A game review from the unique perspective of a total newbie gamer who has only just started to indulge a life long love of video games, who also happens to be an adult(ish) woman
I got to play in Middle Earth for a few weeks. I’m a happy girl.
Talion, a ranger from the Black Gate, is a great character. From a purely shallow perspective, they did a great job with his features. He’s handsome, but not in an unbelievable way. There’s also a great deal to be said of his personality which I found appealing. He wasn’t one of those obnoxious heroes you sometimes play. You know the kind. The sort of ‘hero’ that you don’t really care for and don’t really care what happens to (see also: Kratos prior to the most recent iteration). In addition to being a spectacular fighter, he also appears to be kind and loving, as evidenced by the early scenes with his wife and child.
One of the most enticing things about Talion, however, as you play, is that he’s twinned with Celebrimbor, a wraith that was once a powerful Elven lord of the Second Age, granting Talion special powers. Together, these two take on Sauron’s Army, an unknown story of Mordor, taking place moments before the events of the Lord of the Rings.
|Talion and Celebrimor, the dream team.|
The idea of being soul-twinned, that you get to have two characters combined in a single body is brilliant, and was really fun to play, both from a game play and story standpoint. It made for some really fun story elements, and my favorite ability – to block multiple attackers simultaneously.
My one gripe, and it’s admittedly a stretch, is Talion’s build. They guy is built like The Rock. One arm is thicker than both my thighs together, and I’m not a small woman. It does factor in, I suppose, into Talion’s inhuman climbing abilities, I suppose, but for real, that’s a lot of weight to be hauling around. A leaner Talion might have been a little more believable, to my mind. Still, that is the smallest of gripes.
I adore the design of the Orcs in game. Their appearance and movements were pulled directly from the films, which gave the game an oddly comfortable, homey feel. It was diving into something familiar, and thus easy to dive into. Their names were similarly hilarious and provided much enjoyment.
|Could be pulled from the movies, right?|
Similarly, Gollum, who makes an appearance, was pulled directly from the films by Peter Jackson.
The major enemies, or bosses, of which there are three, are also really interesting in their design.
The Black Hand
I like, in particular, that the first two are monstrous entities, but the last one is actually beautiful. I like the idea that the Black Hand, meant to be the vessel for Celebrimbor’s wraith (joke’s on you, Sauron, he chose Talion instead), would be someone fair of face.
There are a couple of minor characters, but I’ll talk about at least one of them later, so I’ll leave it here for character design. Overall, this gets the nod of approval from me. Nothing about the design of any of them pulled me from the game (as it has done in the past, looking at you wings-for-lats Kratos).
I am a huge dork for all things Lord of the Rings. I mean, I’m not Stephen Colbert level of dork, but a huge dork all the same.
The fact that I got to play around in Middle Earth, participating in a story (though, probably not canon, let’s be honest) that takes place maybe a few years before the events of Lord of the Rings immediately has me predisposed to liking this game.
I was not disappointed.
The story was appropriately sad and compelling. It did not feel out of place in the grand, sweeping tale of Middle Earth and the War(s) of the Ring. It was the tragic tale of a hero who was refused death, and turned this awful twist of fate into his strength, working to stem the tide of evil growing in Mordor.
I can forgive the fridging of Talion’s wife and child at the beginning, primarily because the entire story also required Talion to die. It’s a revenge story – Talion wants revenge for his family, and Celebrimbor wants revenge for him. The similarity between Talion and Celebrimbor’s persona’ stories makes their soul-twinning all the more believable.
I adored the idea that Talion becomes the vessel for a wraith, who cannot remember himself or his history at first, and that recalling who the wraith was is a major part of the earlier section of the game. I also, because I am a dork, adored the lore, and how the game worked in actual Tolkienian lore into the characters and game.
It is likely that if Talion was not the character he was, and if Celebrimbor was not nearly as shady as he was, and if they had deviated from the feel of The Lord of the Rings that has become familiar since the films, chances are, this would be a very different review.
Who doesn’t like a good revenge story. I mean, this is basically John Wick: Middle Earth.
So, there aren’t really all that many women in the game. This can’t be a surprise, given that we’re following Talion, who is not a woman, his wraith half, Celebrimbor, who is also not a woman, and they are fighting Orcs, who don’t appear to have any females in the species, let alone ranks. That said, there are a couple of women in the game who do more than die in order to give the hero a motive. Okay, there is one.
Lithariel, daughter of Marwen, commands the tribesmen of Núrn. She’s a competent commander, a good warrior (we assume), and a concerned daughter. Of course, we never get to see that, really, save the concerned daughter bit. She becomes a potential love interest of Talion (vomit), and a damsel in distress requiring rescue by Talion (double vomit). Even if it is something that is ultimately unrealised, I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the potential for a love interest was even put in, given how the whole premise is Talion seeking revenge for his wife and child. The only good thing about this inclusion is the moments of Celebrimbor appearing from behind Talion to remind the man of his wife (who is promptly ignored by said ranger), like some sort of ghostly sassy gay friend, only to disappear again. It made me laugh.
That said, her inclusion was nothing more than to show off Talion’s virtues, and it was not the best, to be honest. It makes my eyes roll tremendously.
In fact, there is not a single woman in the game that isn’t there to make Talion a more heroic figure. His wife is murdered, the rebel woman Eryn and Lithariel are both rescued by Talion, as is Queen Marwen (though granted that was a tag-team between Talion and Lithariel). It’s disappointing to say the least.
I adored the game play. If given a choice, I’m always the sneaky one in games. This game was designed specifically for my style of game play, it seems. It was glorious fun to jump down on orcs and utterly obliterate them, or hide in the bushes and explode campfires with an arrow (not sure how that was possible, but it was fun as hell).
It was, basically, Assassin’s Creed: Middle Earth, and it was glorious.
What I loved best, however, was how the character “death” played into the story. Talion is already dead. How do you kill something that is already dead? You can’t, short answer. And so Talion doesn’t die, exactly. He relocates to a tower, and the orc who killed you levels up the way Talion would level up for killing an orc. You can, if you like, get revenge on the orc who killed you by hunting them down and confronting them.
This “nemesis” system It is a part of the story, Talion’s non-death, incorporated into the game play in such a manner as to make death still punishing and high-stakes (I once had an orc who consistently killed me, reaching level 20. I fucking hated that Orc (Editor’s Note: *laughing hysterically*)) without being nonsensical, as it is in other games. Now, there is an in-game reason why you reenter the game with your progressed saved, and your death, or lack of it, is oft remarked upon in the dialogue you can overhear as you sneak past orcs.
I loved this part of the game. Incorporating the death into the story and game play in this way was by far the best thing about this game, and that’s saying something, because there is a lot to love about this game.
My one gripe about the game play was that I found the show down between both The Tower and The Black Hand a little lack-lustre. I enjoyed the fight with The Hammer, who was challenging. The Tower was little more than a few stealth drains, which was… okay, I guess. The fight with The Black Hand was just a few quick time events. I was disappointed that both The Tower and The Black Hand were not all that challenging.
This game had the potential to be a giant let down, and so I approached it with some trepidation. I love the world of Middle Earth, and I adored the way Peter Jackson adapted The Lord of the Rings, and I was worried that this game would mess it all up.