The foolish Austin Gilkeson made the mistake of asking me to tell him the plot of the latest Middle Earth videogame, Shadow of War. Which I did, and it was only when I wrote it out that I realised how dumb it is. So I decided to inflict it on all of you as well.
Spoilers for Middle Earth: Shadow of War ahead!
also if you are a tolkien fan your head may explode. fair warning.
The plot of the first game is fairly straightforward. You are a ranger who is very gruff and who likes to sneak up on his wife and use the stealth attack button to kiss her, causing many thinkpieces. He gets killed and then is possessed by the ghost of some dead elf as part of a weird ritual by Sauron worshippers. You find out the elf is Celebrimbor, who made the rings of power. The Sauron loyalists want to use Celebrimbor to find the One Ring or make a new one. All perfectly sensible stuff! Also Gollum is there because cameos. At the end Celebrimbor and Gruff McRanger (he is named Talion, but it doesn’t matter) make a new Ring of Power, setting up the sequel.
The second game begins with your ghost elf buddy having been kidnapped by Shelob, who looks exactly like Claudia Black now for some reason. (How he was kidnapped is never explained – I assume it’s in a motion comic on a website somewhere.) In exchange for releasing him, you (Talion McGruff) give her the New Ring. (That is exactly what they keep calling it – the New Ring.) Then you get drawn into defending Minas Ithil, which winds up being conquered and turned into Minas Morgul. Also Gollum is there, but he vanishes for some reason after a couple of missions.
Stupid Sexy Shelob gives you the New Ring back, and you use it to build up a gigantic Orc army by yelling SUFFER ME NOW at them which brainwashes them. Also you meet a female elf assassin named Eltariel sent by Galadriel to keep killing the Nazgul over and over even though it doesn’t take. Plus there are side plots involving
- helping a forest goddess with a Welsh accent defeat a Balrog and an immortal Orc necromancer
- an Australian Olog-Hai named Bruz (get it? GET IT?)
- two Gondorians named Baranor and Idril who are probably too cool for this game. Baranor has been getting a bunch of press because he is a former Haradrim hostage who was adopted in Gondor when his ruler parents were killed, making him the First Actual Black Character Ever in a Middle-Earth product. He’s getting a DLC where you play as him, along with Eltariel (the elf assassin).
Eventually you take on the Nazgul (with elf assassin lady’s help). First you fight Helm Hammerhand, who is apparently a Nazgul now. His daughter got kidnapped, Sauron and Celbrimbor gave him a ring, he went berserk and murdered his daughter and that made him into a Nazgul. The lore rewriting gets worse – the next Nazgul you fight is Isildur. THE Isildur. Apparently Sauron (who is still able to manifest even after Isildur chopped his ring finger off for some reason) stuck a Ring on Isildur after he died and made him a Nazgul. Anyway you use the New Ring to take control of him, but then Talion decides that enslaving Nazgul is wrong, so he stabs him in the face. Celebrimbor is pissed at this, so he stops possessing Talion and possesses Eltariel instead. She is down for it because it means they can go use the New Ring to take over Sauron’s brain.
Talion has a vision of Stupid Sexy Shelob, who inspires him by insulting him. Apparently she did all this in order to ensure Celebrimbor didn’t conquer Middle Earth, because Shelob is a good guy in this for some reason. (Also there is a cutscene you can unlock by collecting enough collectibles that strongly implies she and Sauron were boning.) Talion grabs Isildur’s ring (which fell to the ground after he was stabbed in the face) and puts it on, getting a new character model. Then he goes to Minas Morgul and beats up all the Nazgul and takes over it. Meanwhile Celebrimbor and Eltariel go to Barad-Dur and fight Sauron, who is able to incarnate and who starts the battle in his elven “Giver of Gifts” form. After you hit him a bit he upgrades into armored form. After you hit him a bit more you get to try and dominate him, but then Sauron slices off your finger that has the New Ring (irony!). Then both of the combatants merge into a big fiery mass. Talion is watching all this through a Palantir that was in Minas Morgul, and he says in VO: “Celebrimbor and Sauron’s wills shall fight for all eternity, as a formless blazing eye looking over Mordor”.
You then go into a grindy endgame that got a lot of people mad because they thought you needed to use microtransactions to beat it. You don’t, you just can use microtransactions to make it a bit less grindy, but also not as fun. Anyway, the final ending is that Talion continued causing trouble in Mordor for decades until Isildur’s Other Ring turned him into a full-on Nazgul, and then he Nazgulled it up through LotR and then got to die once Sauron/Celebrimbor did. See, it all FITS PERFECTLY INTO THE CANON.
The end! No moral!
For the record, Austin’s reaction was:
“What every fuck”
“I’d heard the premise of the first game and about Stupid Sexy Shelob, but holy hell.”
“HOW IS HELM HAMMERHAND A NAZGUL”