I can’t quite describe it, but there’s something about a Lord of the Rings video game that instantly piques my interest. With Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor shaking up the gaming landscape, I realised that this IP has had so many successful gaming titles over the years – both ones I’ve played and others I’ve still yet to explore. Let’s today revisit some of the great Lord of the Rings titles which have brought me, and I’m sure other players, hours of fantastic and diverse gameplay over the console generations.
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (PS2, 2003)
Probably still one of the best games in the franchise to date, Return of the King introduced so many new things from The Two Towers and is still one of the best video game adaptations of a movie ever.
It introduced co-operative play for the first time and, with the action/hack-and-slash style of the game, resulted in a lot of hectic moments – I remember lots of shouting and frantic button combos.
My brother and I really liked the expansive levels, as well as actual voice acting from Ian McKellen (Gandalf) and Elijah Wood (Frodo). The player felt immersed in every single environment thanks to the epic soundtrack, significantly superior graphics and interactivity with cannons and bridges to complete objectives.
One of the only downsides of the game was the lack of plot, but I like to think of this as a design choice to avoid spoilers for those who hadn’t seen the film – it was released a month beforehand, after all.
Return of the King was a title where the positives far outweighed the negatives and provided a decent scale of difficulty – especially with that last battle against those hordes of Uruk-hai.
2. Lord of the Rings: War in the North (Xbox 360, 2011)
Despite many reviews crucifying this game, I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Having purchased it two years after release, it was the low price and the badass cover that drew me to the game. The game had its own adventure whilst overlapping with the quests of The Fellowship.
The Ring is being carried to Mount Doom and three adventurers have been tasked with keeping Sauron’s forces in the north at bay; they are a distraction to ensure The Fellowship’s safe passage.
You play as a man (Eradan), an elf (Andriel) or a dwarf (Farin) – a direct correlation to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. The game’s premise is quite promising, but the player is let down by weak story progression throughout the game. This is only one among a handful of underwhelming factors from War in the North though, as Snowblind Studios nailed the armour and weapon detail as well as the breathtaking landscapes. No, it was the best looking game – but it wasn’t trying to be.
Evidently, the game wasn’t without its flaws in gameplay. Despite the game going up to NG++, the Orcs, Uruk-hai and other foes failed to scale with your level – which made for a ridiculously easy playthrough.
However, this was the first Lord of the Rings game I knew of that implemented the classic slow-mo beheading of baddies now seen in Shadow of Mordor. It was satisfying back then and it still is to this day.
The three-player co-op also made this an entertaining game. I love co-op games and this one made great use of interplay between character abilities and stat bonuses.
War in the North fell short in a few areas but is a massively underrated title, in my eyes. Overall, it’s a great game solo but a fantastic game if you have mates along for the ride.
3. LEGO: Lord of the Rings (Xbox 360, 2012)
If I remember correctly, this was the first LEGO game I’d played since the first LEGO game, Star Wars: The Complete Saga, in 2007.
One thing Traveller’s Tales do to all their film-converted video games is add a sense of humour. It could be argued that there was too much silliness in LEGO: LoTR – considering the underlying situation in Middle-Earth – but I think they were spot on with everything.
What made this game unique amongst all others was that it was the first to use the actual dialogue and music from the film. It heightened the game’s likability tremendously and was matched with a transformed open world of Middle-Earth between chapters of the original three films.
A lot had changed since Star Wars: TCS and there was a lot to take in. For instance, playable characters were given their own inventory slots and items to use in specific situations (e.g.: Frodo had the ‘Light of Elendil’, which could be used a torch). There were also scores of collectibles to find – not only in each chapter but in the open world – and I remembered these all too well.
The only thing I wish had improved was the combat. It hadn’t changed much at all since The Complete Saga iteration – attacking enemies still involved X button-mashing – and the fact the control scheme hadn’t evolved annoyed me quite a bit.
I eventually did 100% this game due to the sheer amount of post-story content and continuously searching for that next childhood giggle or laugh-out-loud moment.
These are only a handful of video games that have brought the world of Middle-Earth to our consoles of choice. I think what makes The Lord of the Rings brand so popular, when it comes to adapting it to games, has to do with a visual aspect, courtesy of the films: picturesque scenery, entertaining combat and an epic soundtrack. Furthermore, the lore surrounding the Rings of Power is deep but not overly mind-boggling.
The Lord of the Rings has come a long way since those blocky, pixellated days of The Fellowship of the Ring in the early-2000s. It’s a well-established license now, and I eagerly await what the franchise has in store for us in the future.