Whether you reread the printed trilogy every summer or have the film trilogy box set ready to binge at a moment’s notice, there aren’t many fantasy fans who haven’t revisited J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings world over and over again.
Amazon has two very exciting Lord of the Rings projects in the works. One is the TV series based on the second age, and the second is a massively multiplayer online game (MMO). However, it is going to be a long time before we see either of them. The TV show won’t launch until at least 2021, and the MMO has no release date as of yet. Daedalic Entertainment has a LoTR game coming out a bit sooner: The Lord of the Rings: Gollum has a confirmed release on next-generation gaming consoles PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.
To tide us over until the next wave of Middle Earth stories is released, let’s look at some of the best Lord of the Rings video games that have come out over the years. This list has everything from classics to more modern titles.
The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth II (2006)
The follow-up to EA’s surprisingly good Battle for Middle-Earth fine-tuned the gameplay and brought the franchise on par with some of the best real-time strategy games on the market at the time. One notable difference between Battle for Middle-Earth II and its predecessor was player freedom. Middle-Earth II allowed players to create as many buildings as they wanted anywhere on the map, allowing for a lot more flexibility in gameplay.
Battle for Middle-Earth II also added goblins, dwarves, and elves as playable factions. The expansion pack Rise of the Witch-King added the Angmar as well.
The game also featured the War of the Ring mode from the first game, which cleverly combined turn-based tactics with real-time strategy gameplay. Battle for Middle-Earth II was met with positive criticism upon its release, and we look back on it fondly as one of the best Lord of the Rings games there was.
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
Franchise games are almost always terrible. They are usually just lazy cash grabs meant to capitalize on the popularity of a summer blockbuster. However, that wasn’t the case with The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. The game proved to be surprisingly fun and did well following the main events of the movie while having engaging gameplay.
Like its predecessor, The Two Towers, Return of the King is a hack-and-slash game that the developers likened to a modern Gauntlet. Unlike the first game, though, Return of the King had multiple storylines, more playable characters, and unique environmental interactions. The game also had a co-op mode that let you play with a buddy.
The game was also significantly larger in scale than The Two Towers, with players exploring maps twice as large and fighting double the enemies.
LEGO The Lord of the Rings (2012)
The LEGO games have always been decent kids’ games that recreate major franchises in humorous ways. LEGO The Lord of the Rings is a perfect example of this. The game was one of the first in LEGO’s large game pool to actually include audio clips from the films, but developers still managed to put their own comedic twist on most of the scenes.
The game covers the events of the original three films, and players can take control of over 80 characters, each with their own unique abilities that help them solve puzzles. There is also a free-roam mode where players can explore all of LEGO Middle-Earth. It isn’t exactly the most thrilling game for adults, but it is the perfect way to get the kids introduced to the wonder of the franchise without all the grit of the movies.
The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (2004)
The Third Age is unique because it is one of the few games of the era that wasn’t entirely based on the films. Rather, the events of The Third Age run parallel to the movies and have several overlapping events. The turn-based role-playing game (RPG) also has entirely unique content, and the player characters are entirely new.
Like any RPG, each area of the game had a bevy of quests to complete. What made The Third Age unique, though, was the evil mode. Once the player beat an area of the game, it could be replayed in evil mode, where players took control of Sauron’s forces. The player then had to complete battle after battle with no saves. If successful, they could unlock new items for the main player characters. It was a unique extra layer that helped pad out the playtime.
The game was proof that a Lord of the Rings RPG could be insanely fun. It’s just a shame that more games like it weren’t made.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor exploded onto the scene when it was released in 2014. It had entirely new characters, a plot that fleshed out Mordor, and a unique Nemesis System that generated memorable orc captains for the player to clash with. The plot was a little wonky and played pretty fast and loose with the canon, but all in all, it was an exceptional and thrilling game.
The player takes control of Talion, a ranger who is seeking revenge after he and his family are killed by the Black Hand of Sauron. Talion is brought back to life by a mysterious wraith, who is later revealed to be Celebrimbor — the forger of the one ring.
Together, the two improve Talion’s abilities, help human slaves find freedom in Mordor, and meet a host of unique characters. The boss battles are a little underwhelming, but the Nemesis System is so unique and well-crafted that it makes the game stand out as one of the best Lord of the Rings games around.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War (2015)
This one may be contentious, but Shadow of War takes what worked with Shadow of Mordor and improves it in practically every way. The story is still all over the place, but the game delivers on a broader scope, a more complex Nemesis System, and new base raids that make for dozens — if not hundreds — of hours of additional gameplay.
The biggest and best changes come to the Nemesis System. One complaint about Shadow of Mordor was that once Talion is leveled enough, basically nothing can stop him. Shadow of Mordor doesn’t have this problem, thanks to a more complex leveling system and the chance for orc commanders to become insanely powerful. Many times they can kill you outright, regardless of your level, and some can even be immune to executions. Combine that with the additional layers of equipment, strengths, and other tweaks, and the Nemesis System of Shadow of War could be the entire game in and of itself.
Shadow of War also has multiple regions to explore in the base game, and each is noticeably different and has its own ranks of orcs to cut through.
Despite the story and annoying micro-transactions, Shadow of War really is a compelling game that improves on its predecessor in nearly every way.
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