From The CRPG Addict
|Want to bet?|
It’s probably good for my version of the Fellowship that the story ended here, more warped and twisted from Tolkien’s tale than you might imagine a computer game based on this material would allow. At the end, we’ll have to have a little thought experiment about what happens to the story from here. There’s a lot to complain about with this game, but I certainly can’t complain that the developers didn’t give the player the freedom to diverge from the original.
This last session began with Frodo’s party in Ithilien. The map continued to be bounded by the river to the west and the mountains to the east, so I explored in east-west strips as I slowly made my way south. At one point, for no real reason, the game suggested that we were hungry and that we send Gollum to hunt for food. (Food and drink exist in the game, but to provide light amounts of healing. There’s no hunger/thirst system.) Gollum took off to hunt, which is ironic because after he left, we found rations repeatedly as we walked.
|Faramir looks like a jerk in this game.|
Investigating an elephant, we were ambushed by Faramir and his men and taken to a hidden grotto, where Faramir gave us some lore, a healer tended our wounds and taught the “Herblore” skill, and one of Faramir’s men made fun of us for picking up a shovel.
|What a dick.|
Wandering around, we found ourselves on a cliff with a pool below. Faramir pointed out Gollum fishing in the pool and asked if his boy Anborn should shoot him. “Sure,” I had Frodo say, calling his bluff. Anborn nailed him between the eyes, and Gollum’s corpse sank beneath the water.
|From Gollum’s perspective, it’s probably better than being burned to death in lava.|
Well, that’s going to make things a bit easier, I thought, and decided to keep going instead of reloading. We left the grotto with Faramir and two other rangers in tow. At the south end of the map were the ruins of Osgiliath, and the game warned me that I shouldn’t go in there, but I did and suffered and instant death scene.
|But where will I get an inspirational speech from Sam?|
Moving on, we found a statue whose head was missing. We replaced it but then the game wanted me to find a gem to put in its eye. I was losing patience about this point, so I just had the party press east to the gap in the mountains leading to the Morgul Vale. When we reached the entrance, Faramir, the rangers, and Gilglin took off. Gilglin didn’t even have any farewell dialogue, and he took a bunch of Athelas with him.
In the Morgul Vale, I decided to adopt an exploration pattern that took us counter-clockwise around the mountain borders. We soon came to a river where the game decided it was important that we pick up some “Morgul Water.” Then we canme to a bridge that was “draped in evil,” and Frodo froze, unable to move.
|Abrupt changes in the active party continued through the end.|
The action switched back to Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and Gandalf, who (the game reminded me) were on the road to Helm’s Deep. We passed by a couple of houses where there was this suspicious Rohirrim clearly up to something, but I couldn’t figure out anything to do with him. Moving on, we fought some battles with orcs, Dunlendings, and Dunlending leaders called “Dunarches.” (There were also “orcarches” a couple of times.) We tried to walk to Isengard, but the game wouldn’t let me go past a particular point.
As we headed west, Gandalf suddenly decided that he had to head off on his own to find “the lost armies of Rohan.” He split off into his own party with three Rohirrim named Wulfgrim, Hunthor, and Beodred–no idea where they came from–and went north in search of “Erkenbrand.” I was a bit confused because in the films, Gandalf goes in search of Eomer, but I figured it was roughly the same quest. We wandered around until we found Erkenbrand next to some mountains, and everyone agreed to return to Helm’s Deep.
|Just a reminder of the manual paragraphs. For the most part, they’re shorter than the in-game text.|
Back to Frodo and Sam. Frodo somehow came to his senses and we walked off the bridge. Two steps later, we were at the gates of Minas Morgul, and the game relayed how we saw the gates open and the armies pour out with the Witch King at their head. We had to use the “Hide” skill to avoid being seen. Then it was back to Aragorn.
|The game does an awful lot of telling rather than showing.|
Rather than head directly for Helm’s Deep, I had them thoroughly explore the area, fighting a number of orc parties along the way. We found a mountain pass north of the fortress that led into some caves occupied by Rohan citizens. We were unable to fully explore the caves because guards kept blocking certain passages. This becomes important later.
|What is this place?|
Eventually, we left and went to Helm’s Deep itself. When we arrived, the first thing the gate guard suggested is that we go check out the secret exit at the “Glittering Caves” and make sure that Saruman’s forces hadn’t already found it. We went back to the caves but found nothing new.
Helm’s Deep in the game consists of a central keep with about four rooms surrounded by an inner wall with one opening. Outside the inner wall is an outer wall with two openings. A moat surrounds the whole thing but is crossed by two bridges.
|A satellite view.|
None of the famous faces of Rohan–Theoden, Eomer, Eowen, etc.–were anywhere to be seen since I left Edoras in the last session. No sooner had I poked my head into the inner keep than I received a message that “an immense force of orcs has come,” and I had to rush back outside.
|I was hoping to have an unproductive shouting match with Theoden first.|
Let’s take a moment to go back in time to 2002, when the second Peter Jackson film hit theaters. I’m sure I have some readers who can’t even remember 2002, but to a near 50-year-old man, this is “recent.” I still think of Sleepless in Seattle as “recent.” To me, Renée Zellweger is a fresh young face who’s clearly going places. The other day, when Irene remarked that “Murphy Brown” had been canceled, I said, “Well, they had a good run. It must have been on for–what–15 years?” She had to explain to me that it had actually been off the air for 20 years and what was canceled was brief revival series. I’m just adding some perspective.
I know that the way the film depicts the Battle of Helm’s Deep violates some aspects of canon, which for some people is like violating a religion, but sitting there in the theater, looking across the field of 10,000 orcs, I realized we had reached a point in cinematic history where a movie could show us anything the director wanted to show us–that there was no more limit to what could be accomplished with special effects. It was one of most thrilling sequences I’d ever seen. They technically topped it in the last film, but by then I was expecting it. Helm’s Deep came out of nowhere.
I also couldn’t help thinking how the battle illustrates the difference between the mentality of an RPG player and . . . well, real life, I guess. I’m sitting there thinking, “They’re just orcs!” They don’t have any mages or clerics, no trolls or ogres. My Might and Magic VI party would descend from the heavens and slaughter them all with a single “Armageddon” spell. If it was Gold Box game, the battle would be over after six “Fireballs.” These days, my character from Shadow of Mordor would scoff at 10,000 orcs. He’d dance through their ranks, exploding heads, and have half the army converted to his side within 10 minutes.
|What do you mean “too many?” That’s just more experience points for me. Plus, do you know how many wands potions, and scrolls I have to get rid of?|
In other words, some part of me had been waiting to fight Helm’s Deep in an RPG for a long time, and the experience was . . . underwhelming. Aragon and friends rushed out of the Hornburg and encountered six orcs and two Dunlendings immediately outside the entrance. We killed them. Then a message told us more orcs were crossing the bridge, and we killed half a dozen more there. Then the message said that some Dunlendings had come through the south wall, and the game took us directly there so we could kill them.
Now, I guess we were supposed to have the sense that we were only seeing our part of the battle, and that the Rohirrim were fighting other battles all around us. In any event, we got a message that things were hopeless and we should retreat to the Hornburg. We did, then got another message that the absolute final battle–we mean it this time–was beginning. Outside we rushed again and fought three consecutive battles against orcs and Dunlendings right outside the gate. It occurred to me that it might be useful to blow Helm’s Horn at several points during this sequence, and every time I tried, nothing happened. I mention this because after I won, I looked at a hint guide that said I could use Helm’s Horn to make the battle easier. I have no idea where or when.
|The Battle of Helm’s Deep was basically six screens of this.|
Gandalf showed up, as did an army of Ents, and the whole thing was over. Gandalf suggested that we “find any of our comrades who were scattered in the battle” and then go confront Saruman. I looked around and saw that we had Gimli, Aragorn, and Legolas, so I didn’t really need to gather anyone. We thus headed up the road towards Isenguard.
On the way, we ran into a party of Dunlendings, led by Prince Burlag, who said that it was their custom that, when they were defeated in honorable battle, the victor should give them a “gift that honors our skill.” My version of Aragorn explained that it was his custom that when he defeated enemies in battle, he tracked down any who were left over and killed them, too.
I mean, talk about gumption. They’d just allied with an evil force to utterly destroy the people of Rohan, and they want a gift?! (The hint guide later told me I should have given them any sword.) Unfortunately, we lost Gimli in the ensuing battle. Figuring the game was almost over anyway, I didn’t reload.
We arrived at Isenguard to find Merry smoking pipeweed at the front gate. The game didn’t give me any option to talk to him or invite him into the party, so we pressed on to the main keep. We saw Saruman up at the top of Orthanc and entered the keep. The tower consisted of four levels, with one or two battles with human allies of Saruman. In a library, way too late to be useful, we found books that would teach us various skills.
|Why would they introduce this now?|
At one point, we discovered two “corrupted eagles” and one regular eagle behind a locked door. When we killed the corrupted eagles and freed the regular one, he gave us a word of power called MANWE, which we never used. The only word of power we ever used in this game is a single use of some elf word to open a locked door.
|Can we just speak it, or do we have to whisper it into the ears of a little moth?|
We continued up to the top of the tower, where the game gave us a paragraph indicating that we wee now stuck on the top of Orthanc. Hint guides later told me that I should have used MANWE here to get the Eagles to give us a ride, or use the “Climb” skill to get down, but the stairs still worked just fine for me, so I’m not sure what happened there. Anyway, exploring more carefully, we found Saruman in a corner of the third level. We fought him, and he fled just before he would have died. He left the palantir behind. Picking it up ended the game for this party.
|Our last shot of Aragorn and his part of the Fellowship.|
Action returned to Frodo and Sam. After an instant-death scene when I blundered into Minas Morgul . . .
. . . we continued around the mountain range–I think we fought one battle against spiders–until we found the mountain pass to Cirith Ungol to the north. It was a long pass, but nothing assailed us, and we just had to use “Climb” at one point to keep going.
|Note that, with Gollum out of the picture, Sam is still with Frodo and we both have plenty of lembas bread.|
The pass took us into the caverns of Shelob. I guess Gollum would have attacked us there if we hadn’t killed him earlier, but I spared us that. We used the Star Ruby to burn our way through Shelob’s webs, and Galandriel’s phial to drive off Shelob herself when she attacked.
|Alas, we get no image of Shelob during this sequence. That reminds me: Lord of the Rings fans, how do you feel about Shadow of War‘s revelation that Shelob is really a hot woman in disguise? Cool? Or . . .
And then, with no final battle or puzzle or anything, the game limped to its inevitable end:
You have been wounded with spider venom. You hear the approach of iron-shod boots. Orcs! But you collapse, and feel your consciousness fade. The last thing you remember is the Ring falling from its chain.With the presence of his enemies revealed to him by the Palantir of Orthanc, Sauron decides to move his forces against the city of Minas Tirith, capital of Gondor. Saurman is beaten, but a far greater threat remains.
|I love how, in the film, it was treated as a big revelation that “Sauron moves to strike the city of Minas Tirith.” Was there really anywhere else for him to strike?|
And so ends the second part of “The Lord of the Rings,” not in triumph and glory, but in uncertainty and deadly peril. Can Gandalf, Aragorn, and the other members of the Fellowship save Gondor fro the armies of Sauron? The Ringbearer trapped in the dreaded tower of Cirith Ungol. Can he be saved?
|Someone’s wedding is ruined.|
You have done well indeed to bring the Ring this far, but the quest is not over yet. The Ring must be taken to Mount Doom and destroyed for all to be set right. To be continued in . . . “The Return of the King” coming soon from Interplay.
|Not so hasty.|
We’ve still got a bit to talk about, including the GIMLET, false journal entries, missed material, and why Volume III was never made, so I’ll wrap things up in another entry. For now, let’s analyze what happens in the darker world I’ve created. Gimli is dead–does it matter? (I mean, what did he really contribute?) Is Aragorn’s decision to execute the Dunlending prince going to have any consequences? Most important, what changes with Gollum out of the picture?
Final time: 18 hours