Desolation of Mordor and the Blade of Galadriel
Today the latest story DLC unlocked for Middle-earth: Shadow of War. The Desolation of Mordor allows you to play as Captain Baranor, who we now find adventuring in the deserts wastes of Lithlad in Eastern Mordor. Unlike Talion and Eltariel, Baranor does not have any Wraith Powers or the innate gifts and talents of the first born. He is merely a mortal man which subsequently adds an interesting dynamic to the game play. However, Baranor quickly meets up with Dwarven Hunter Torvin, who provides him with a several usefully Numenorean artefacts which fill his “skills gap”. These include a Gauntlet that expands to become a buckler. It also houses a crossbow that fires a variety bolts as well as a grappling hook, thus aiding Baranor with climbing. The other artefact is a kite that is stowed in a back pack. This acts as a parachute and can also be used via the hot thermal vents that litter the landscape, to ascend to vertical vantage points.
The story is relatively straightforward, with Baranor hiring the Easterling mercenary army, The Vanishing Sons and seeking to conquer the regional fortress of Shindram. Due to a quirk of fate (and narrative requirements) The Vanishing Sons are led by Baranor’s older brother Serka. It is the dialogue between the two which makes this story better than average. Both characters are well voice acted respectively by Ike Amadi and Usman Ally. There is a good chemistry between both actors and the narrative strikes the right tone with equal helpings of high adventure and ironic humorous dialogue. It a pleasant surprise to see the Dwarf Torvin return, although his role this time is more of a functional NPC, rather than a major character. The desert environment is a welcome change from the existing Mordor zones, and the Numenorean Fortress that is occupied by Orcs is strikingly different in its architectural style.
All things considered I found Desolation of Mordor to be a superior story expansion than the previous DLC, the Blade of Galadriel. The story of Eltariel is adequate but hardly offers any major difference from playing as Talion. Instead of dominating Orcs, Eltariel destroys them using the Light of Galadriel, although several Uruks do ally themselves with her as they have common goals. In fact, the character of Galadriel come across as martinet in this story and I felt somewhat sorry for Eltariel as she struggles to please such a hard taskmaster. However, Eltariel’s fighting style with twin blades does offer some interesting variations in technique compared to Talion and her quickshot archery ability often proves invaluable. It is the story that is the weakest aspect of this DLC and it is somewhat incredulous even by Middle-earth: Shadow of War standards. There seems to be a never-ending supply of unknown, non-canonical Nazgûl waiting in the wings to act as convenient plot devices. The crowbarring of an Eastern aesthetic into the proceedings is interesting but I’m sure hardcore purists will be having kittens.
If you set aside the biggest weakness of Middle-earth: Shadow of War, which is its loot box and market which somewhat undermines the Nemesis system, you still have an enjoyable RPG which blends a variety of action and stealth gaming mechanics. Developers Monolith Production recently announced that the market would be closing and ultimately removed from the game. As of today, players can no longer buy gold and a later patch will restructure the acquisition of Orcs. No doubt all of this will be done in time for the release of the Game of the Year Edition. However, I do not regret my decision to buy the Gold Edition of Middle-earth: Shadow of War upon its release last October. Irrespective of the games business model flaws, I do feel that I’ve had good value from the entire game. I prefer the Desolation of Mordor to the other DLC and felt that it was wise to release this one last of all, thus ending the game on a high point. It will be interesting to see if this franchise will continue or whether Warner Bros. will create any similar games based on the works of JRR Tolkien.