. The whole time the ring is speaking to him guiding his choices as this spirit figure and granting him more wraith-like abilities, Talion spends the game killing the "allies" of Sauron based on the spirits advice while also killing off terrorizing and bending to his will the weaker orcs and creating his own army to fight against the dark lord. Hey presto, he gets to the final battle and finds that the spirit has been Sauron the whole time. He looks back on his actions and realizes that the whole time he'd been trying to fight against the dark lord he'd become more and more like him. Maybe even some of the enemies were actually men fighting against Sauron.

The game fits with the Tolkien view of morality(I.E. a wrong action for a good cause leads one further towards evil) and is a nice little comment on how morally ambiguous the actions of gamer's tend to be in games when in pursuit of their goals. Plus they don't have to create a whole bunch of stuff wholesale they can work with what Tolkien already left kind of vague (We know next to nothing about the men who became the ring wraiths) also it makes much more sense for Talion to get his powers this way instead of some really angry elf just happening to take over this guys body like two thousand years after he died.

Very compelling read of the game. I don't think Tolkien would be shocked by this interpretation (having seen real darkness in his own time), but he would be very disappointed to find that his work is being used to promote ideas counter to his idealistic philosophy.

albino boo:

1 Heart of Darkness
2 Apocalypse Now
3 Carve her name with pride
4 The Guns of Navarone
6 Force 10 from Navarone
7 Tobruk
8 Raid on Rommel
9 The Cockleshell Heroes
10 Heroes of Telemark
11 The secret army
12 Gunga Din
13 North West Frontier
14 Sea of Sand
15 Play Dirty
16 Above Us the Waves
17 Merrill's Marauders
18 Odette
19 The Man Who Never Was
20 The Pride and the Passion

These are not CT texts. The protagonists are not engaged in identifying, degrading and eventually rolling up terrorist networks. Often they are actually the network under attack. Clandestine networks are employed against the powerful, and though in SoM the power asymmetry is inverted (sort of) and the network barely clandestine, the process is still very much more WoT/CT than CI/Seven Pillars of Wisdom/Boys Own Adventures Commando Stories Omnibus.

sid:
I really don't think it's too late to switch Talion from an anomaly in Tolkein lore to a huge cautionary tale in the span of about a sequel.

Yes! But I can remember a similar optimism after the first Hobbit. erg

Others have argued the first two points but its his last point that really falls flat for me.

Robert Rath:
Finally, we come to the element that most blatantly clashes with Tolkien's vision: the idea that you should ally with enemies for the greater good.

From the impression I get while reading LOTR, the Dwarves and Elves have a highly antagonistic relationship. They seem to only get along through necessity and a common enemy. Whereas the Humans seem to have a decent relationship with both the Dwarves and Elves. The Battle of the Five Armies in the Hobbit is a perfect example of this. The Elven army was waiting for Thorin and company to come out of the mountain when King Dain II arrived. The Dwarves and Elves nearly went to war with each other before the Goblins and Wargs showed up. Faced with the new threat, the Dwarves and Elves decided to work together to stop the greater evil. So Tolkien had two enemies allying to fight a greater enemy, or for the greater good.

As for allying with an enemy for the greater good being a newfangled War on Terror tactic he clearly forgot abou the Us and Britain allying with the Soviets to stop the Nazis. The West considered Stalin a bigger threat than Hitler before 1939 and refused his offer of an alliance so he made one with the Nazis. Only after being initially trounced by the Nazis did both sides finally come together for the greater good.

Same with Britain and Spain during the Napoleonic War. Initially enemies before Spain needed British help to retake their country.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend is an old military tactic. I know the Americans like to think they invented everything but the War on Terror is just old standard tactics with fancy new toys. Why do you think they study Sun Tzu and Von Clausewitz? Those tactics and strategies work even if the weapons are more advanced.

mcc457:

albino boo:

1 Heart of Darkness
2 Apocalypse Now
3 Carve her name with pride
4 The Guns of Navarone
6 Force 10 from Navarone
7 Tobruk
8 Raid on Rommel
9 The Cockleshell Heroes
10 Heroes of Telemark
11 The secret army
12 Gunga Din
13 North West Frontier
14 Sea of Sand
15 Play Dirty
16 Above Us the Waves
17 Merrill's Marauders
18 Odette
19 The Man Who Never Was
20 The Pride and the Passion

These are not CT texts. The protagonists are not engaged in identifying, degrading and eventually rolling up terrorist networks. Often they are actually the network under attack. Clandestine networks are employed against the powerful, and though in SoM the power asymmetry is inverted (sort of) and the network barely clandestine, the process is still very much more WoT/CT than CI/Seven Pillars of Wisdom/Boys Own Adventures Commando Stories Omnibus.

sid:
I really don't think it's too late to switch Talion from an anomaly in Tolkein lore to a huge cautionary tale in the span of about a sequel.

Yes! But I can remember a similar optimism after the first Hobbit. erg

Please read the thread. I was replying to

The point of the article was discussing how the cultural portrayal of war has changed. Up until the war on terror, war was still portrayed in movies, games and books as a conventional war where soldiers face their opposite number on the battlefield, no spec ops or designated targets. Just raw bravado.

Could you explain to me, how in in counter terrorism you can portray a conventional war where soldiers face their opposite number on the battlefield? Also I think you will find that the Viet cong used guerrilla tactics.

albino boo:

Please read the thread. I was replying to

The point of the article was discussing how the cultural portrayal of war has changed. Up until the war on terror, war was still portrayed in movies, games and books as a conventional war where soldiers face their opposite number on the battlefield, no spec ops or designated targets. Just raw bravado.

I apologize - certainly your list refutes the argument that only conventional warfare is presented in film and text. I would also agree that the tactics shown in SoM are not new. But the overall strategy and theme is, and it doesn't appear in our stories much at all.

The action in SoM struck me as too asymmetric and focused on assassination to parallel irregular warfare. Combined with the continual attrition and renewal of the enemy network this resonated with my perception of the current War on Terror. I can (sort of) imagine a "Sauron's Army" on the big board in a SOCOM conference room, being updated after each drone strike. An historical equivalent, even in organized crime or feudal wars of assassination? Not so much.

As for fiction, perhaps the film Munich? Some of the grittier cold war novels? Larteguy? Deighton?

Seriously, I think Shadow of Mordor is the best War on Terror sim since Whack-a-Mole.

But I'd really like it to be more Tolkien.

mcc457:

I apologize - certainly your list refutes the argument that only conventional warfare is presented in film and text. I would also agree that the tactics shown in SoM are not new. But the overall strategy and theme is, and it doesn't appear in our stories much at all.

The action in SoM struck me as too asymmetric and focused on assassination to parallel irregular warfare. Combined with the continual attrition and renewal of the enemy network this resonated with my perception of the current War on Terror. I can (sort of) imagine a "Sauron's Army" on the big board in a SOCOM conference room, being updated after each drone strike. An historical equivalent, even in organized crime or feudal wars of assassination? Not so much.

As for fiction, perhaps the film Munich? Some of the grittier cold war novels? Larteguy? Deighton?

Seriously, I think Shadow of Mordor is the best War on Terror sim since Whack-a-Mole.

But I'd really like it to be more Tolkien.

Thank you for apologizing, to often in the stormy seas the escapist people will not admit when they are wrong. I must say the comment section for Critical Intel is much more civilised than certain other topics.

I agree is out of place from the Tolkien mythology. Even in the Silmarillion, the heros were more like that of the sagas and greek legends. Great but with personal character flaws they will destroy them in the end.

When talking historically hitting command and control networks was common place. The very origin of the English word Assassin comes from an 11th century muslim sect who projected power from the hilltop fortress by killing their enemies leaders. The code of conduct under which european wars operated under from the medieval period until the 20th century avoided largely this sort of behavior. The chivalric code meant the you took your knight opponents prisoner and not try to assaiante them. Its noticeable the parts of europe not ruled by feudal aristocracy assassinations were common place. Look at renaissance Italy, the most famous assassination perhaps being the Pazzi conspiracy. Even those parts became part of the Gentlemanly code of conduct in the 18th century and assassinations died back (sorry for the bad pun I couldn't resist it).

The first world war broke the gentlemanly code and total war became the priority. The media portrayals of WW2 are biased by the power of the American media. Both the British and Soviets went after command and control in occupied territory but because of the US later entry into the war the Americans had little involvement in that side of things. The old Hollywood story of no Americans involved means that aspect gets less coverage. However during the cold war both sides built special forces because of experience during WW2. Both sides expected large number of special forces attacks upon outbreak of war. The command bunkers were a high priority target. The threat of nuclear war has dimmed the portrayal of a conventional war and the actual forces arrayed. A lot of money was spent by both sides of radio direction finding equipment intended to find command posts and give them a hello from and artillery battery or two. Currently both Koreas maintain large numbers of special forces to hit each others command control assets.

Fundamentally targeted assassination is part of the post WW1 total war concept. The war on terror exposes it because its one of the few newsworthy items that comes from it. Its not headline news about a small skirmish that last 15 minutes and no one died. Drone strikes assume a disportionate importance because of the news cycle and the small scale of the war. Would an American air strike on a suspected Viet Cong regimental command post make the news in the 60s, personally I doubt it.

albino boo:
A lot of good history stuff...

Thanks for this. Your history mostly gels with my understanding of things. But targeting of leadership to paralyze command (or just to harass) in conventional warfare seems pretty different to conducting an entire campaign working over the network - that seems much more prominent in revolutionary wars, crime wars, intrigues, dissident suppression, counter insurgency and counter terrorism (let's include political intrigues in crime wars). And Shadow of Mordor seems much more War on Terror circa 2001-2002 than anything else I can think of - tactically, strategically and thematically.

I think T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt would also be pretty close, but I don't feel it as much. This may be because of the subtle cues that link Shadow of Mordor to modern counter terrorism ("intel", etc.) but also because I associate Lawrence more with guerrilla/revolutionary strategies, and with being a bit of a bulls**t artist. I'm pretty sure every staff officer involved in Operation Enduring Freedom would have studied Seven Pillars of Wisdom - I should probably read it too - but I don't think the network centric aspects are as prominent as in the current War on Terror.

The counter insurgency in Vietnam was pretty different in terms of objectives (win the support, or at least the acquiescence of the population), strategy (deny freedom of movement, cut supply, draw out enemy forces, improve local forces) and tactics (patrols, checkpoints, bombardment). There were counter insurgency operations in Afghanistan, but these are peripheral to the War on Terror (and they've been pretty much abandoned in favour of counter terrorism, no?).

I pretty much agree with all of Rath's points and though his arguments and wording might be a bit reckless it is an essay, not a dissertation.

(Have to work on my own style and tone, too. Did you like "Boys Own Adventures Commando Stories Omnibus"? I was trying to be bold but reading it now it seems terribly rude.)

sid:
About Talion having his cake and eating it. I really don't think it's too late to switch Talion from an anomaly in Tolkein lore to a huge cautionary tale in the span of about a sequel. Sure, he already got his revenge, which I was hoping they would dangle on a stick a little bit longer, but seeing as he's still in the game I'm hoping that allying himself to all these malevolent or self-serving characters is going to come back to bite him. Actually, having him lose everything and perhaps realize he hasn't even dented Sauron's army would be a really satisfying ending.

Then again, I feel like Shadow of Mordor's success was more of a happy accident than crafty writing/design. Oh well, looking forward to a sequel.

I haven't finished the game yet, but I've gotten the feeling throughout that Talion was being set up for a fall. Celebrimbor's motives are certainly questionable, and a nice guy doesn't tell you to brainwash an army of your enemies to your command. Talion slowly caves to more and more morally questionable activities as the game progresses.

From what people have been saying in the thread, it doesn't sound like that happens, which is disappointing. There were so many tiny pieces of foreshadowing to it, and it would have made the game fit more with Tolkien's ideology. You can't fight fire with fire in Tolkien's world. Talion compromising his morals would eventually lead to his downfall - his use of hatred and fear only makes the Dark Lord more powerful.

 

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