Comments on Arthur B's Shadow of WTF

Middle Earth: Shadow of War is essentially Fanfic: the Videogame.

Comments (go to latest)
Ronan Wills at 13:39 on 2017-11-10
I bounced off the first game pretty hard due to being thoroughly fed up with both Assassin's Creed style open world games and Batman combat. So maybe I'm missing something, but all the gameplay I've seen of this looks completely baffling and inscrutable; the siege sections are this chaotic whirlwind of NPCs and minimap icons where the camera keeps cutting away to what looks like canned animation sequences.

Is it actually that confusing to play, or does it all make sense once the game eases you in?
Arthur B at 15:45 on 2017-11-10
It is - the canned animation usually happens either because of something you've triggered, or it's drawing your attention to a captain being killed somewhere else, so it isn't as jarring when you are playing as it would be if you're watching.

You get lot of cutaways during sieges because that involves a bunch of captains fighting each other, so obviously you have much better odds of having captains killing each other regularly during the mission.
Daniel F at 11:19 on 2017-11-13
On the racial politics front, if you'll forgive me being a Tolkien nerd about continuity?

To my knowledge, Tolkien never says anything explicit about the usual skin tone of the Gondorians. At times he mentions Gondorians looking 'pale', which seems like it rules out anything excessively dark (so, no sub-Saharan African Gondorians!), but that's about it. Beyond that, we can guess a bit based on the cultures we think they're supposed to correspond to, I suppose. I'm curious where the heck you're getting the idea that the Gondorians should look like North Africans. Even leaving aside that ancient North Africans should not be distinguishable from European Mediterraneans, Tolkien doesn't seem to give you any North African association. You can read Gondor as a stand-in for Byzantium, with Minas Tirith as a crypto-Constantinople, but that would surely give you Greek or, well, Mediterranean Gondorians. At any rate, the only comparison to a real nation that I think Tolkien ever gave Gondor was in letter #294, where he comments that The Lord of the Rings ends "in what is far more like the re-establishment of an effective Holy Roman Empire with its seat in Rome than anything that would be devised by a 'Nordic'", which would surely suggest Romans or Italians as an ethnic model for Gondor.

If we step beyond that and start thinking about Gondor in terms of Arda's fictional history... you note that the Gondorians are descended from the Númenóreans, which is partly true (the aristocracy is; the common people of Gondor seem to be more mixed), but who are the Númenóreans? The Númenóreans were descended from the Houses of Bëor and Hador of the Edain, and the ethnographic characteristics of both houses are described in 'Of Dwarves and Men' in The Peoples of Middle-Earth. Of the Folk of Hador, "For the most part they were tall people, with flaxen or golden hair and blue-grey eyes, but there were not a few among them that had dark hair, though all were fair-skinned." (The Gondorians believed the Rohirrim to resemble the Folk of Hador and assumed they had some ancestral relation, though the Rohirrim themselves had no memory of this.) Of the Folk of Bëor, Tolkien writes: "There were fair-haired men and women among the Folk of Bëor, but most of them had brown hair (going usually with brown eyes), and many were less fair in skin, some indeed being swarthy. Men as tall as the Folk of Hador were rare among them, and most were broader and more heavy in build." Nonetheless the Folk of Hador and Bëor were related, as shown by their similar languages. The Númenóreans arose from the people of these kindreds who were taken to Númenor by the Valar, and so presumably share their various characteristics. (To my knowledge there were also a few people descended from the Folk of Haleth among the Númenóreans and even a small number of Drûgs, but these were the smaller groups.)

As such my presumption would be that the Númenórean-descended folk of Gondor probably tended towards fair skin and a wide range of hair and eye colours.

The Haradrim, by contrast... well, The Return of the King does have a brief reference to "out of Far Harad black men like half-trolls with white eyes and red tongues", but I take the reference to Far Harad to suggest that the folk of Near Harad did not look like this. Bearing in mind Near Harad's close history with Gondor, and the presence of Númenórean nobility among them, particularly in Umbar, I incline to this view. That is to say, the history of Near Harad is closely entwined with that of Gondor, because they are actually of very similar historical origin: they are countries ruled by Númenórean-descended lords, who in ages past colonised these lands, conquering and 'civilising' the natives, and then eventually coming to feud with each other over political power and perhaps over Númenor's legacy itself.

In that regard, then, I would take the simplistic depiction of Haradrim as African and Gondorians as European as a problem. I don't give any real credence to 'black' or 'white' in this context, and if the game introduces a distinction along those lines...

Well, I would say that I'm appalled, but frankly the game seems to have more than enough to appall me before ever bringing ethnic politics into the picture.
Arthur B at 12:19 on 2017-11-13
Huh. I confess that the North African thing comes from a friend who was commenting on my Facebook posts about the game so I don't have a direct source.
Alasdair Czyrnyj at 21:54 on 2017-11-13
You know, I've never read any of Tolkien's work, and I've never really watched any of the movies, but for some insane reason the concept of Stupid Sexy Shelob just sticks in my craw. I mean, I can barely tolerate little spiders at the best of times, never mind ones the size of a rhino, but when I heard that this game was giving Shelob an avatar, I was thinking "okay, spiders terrify me, but you told me there was a giant horrible fucking spider, so you damn well better give me a giant horrible fucking spider."

Personally, I think the whole thing would've been more acceptable if they had taken the SHODAN route and had Shelob give herself an avatar, but make her so contemptuous of humanity that she only puts the bare minimum of effort into appearing human. She could look like a woman, but have her voice processed and layered to hell and back, get a dancer for the mocap who can perform "arachnid" styles of movement, and just have her talking about creepy shit with slightly-broken dialogue. (I'd kind of like to see her just grab a bird out of the air and eat it à la Shadow of the Vampire, but that might be a bit much.)
Daniel F at 03:37 on 2017-11-14
Ah, well. I was being far too obsessive anyway, so never mind.

On Shelob... it occurs that Tolkien did talk, in On Fairy-Stories, about his contemporaries losing the sense that danger or evil can be beautiful. Arguably that might give you a road towards an attractive form for Shelob.

However, that comment of Tolkien's always rang rather false to me, because Tolkien's own work is noticeably lacking in beautiful villains. At most you have the form in which Sauron manipulated the ring-smiths of Eregion, but in The Hobbit and LotR, the villains are without exception ugly or spooky. (Unless you count Saruman's voice, I guess.)

Beyond that, there is such a difference between a beautiful form and a sex-object form that I really can't see it as a fair justification for Shelob. It feels like... well, like a bit of trashy sub-D&D fanfic.
Robinson L at 20:00 on 2017-12-15
You know, from what you describe, this game sounds inappropriate to the source material and just generally bonkers that I feel like I just might find it perversely entertaining, if I had time for video games.

I heard the thing about Aragorn canonically being North African somewhere recently, too – I think from one of my sisters, but I’ve no idea where she got it from.
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