Hi all! Psychorocka here! Beorn recently invited me to write a guest article on the Hall of Beorn and I immediately accepted. Beorn has been an immeasurable asset to our community with all the various resources and insights into the game he has provided us with over the years so I am honored to be a part of this fantastic blog and help him out while he focuses on the new Arkham game.
My own personal blog Warriors of the West has been focused on providing turn by turn reports, Nightmare reviews and Nightmare spoilers thus far so I have decided to change things up a bit this time and write a lore article, but one with a bit of a twist! Rather than looking at elements of our beloved game and discussing how they fit within the universe and lore of Middle Earth I am going to be looking at and focusing on the actual story told by the developers within this game and will be treating it almost as though it is in fact canon to look at what we have achieved thus far in the game and the impact that has upon the events during The Lord of the Rings.
I feel as though the main focus of this game as far as the storytelling aspect is concerned is to build upon the fact that during those 17 years Frodo had the Ring in Bag End and Gandalf was investigating whether or not it was in fact the One Ring much more happened behind the scenes than we are aware of. Not only does this game explore what the Free peoples of Middle Earth were doing to prepare as they slowly became aware of the growing shadow in the East and the return of the Dark Lord but it also explores what else the Dark Lord or his agents were doing during this time other than simply searching for the Ring. The developers expand the story by using this time period we do not know all that much about and looking at all the various plausible what if’s they can think of:
- What if our group of heroes had helped/replaced Aragorn capture Gollum and were also possibly instrumental in discovering the true nature of the evil hiding in Dol Guldur (facing a Nazgul in the process)?
- What if our group of heroes had been tricked into helping a Black Numenorean Prince with his dark machinations and trap but then manage to foil that trap and rescue Faramir from certain death (facing a Nazgul yet again)?
- What if our group of heroes unknowingly were the catalyst for not only Dunland being united as one tribe (then allowing Saruman to later convince them to go to war with Rohan) but also for helping Saruman catch the ideal specimen for creating/breeding Uruk-Hai as well as finding the ring-mould and ancient lore necessary for him to forge a ring of his own?
- What if the Kingdom of Angmar nearly rose again during this time and our group of heroes narrowly stop that from happening and also put an end to not only a powerful Wraith Lord but also a seriously scary Dunedain traitor from the past who has become some sort of undying Necromancer?
Finally what if our heroes and a Gondorian Prince; Lord Calphon were unwittingly used by Sauron in an attempt for him to recover a powerful old relic of his lost during the drowning of Numenor but our heroes stop the relic from ever getting to him by defeating his Corsair minion: the Pirate Lord Captain Sahir?
These are the what ifs I am going to be looking at and exploring. Not only this but I am going to look at what ifs of my own! What if our group of heroes failed at any of these particular tasks and how would these failures change the events in The Lord of the Rings!
This is a big undertaking so I am going to do this as a series with a deluxe box and full cycle in each post. Lets start from the start with the Core Set and the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. Before we do that however I will just quickly explain why I am not going to be including the first deluxe box and second cycle (Khazad-Dum and Dwarrowdelf) in this series. During Khazad-Dum we discover the fate of Balin’s colony but then later in the Dwarrowdelf cycle during The Long Dark the group of heroes hope to perhaps meet up with Balin which does not make sense if we are already aware of his colony’s fate. This suggests that the group that undertakes the three quests from the Khazad-Dum box die or meet some other fate whilst attempting to escape from The Balrog during Flight from Moria and an entirely new group escort Arwen to Rivendell and then enter Moria to check it out for Elrond. It also does not make sense that Elrond asks us to investigate Moria after we literally just escaped it further hinting that the first group perishes. The Second group however does escape Moria and “defeats” the Balrog by pushing it down a dark hole. The Massive problem with this is that the fate of Balin’s Colony or exactly what Durin’s Bane actually is remains unknown to all in Middle Earth and is only discovered during the events of The Lord of the Rings. This deluxe box and cycle are definitely the weakest narrative wise as the story line just does not gel or make sense if you try to place it within that 17 year timeframe the game takes place in hence my decision to exclude it.
Passage Through Mirkwood: During the very first quest of the game we start off in Mirkwood with the knowledge that there is a gathering menace in Dol Guldur thanks to one of King Thranduil’s patrols. A party of heroes (that’s us!) has been assembled and are tasked with carrying a message from Mirkwood to Lorien to warn Lady Galadriel of the imminent danger. Essentially the first quest is the party of heroes journeying through Mirkwood forest aiming at arriving somewhere along the banks of the Anduin.
Impact on Story: The “boss” spider we face at the end of this quest: Ungoliant’s Spawn is a descendant from the original giant spider that has literally unknown origins at one point even rivaled Morgoth himself: Ungoliant. The fact that we see such a large spider in Mirkwood shows that Shelob is not necessarily the last or even largest of Ungoliant’s line still alive. Our defeat of this impressive foe is perhaps integral to keeping the darkness in Southern Mirkwood at bay and keeping Thranduil’s kingdom safe until Dol Guldur is ultimately destroyed during The War of the Ring. We know that Sauron is well aware of Shelob’s existence and he in a way even sort of uses her to guard the pass of Cirith Ungol. Losing a few Orcs every now and then to satisfy her hunger is not much of a loss when he has countless Orcs serving him. Similarly the Ring Wraith Khamul (who would have been guarding/manning Dol Guldur at this time) may have been herding and using these spiders to keep Southern Mirkwood inaccessible and inhospitable to Elves.
Journey along the Anduin: The second quest has us traveling down the Anduin river in an attempt to safely reach the forest of Lorien and deliver our message to Galadriel. This quest does not reveal much story wise and nothing overly exciting happens. We do have to fight a Hill Troll/s and various other nasty enemies and pursuers however in an area that is not usually this rife or abundant with agents of evil.
Impact on Story: The abundance of Sauron’s agents along the bank of the River only enforces the fact that he was searching for the ring as soon as he had the means to and was sending agents to the River Anduin where the ring had previously been lost by Isildur and is also where he thinks the Shire or Baggins may be as this is also where Hobbits once lived long ago. These enemies are probably setting out from Dol Guldur which Sauron has sent Nazgul to fortify and reclaim. Among these enemies are Hill Trolls, Wolf Riders, Goblin Snipers and even an Orc Chieftain: Chieftain Ufthak! Some of these enemies may even be agents of Saruman who was also searching for the Ring at this time for his own devious plans.
Escape from Dol Guldur: The third and last quest of the Core Set sees us reach Lorien and deliver our message to Galadriel only to then be asked to investigate the area surrounding Dol Guldur. One of the heroes in our party is taken captive and it is up to us to rescue them! We take on the Nazgul of Dol Guldur and escape with our lives and the knowledge that Sauron is once again using Dol Guldur as one of his main bases of operation under the leadership of Khamul the Easterling.
Impact on Story: This quest does not add too much to the story but does indicate that our party of heroes were instrumental in discovering exactly what was going on in Dol Guldur and that Sauron has indeed retaken the fortress there. We face our first Nazgul and rescue our captured ally from certain death. My suspicion that the spiders are being used/herded by the Nazgul or Sauron himself is only strengthened by the inclusion of the various spider enemies in this quest.
Shadows of Mirkwood Cycle
The Hunt for Gollum: Now that the actual cycle has started and we move on from the core set the narrative shifts quite a bit and we are now being tasked by Gandalf to find Gollum somewhere in the Anduin Valley. Essentially the story of our game replaces Aragorn with a group of heroes in regards to Gollum’s eventual capture. This is actually fairly clever as Aragorn could not find Gollum for over ten years but eventually tracks and captures him in the Dead Marshes. After not finding Gollum for so long it makes sense that with the help of several other heroes he has more success. This particular quest is simply our group of heroes looking for tracks of Gollum along the banks of the River Anduin.
Impact on Story: This quest does not add much to the story at all and just has our heroes searching for clues of Gollum’s whereabouts. The Hunters from Mordor and fact that enemies are also on the trail of Gollum however is very important as Sauron is hoping that tailing Gollum will lead him right to the ring. We are trying to catch him so that Gandalf can interrogate him and ascertain whether Frodo does indeed possess the one ring. Sauron is clearly one step ahead as he has already tortured and interrogated Gollum and knows that the Ring is somewhere known as The Shire in the hands of a Baggins. Sauron does not know the location of the Shire however and is searching the Banks of the Anduin instead (where hobbits once lived long ago). If Sauron had discovered the location of the Shire earlier than Gandalf returning there to warn Frodo and encourage him to leave Sauron very likely would have recovered the Ring and engulfed Middle Earth in darkness.
Conflict at the Carrock: While searching for Gollum our group of heroes hear rumors of a group of Trolls terrorizing the Valley. We eventually discover that the Trolls have been watching us from the Carrock and we are forced to do battle and destroy them with the help of Grimbeorn. It is really cool of the developers to include a descendant of Beorn who we get to fight alongside!
Impact on Story: A group of trolls venturing deep into an area that is normally fairly safe and is protected by the Beornings only expands the fact that Dol Guldur has clearly been established by Sauron’s forces as an important fortress and advance position and rallying point both for the upcoming War of the Ring as well as so that he can search for the ring.
It is close to the Anduin valley and the Growing Shadow is strengthening and encouraging all evil creatures to come out of the woodwork hence these Trolls being bold enough to openly enter and cause trouble in the valley. Their presence and threat is maybe even an attempt by Sauron to keep the Free People out of the Valley so that his agents can freely search for the Ring.
A Journey to Rhosgobel: This quest is more of a brief interlude where we get to visit Rhosgobel, interact with Radagast and save an eagle. The eagle has been wounded during a battle with Goblins and the group of heroes decide to bring the Eagle to Radagast and then help him finds Athelas so that he can heal the Eagles wounds.
Impact on Story: Just more examples of the Growing Shadow encouraging all evil creatures to emerge from their dark holes and lairs to join Sauron’s ranks. Goblins in the Valley are bold enough to attack Eagles which is definitely not a good sign. The inclusion of the Spiders of Mirkwood and Dol Guldur Orcs encounter sets shows that even the area of Mirkwood that Rhosgobel is in has been infected/invaded by giant Spiders and agents of Sauron. This is not really surprising though given how close Rhosgobel is to Dol Guldur.
The Hills of Emyn Muil: This quest sees us exploring The Hills of Emyn Muil and its surrounding area back on Gollum’s trail. We essentially trudge through this region until we find his trail and follow him into the Dead Marshes. Not much really happens and it is just a slog-fest of locations.
Impact on Story: Not much at all happens here to further the story and we just see even more evidence of Sauron’s agents still tracking Gollum themselves and infesting this area of Middle Earth as well. The Nightmare version of this quest even features “Tunneling Nameless Ones” suggesting Sauron’s return and the Growing Shadow may have even awakened foes such as this one. Emyn Muil is a fair distance from Rhosgobel and The Carrock so our group of heroes must have spent a fair amount of time traveling to Emyn Muil after leaving Rhosgobel. Perhaps this cycle is not just meant to represent our heroes joining/replacing Aragorn at the end of his long search for Gollum but rather performing the long grueling 17 year or so search in its entirety!! It would be silly if this was the case though as it would give no time for all the other cycles to happen in this 17 year time frame as well. Due to this I am assuming that this cycle is just the end of the search for Gollum and takes place during the last few months before he was found.
The Dead Marshes: In The Dead Marshes we finally hone in one Gollum and have the opportunity to catch him. He flees into The Dead Marshes in an attempt to escape our party of heroes but we close in and capture him at last.
Impact on Story: The Dead Marshes features the actual capture of Gollum that took place in February of TA 3017. Our party of heroes are responsible in place or Aragorn or alternatively alongside him. We are truly within Sauron’s Reach in The Dead Marshes due to its extremely close proximity to Mordor and in the Nightmare version of this quest we even have to fend off the dead spirits of the marshes who are perhaps increasingly active due to Sauron’s return.
Return to Mirkwood: In the final quest of this cycle we bring the captured Gollum back to Northern Mirkwood to be held and interrogated in Thranduil’s Palace. Right as we get close to Thranduil’s realm we are ambushed by a last group of enemies eager to seize Gollum for themselves.
Impact on Story: I find it interesting that Sauron’s agents were trying to seize Gollum for themselves as Sauron had already seized and interrogated Gollum before Aragorn/our heroes were able to. In the hands of the Free People however Gollum could reveal to them the location of the ring as well allowing them to beat Sauron to its location and discovery. As well as this Gollum serves more purpose to Sauron free so that he can be followed and lead Sauron straight to the ring if he discovers its location himself. Sauron would have been desperate to stop Gollum falling into the clutches of Thranduil and he very soon thereafter succeeds at freeing him from Thranduil’s imprisonment via a large Orc ambush that kill Gollum’s guards while they are letting him climb trees in the nearby forest. Gandalf is able to interrogate Gollum before this happens though and sets off for The Shire eager to rouse Frodo to action now that he is certain he possesses the one ring.
We see Sauron’s desperation to stop Gollum from ever reaching Thranduil’s Realm in the fierce enemies pursuing us when playing this quest. Not only do we see Goblins, Hill Trolls, more giant descendants of Ungoliant (Attercop, Attercop) and Bats trying to stop us but in the Nightmare version there are also ambushing Orcs and pursuing Warg Riders as well. When playing this quest you can easily be overwhelmed or swarmed by the nastier foes that appear as well as the crazy threat gain from Gollum himself which then forces you to engage high engagement cost enemies as well.
Main Storyline and Theme: Essentially the core set and first cycle focuses on the Elves of Mirkwood and Lorien realising the nature of the growing shadow in the East mostly due to the massing of foes in Dol Guldur, Southern Mirkwood and the Anduin Valley; that Sauron is once again wholly active and is extending his spies and grip on Middle Earth, as well as the capture and interrogation of Gollum by Aragorn (which is instead performed by our group of heroes). We also face a Nazgul (most likely Khamul) in Dol Guldur and I assume report this back to Galadriel and Thranduil revealing that Sauron is using Dol Guldur once again as a secondary fortress and base of operations. He openly declared himself in Mordor in TA 2951 and immediately sent out Nazgul to retake Dol Guldur and Gollum is not captured by Aragorn/our group of heroes until 3017 so it admittedly would be a little strange that for some 60 years or so the Elven Kingdoms have not realised that Dol Guldur is being occupied by Nazgul. In the Third Age the elves mostly keep to themselves and their own borders though so it is conceivable that they would not be aware of the true nature of the darkness coming from Dol Guldur until this point.
Now we know that before Frodo left the Shire Aragorn captured Gollum in the Dead Marshes and led him back to Thranduil’s kingdom in Mirkwood for imprisonment. Aragorn finally finding Gollum and Gandalf then interrogating him was the final piece of information Gandalf needed to go into full on panic mode and deduce that the ring Frodo possesses is indeed the One Ring. Gandalf immediately sets out for the Shire (which was his next destination anyway) to perform a final test and to motivate Frodo to leave the Shire as soon as possible to deliver the Ring to Rivendell. I feel that rather than really expanding upon the lore and mythos this first cycle instead just further explores the pursuit and capture of Gollum by Aragorn and attributes this to our group of heroes instead. We visit some great areas such as The Carrock, The Dead Marshes, Emyn Muil and even Rhosgobel. I feel like the developers of the game were not really trying to do much story wise with the game at this point and so we have a bare bones story that does fit in with The Lord of the Rings universe but does not really expand upon it and instead just lets us do battle with iconic enemies (orcs, trolls, spiders, a nazgul etc), explore some of the more famous locations (mirkwood, anduin, dol guldur, dead marshes etc) and interact with some of the more notable characters (Gollum, Galadriel, Radagast, Thranduil etc). That being said it does do a great job of portraying the growing Shadow in the East and we see Sauron’s agents both searching for the Ring and also just getting more bold and aggressive in general such as the trolls coming down from the Mountains and the spiders infesting Mirkwood.
Impact failure would have had: Honestly the capture of Gollum does not seem too important. Gandalf was heading for the Shire with his final test for the ring anyway (Isildur’s scroll that discusses the inscriptions on the ring and how to make them appear) and the interrogation of Gollum only furthers his resolve and confirms his belief that it is in fact the One Ring. This means that even had Gollum eluded our clutches Gandalf still would have tested the ring in the Shire and realised it was the One Ring at that point. He in fact may have arrived at the Shire sooner had he not taken this detour! Ultimately I do not think that much would be different had Gollum not been captured and the events in The Lord of the Rings would have played out more or less the same. Its also worth looking at the fact that Sauron had agents tailing Gollum and was hoping he would lead him right to the ring but it is extremely doubtful that Gollum knew the location of the Shire so even had he not been captured by our heroes he still would not have led Sauron anywhere important. In future cycles this section will much more interesting as this is in my opinion the only cycle where failure does not have any serious ramifications and all the others feature especially important achievements that strongly influence future events and their outcomes!
Anything else of Note: Alright get your tinfoil hats out! I believe that this is the “final” deluxe and cycle before the events of The Lord of the Rings. Between Gandalf interrogating Gollum and Frodo leaving the Shire there are only a few months which is nowhere near the time needed for all the stuff that takes place in the following cycles such as traveling large distances that we know would take several months and even traveling across the ocean as seen during the current cycle. This leads me to believe that the story really starts with the Third Cycle (also when the developers of this game began to focus far more on the story telling aspect of this game) and ends with the First Cycle. This way all the various cycles (Third Cycle onwards) can take place believably in the 17 year gap before Frodo leaves the Shire and the core set and first cycle then take place a few months before Frodo leaves the Shire and the real adventure begins!
Hope you enjoyed my breakdown of the story the developers give us in the core set and Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. These early expansions for the game don’t actually expand that much upon the story we know and love and mainly just provide us with great locales to explore and iconic enemies to battle. It is interesting however to look at how this game shows the growing Shadow in the East. We can see Nazgul and other various enemies searching for the Ring in the background whilst also trying to delay/destroy our group of heroes. Trolls have come out of the Mountains and have invaded the Anduin Valley bringing chaos and strife with them and the forests of Mirkwood grow darker and more dangerous by the day.
Next time I will move onto Heirs of Numenor and the Third Cycle where the real story telling begins! I am quite excited to write the next article as I can theorize far more and talk about what our heroes really achieve behind the scenes and how critical it is to the eventual War of the Ring! Tune in next time to read about how our heroes save Faramir from certain death, take part in critical battles across Gondor, uncover a vast conspiracy within Minas Tirith itself and even help stop Cair Andros from being overrun and taken by Sauron’s forces!