The Best Lord Of The Rings Video Games

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I haven’t been enjoying Shadow of War as much as others, partly for its diversions from Tolkien’s tone/universe, a take which has got me thinking about Lord of the Rings video games I do like.

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Younger readers may think of the series in recent years as being all about making friends with orcs, or for those with slightly longer memories about under-appreciated RTS games and cancelled epics.

But Tolkien’s influence on video games stretches much further back. Fans have been playing games based on The Lord of the Rings (and The Hobbit) for almost as long as there have been video games, and for every misguided flop there has been a game that has been surprisingly OK for a licensed product. And in some cases much better than that.

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Here are five of the best of them:

THE HOBBIT

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Australian studio Beam Software made a number of LotR games, but their first remains the most important. The Hobbit, released in 1982, is an absolute adventure game classic that helped push the genre forwards in a number of ways, from its inclusion of illustrations to a complex text-entry system that let users string together long sentences (instead of just typing “open door”). It even had a primitive physics system.

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THE RETURN OF THE KING

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The second of EA’s brawlers based on Peter Jackson’s film trilogy was the better game. It married a competent action system with fantastic recreations of the movie’s key scenes, and (for the time) had some incredible voice acting, including appearances by key actors like Ian McKellan and John Rhys Davies. It was also one of the best-looking games of 2003.

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THE THIRD AGE

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Yes, I mean it. This game has one of the dumbest boss battles of all time, but that tends to overshadow everything that came before it. This is one of the best Final Fantasy clones around, even if it is a bit simpler, and its alternate telling of the saga is one that still feels at home within Jackson’s take on the novels. And like most of EA’s other Lord of the Rings game, the production values helped really sell the license and make more of an impact on fans than the game might have were it to have been set in some random other universe (with more zippers).

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BATTLE FOR MIDDLE EARTH II

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The massive battle scenes of Lord of the Rings were always going to lead to strategy games, but the question was how those were ever going to stretched out over entire singleplayer campaigns. EA found the answer in using hero units to let players act out smaller moments from the trilogy, while still allowing the scale to fight battles like Helm’s Deep. Both BFME games are good, but the second might be slightly better thanks to a campaign that didn’t have to skew as closely to the main storyline, and could thus engineer some better mission design.

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SHADOW OF MORDOR

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By far the better of WB’s two Lord of the Rings games (to date), Shadow’s focus is much tighter, its nemesis system more refined. I’m not the biggest fan of WB’s take on the license—it feels more like its own IP dressed in a veneer of Lord of the Rings—but the thrill of its stealth murder and orc friendship system makes up for this.

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SPECIAL MENTION: THIRD AGE: TOTAL WAR

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This is a mod, not a standalone game, so I couldn’t officially include it on the list. But here’s a shout out for it anyway, because nothing has ever captured the scale and fury of the series’ biggest battles like this Total War conversion, which transforms Medieval: Total War 2 into the ultimate Middle Earth combat experience.

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Luke Plunkett is a Senior Editor based in Canberra, Australia. He has written a book on cosplay, designed a game about airplanes, and also runs cosplay.kotaku.com.

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DISCUSSION

You forgot the hands-down best and most thorough Lord of the Rings experience! Who wouldn’t want to roam an open world Middle-Earth?. You can explorethe depths of Moira, and literally hop down a well and end up in the waterworks. You can retrace the steps of the Hobbit and find the three turned-to-stone trolls, or go to Goblin Town in the Misty Mountains. You can run from the Shire, through Rivendell, and all the way to Mirkwood. if you damn please. You can even confront the dang Witch King himself. And then you relax in your guildhall, learn to play the lute, and get with some friends and literally play a fully coordinated song, while other players get drunk and wake up in their knickers in the frozen north of Forochel.

But yeah, sure! Pick the goddamn linear hack’n’slash’ers from the PS2 era *grumble grumble*...