What to revisit after Middle-Earth: Shadow of War
The day is here, Lord of the Rings fans! Monolith Productions’ Middle-Earth: Shadow of War has launched, and critics are calling it a superb fantasy adventure, more ambitious in scope than Shadow of Mordor, and plenty of loot boxes. Okay, that last one probably won’t go on the back of the box, but I couldn’t help myself.
That said, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is only one of many Lord of the Rings released over the years. And do we ever mean many. I mean, it makes sense that such a staple of the fantasy genre would lend itself to good gameplay adaptations, but we’re talking a number that might even contend with all the “Tom Clancy” games. So which of these games can still be dug up today, and are any of them still worth your time? Join us as we answer these questions below:
1: Lord of the Rings Retro PC Titles
Believe it or not, the origin of Lord of the Rings gaming started all the way back in 1982. You know, the age where floppy discs were king and command prompts needed to be memorized just to start a game. There were a lot of games made during this era, ranging from Zork-style text adventures to basic strategy titles. That said, we won’t get too deep into these games, because all of them are generally easy to find online with just a quick Google search. However, considering the vintage of these titles, you’ll have to do a bit of work on your end to actually run them on your system.
While these games might not be especially collectible nowadays, some of their accompanying packaging is a different story. For example, the best price we could find on the instruction manual for Melbourne House’s The Hobbit adaptation was in the range of $40-$65 used. In other words, if you owned any of these games back in the day and kept them in good condition, they might be a desirable commodity for certain Lord of the Rings collectors!
2: Interplay’s SNES Lord of the Rings
Surprisingly, the 8 and 16 bit eras of gaming only saw one console Lord of the Rings game. That is, as long as we’re not counting this bootleg Sega Genesis game, which… wow, I really cannot get over that fast paced intro music.
Anyway, Interplay’s Lord of the Rings, Vol. I is a Zelda-style adventure game following the events of Fellowship of the Ring. Unfortunately, that’s not to say that this game sported the polish and inspiration that made The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past such a classic. Critics regard Lord of the Rings, Vol I as a mediocre at best title, dragged down by long fetch quests and poor AI. While the aesthetics fit what you’d hope to see from a retro Lord of the Rings game, this one’s a bit of a harder sell by today’s standards.
Fortunately, this one’s pretty easy to collect if you’d like to own it regardless. Loose copies can be found for around $10, and and even a sealed box runs for a relatively low $60. Whether it’s worth the cash is up to you, but at the very least it’ll look nice on a shelf.
3: EA’s Lord of the Rings console trilogy
Things were generally quiet on the Lord of the Rings gaming front after the lone SNES title. That said, once Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies started hitting theaters, things got knocked into twelfth gear. EA snatched up the movie rights for Lord of the Rings, and in 2002 they began their series of Lord of the Rings video games with Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers for PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube. The best part? EA’s Lord of the Rings games turned out pretty good!
Yes, The Two Towers was a surprisingly solid action game in an age where video game adaptations of movies almost always turned out poorly. While the visual spectacle is far less impressive today than it was 15 years ago, the plethora of special moves hidden via light RPG elements made for an impressively solid and fun package. The game’s sequel, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, further improved on the formula with more playable characters and even two player co-op. Both are still fondly remembered to this day, and each still sit around a 85% rating on Metacritic.
EA’s third console Lord of the Rings game, Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, was a bit of a change of pace. While still based around the movies, The Third Age featured a mostly original story in an RPG that took clear inspiration from Final Fantasy X. While not as critically lauded as the previous two games, The Third Age is still regarded positively among fans.
All three of these games were massively popular for their time, making them easy pickups today. Depending on which console you’re looking to play them on, you can expect to drop as little as $5 for each of these titles. While they all are dated by today’s standards, these games are probably your best options for reliving a nostalgic gaming romp through Tolkien’s universe.
4: EA’s Lord of the Rings handheld Counterparts
EA’s console games of the PS2 are all fondly remembered, but their slew of Gameboy Advance and PSP titles haven’t exactly been regarded as well with the passage of time.
That’s not to say they’re bad, necessarily. In fact, even these games have their fans singing their praises! While each of the console games received a “port” to the Gameboy Advance, each title was actually a unique experience that didn’t even share the same genre as their console brethren. That said, the reviews of these games were still generally middling. Also included in this category is Lord of the Rings: Tactics, which sits at approximately the same place critically.
Like the other games on this list, each of these carts and discs can be found in the $10 range today. These might be worth your time if you fondly remember them, or if you just want more of that Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings nostalgia.
5: Sierra’s The Hobbit
While EA had exclusive rights to the movies for game adaptations, that didn’t stop other developers from making games based on the books during this time. Enter Sierra’s The Hobbit, an action platformer game that just so happened to release during the run of Peter Jackson’s movies. Hey, you can’t exactly blame them for capitalizing on what they can.
Released for the PS2 and Gameboy Advance, The Hobbit is a decidedly more kid-friendly affair than any of EA’s offerings. Which makes sense, since The Hobbit is generally a more kid-friendly book than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That said, like many items on this list, this is a game that received pretty mediocre review scores on both platforms, and can be found for about $10 online today. Judge this one based on your own nostalgia for Lord of the Rings and/or this era of gaming, because otherwise it’s difficult to give a wholesale recommendation.
6: Lord of the Rings Online
Rounding out our list is Lord of the Rings Online, an MMORPG born during a time when just about everyone was chasing a slice of World of Warcraft‘s ridiculously lucrative pie. Released in 2007, Lord of the Rings Online is… actually still going to this day! It’s even got an expansion on the way that will add Mordor to the game world.
It might be a no-brainer that a Lord of the Rings game could enjoy ongoing success for over a decade, but by MMORPG standards it’s a really impressive feat. While I don’t have the time to give proper justice to a game as sprawling as this, the fact that its fanbase is still active enough to sustain it should speak for itself. Being that this is a now free-to-play PC game, there isn’t much to collect here beyond some old CD boxes. That said, if you’re on the hunt for the expansions, you might be able to score some nice physical collector’s editions.
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan who enjoyed mid 2000s era MMORPGs, consider giving this one a shot if you never did.
While we could go on into the many Lord of the Rings games of the PS3 and Xbox 360 era, this is a brief summation of all the Lord of the Rings games that made (or arguably broke) many of our childhoods. If you’ve never played any of these games and are looking to get into some vintage Lord of the Rings action, consider EA’s Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King as starting points. Lord of the Rings Online is still ongoing if you like MMORPGs, and the options from there depend on your own personal tastes and the nature of your collections.
Either way, with a story as timeless as Lord of the Rings, we can basically guarantee this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the franchise in modern media. We hope Shadow of War pleases all the fans looking forward to it, but if it doesn’t, then perhaps some of the games on this list and another read of The Silmarillion is in order.