Shadow of Mordor is one of the most notable non-canonical games within the universe of J. R. R. Tolkien. The game largely ignores the characters from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy in favor of its new protagonist Talion. Monolith Productions does, however, root Talion firmly within the lore of Tolkien; the character travels to notable locations within Middle-earth and meets a handful of canon characters. The way Shadow of Mordor manages to balance the new and the old is something that The Rings of Power would do well to learn from.
The most important lesson from Shadow of Mordor is to refrain from reinventing the wheel and instead utilize the groundwork that's already there. One great way the developers accomplished this was by embracing the locations of Middle-earth. A majority of the events within the game take place in, unsurprisingly, Mordor, which is an iconic part of Middle-earth. Talion is also captain of the rangers of Gondor and consequently lives atop the Black Gate, a locale frequently seen in The Lord of the Rings movies. By using locations with which audiences are familiar, the non-canonical aspects of the story are all the more believable. The Rings of Power series should absolutely revisit both the familiar and mysterious areas of Tolkien's world.
The characters of Middle-earth are arguably the most important aspect of Tolkien's works; these personalities breathe life into the otherwise vapid lands. Shadow of Mordor was skillful when it came to deciding which canon characters to include and which to exclude. Enough mystery surrounded Celebrimbor and even Gollum - enough mystery for an entire Gollum video game, evidently - to allow writers liberties when writing new sections of their backstories. Rather than pick characters whose stories have been completely fleshed out, like Bilbo or Frodo, writers at Amazon would have more leeway if they picked canon characters about whom fans know little.
For everything Shadow of Mordor got right, though, there are some areas it went a little too far with the canon. Celebrimbor's narrative was a creative take on a minor character, but his involvement with Sauron's soldiers upsets the balance with the greater Tolkien universe. It's revealed near the end of the game that Celebrimbor not only forged the rings of power but also used the One Ring to attack Sauron with an army of Orcs. Such a significant battle coordinated by a lone Elf feels far-fetched and undermines what fans know of the history of Middle-earth.
It's a difficult task to please both casual and hardcore audiences, but Rings of Power needs to walk that line in order to live up to the franchise's prestige. The show aims to make something new out of the already well-explored source material, and it can only reference what Amazon bought the rights to: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit, and The Return of the King's appendices.
The love and attention to detail that went into Shadow of Mordor made it a successful addition to the Tolkien universe, and it'll be exciting to see if The Rings of Power's interpretation can do the same. If nothing else, the show will provoke fans to consider what they'd like to see from Middle-earth entertainment moving forward.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and its sequel, Shadow of War, are available now on the PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will premiere on September 2nd on Amazon Prime.