A brief history of Lord of the Rings games

A brief history of Lord of the Rings games

First published way back in 1954 with The Fellowship of the Ring novel, Lord of the Rings has been a staple of the fantasy genre. Almost 70 years old, Lord of the Rings has been adapted into just about every medium imaginable, from comics to animated specials to live-action shows and everything in between. And, of course, there has also been enough of that Lord of the Rings video games over the years, some are much more loved than others.


With the first game dating back to the mid-1980s, Lord of the Rings has had a fairly consistent presence in the video game industry, whether it’s been direct adaptations of the novels, games designed to tie in with the Peter Jackson films, or a unique mix of the two. Over the years, there have been some truly great Middle-Earth video games, but there have also been a few that have faded completely into obscurity.

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Game based on the Lord of the Rings novels

As for anyone Lord of the Rings adaptation, it either belongs to the Tolkien property and is based specifically on Lord of the Rings novels, or it belongs to New Line, Amazon, or another company that has temporary rights to the franchise, in which case the game can only take from that specific version of the property. Before the Peter Jackson movies, each Lord of the Rings video game adaptation was based solely on the novels.

The first Lord of the Rings game ever made, not including adaptations of The Hobbitwas the 1984s The Lord of the Rings: Game One. A follow-up to the surprisingly innovative 1982 The Hobbit, this game is a complex text-based adventure that allows players to interact with various objects and NPCs across Middle-Earth. In 1987, a sequel, Shadows of Mordor released, once again as a text adventure game, but this time focusing on Sam and Frodo’s journey through Mordor. The last game in the series, The Crack of Doomreleased in 1989, saw Sam trying to save Frodo from Cirith Ungol, throwing the One Ring into Mount Doom.

1998 saw the first one Lord of the Rings RTS release. Title War in Middle Earthallowed this primitive RTS player to control iconic characters such as Aragorn and Gandalf in battles spanning the entire events of Lord of the Rings story. In 1990, the first was published Lord of the Rings RPG, with the title JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Vol. 1. Players controlled Frodo from the top down Zelda-like perspective as he recruited the members of the Fellowship, met the Nazgul, and helped NPCs with side quests. In 1991, JRR Tolkien’s Riders of Rohan released, acts as a kind of sequel to War in Middle Earth and uses many of the same mechanics on a smaller scale, focusing on Rohan and its army. In 1992, JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Vol. 2 released, allows players to control multiple members of the Fellowship during the events of The two towers.

In the early 2000s, things started to get a little confusing, with film tie-ins and novel licensed Lord of the Rings games released at the same time often cover the same material. The 2002s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, for example, came out a year after Peter Jackson’s first film, but strictly follows the events of the book. A third-person action-adventure game, The Fellowship of the Ring had a mixed reception, with most critics praising the colorful and faithful version of the source material, but condemning the game’s boring combat, clunky controls, and rough enemy AI.

The Lord of the Rings: War of the Rings released in 2003, bringing the franchise back to the RTS genre. Plays the same way as Warcraft 3 and other strategy games of the time, The War of the Ring received mixed reviews upon launch, with many critics calling the game lacking and unoriginal. The Lord of the Rings online, an MMO, first launched in 2007 and is surprisingly still going today, with the latest expansion released this year. Offering a wealth of races and classes and an open Middle-earth to explore, The Lord of the Rings online is one of the most underrated MMOs out there. The next Lord of the Rings games based on the novels set for release are forthcoming The The Lord of the Rings: Golluma stealth game centered around the iconic titular creature.

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Games based on the Lord of the Rings movies and TV

When it comes to the most memorable Lord of the Rings games, the vast majority belonging to the film and TV licensed entries. The first of these, The Lord of the Rings: The Towers, is such a game. Released in 2002 to coincide with the film, this EA-published hack-and-slash title is still considered one of the best Lord of the Rings game, with simple but extremely engaging gameplay. Just a year later, the sequel, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King released, improving on its predecessor in every way, from including more playable characters to having a more complex leveling system.

In 2004, The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age released. A turn-based tactics game heavily inspired by Final Fantasy, The Third Age covers the entire trilogy, albeit a bit too quickly. While the critics were not impressed The Third Ages gameplay, they highly praised the game’s screen-accurate graphics. In 2004 it was also launched The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth, another RTS. Although the game received criticism for its lack of depth, its visuals and sound design were praised. Two years later, a sequel, The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth 2 released, and improved upon its predecessor in some important ways. The game was given a lot more depth, but in doing so, Battle for Middle-Earth 2 became slightly unbalanced, which occasionally led to some frustrating multiplayer matches.

In 2009, The Lord of the Rings: Conquest debuted. Developed by Pandemic Studios, Conquest is essentially one Star Wars: Battlefront 2 clone, where instead of different trooper classes, the player chooses different races with different abilities. Players can even unlock the ability to play as a hero. Unfortunately, Conquest was a bit too unpolished for critics and it ended up getting terrible reviews.

Designed to bring the story to a younger audience, The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest released in 2010, following the titular king throughout the trilogy. The game was far too easy, earning it a low score among critics. The Lord of the Rings: War in the North was another poorly received Middle-Earth game, offering a class-based co-op adventure that critics found too repetitive and basic to recommend. 2012 then LEGO The Lord of the Rings release, the trilogy translates into the usual light-hearted LEGO affair and includes a surprisingly expansive open world.

The last two film-based Lord of the Rings game to release was Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordorand Middle-Earth: Shadow of Warpublished in 2014 and 2017 respectively. With Batman Arkham-inspired gameplay, and a groundbreaking Nemesis system Midgard the series is considered to be some of the best the franchise has to offer.

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