What The Best ‘Lord Of The Rings’ Game Would Look Like

'The Lord of the Rings' is the first and last word in sword and sorcery fantasy. Gamers are yet to have a satisfactory video game that tells the trilogy story. By using successful elements from other games we can make the ultimate 'Lord of the Rings' game.
A host of different game styles centered around Middle Earth
A host of different game styles centered around Middle Earth. Image source: TheGamer

For the better part of a century ‘The Lord of the Rings’ has been a flagship in fantasy media entertainment. The works of JRR Tolkien have delighted generations of readers, been translated into dozens of languages, and been adapted into one of the most celebrated epic movie trilogies of all time.

Naturally, as the godfather of swords and sorcery, many games have sprouted around the franchise. Board games and strategy games, even text-driven ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ style games have all had ‘The Lord of the Rings’ or the realm of Middle Earth as their keystone themes.

The closest we've come to a trilogy story game is Lego spoof parody
The closest we've come to a trilogy story game is Lego spoof parody.  Source: IGN

The most popular form now of course is in video games. There has been a swath of different companies that have made ‘Lord of the Rings' games; some that follow their own aesthetic vision and platform gameplay, some that are movie “tie-in” hack-and-slash action games; and others that are war strategy, turn-based, or role-playing. Some have even had the ‘Lego’ treatment.

Bethesda's 'Skyrim' landscape is similar to Middle Earth
Bethesda's 'Skyrim' landscape is similar to Middle Earth. Image source: deviantart

Whatever players’ preference, there have been many games that surround the main trilogy story, or set before or during the War of the Ring; but I think it’s high time we got back to basics. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is set in the Third Age of Middle Earth and tells the story of Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf, and the parts they play in the overthrowing of the dark lord Sauron.

It’s time there was an open world Middle Earth map centered on this tale, that honours Tolkien's text in a role-playing game format, of the kind of lore-steeped works made by the game studio Bethesda. 

Peter Jackson's 'Fellowship of the Ring'
Peter Jackson's 'Fellowship of the Ring'.  Image source: The Mary Sue

For better recognition (although not essential), the imagery could be based on the Peter Jackson films. Original voice actors for the dialogue and character models would be superb, as well as the wondrous concept art for the locations and armour by Alan Lee. And of course, it should include the masterful score by Howard Shore. A collaboration between New Line Cinema and Bethesda if you will, but with borrowed elements from other games. 

Artist Alan Lee's wonderful concept of Minas Tirith
Artist Alan Lee's wonderful concept of Minas Tirith. Image source: Pinterest

Imagine starting out a video game where you played as Frodo. You’re introduced to the game's mechanics by way of roaming around the Shire doing little side quests to get Bilbo’s party going. Giving out invites, getting his cake order, etc.

Then you’re introduced to Gandalf, and suddenly you’re playing as Gandalf, learning his magic skills by sending up his fireworks, but then get this: you’re then able to switch between the two, and pick up their quests where you left off. This is similar in style to Rockstar Studio’s ‘Grand Theft Auto V’: where you can flick between characters anywhere on the map and resume their story.

Okay maybe you don't need this many characters but you get the idea
Okay maybe you don't need this many characters but you get the idea.  Image source: youtube

Not only between Frodo and Gandalf though. How about being able to flick between the main three storylines, thus exploring all of Middle Earth? How about being able to open a character wheel at any point, and choose to play as any one of the nine members of the fellowship?

You can flick between all members of the Fellowship during their time together, similar to the ‘Lego’ games. How about a good old-fashioned campaign co-op? Your side quests are all the same because they’re all able to explore the same parts as each other, but eventually, it would split into three major plotlines.

Co-op campaign in EA's 'The Return of the King'
Co-op campaign in EA's 'The Return of the King'.  Image source: YouTube

Of course, as it’s story-driven there’s still a path to follow, but it’s a wide one. For example, all the Fellowship move from Rivendell to Moria, so direction-wise, that’s where you’re headed.

But there’s nothing to stop you going all the way back to the Shire as Legolas and carrying on with former side quests, it’s just that you won’t get far in terms of main story progression, such as with Bethesda’s ‘Skyrim’. 

At certain points, like at the breaking of the fellowship, prior to that event there would have to be a prompt such as “Frodo and Sam will no longer be able to explore the past maps from this point on. Are you sure you want to continue?” But other characters will be able to explore past places and complete certain side quests. 

Levelled stage map from Ubisoft's 'Assassin's Creed Odyssey'
Levelled stage map from Ubisoft's 'Assassin's Creed Odyssey'. Source: GosuNoob

If exploring is more your thing, then an ‘Assassin's Creed’ style area map with levelled stages would be key there. Want to walk to Mordor as a level one hobbit? You’re more than welcome, but you get so far as Bree and everyone is level ten. One does not simply walk into Mordor. In Moria, they’re all level twenty-five and so on.

You’re encouraged to stay in the story section until you're at a good enough level to progress. It’s just a very wide path with a general direction, like ‘Skyrim’. But when the Fellowship breaks up, your side quests and exploration options change as the story demands. 

Let’s say you’re playing as Frodo or Sam, being led by Gollum through Emyn Muil, but then you fancy seeing what Gimli is up to, so you open up the character wheel, select Gimli, then a second later you’re playing as him, running through Rohan, trying to catch up to Merry and Pippin. A completely different map from Frodo’s, with different side quests to do as that character.

Then you flick to Legolas, who’s just ahead, but has the same side quests as Gimli, as they are in the same story arc. You flick over to Pippin, who is in Fangorn Forest, with his own side quests and places to discover. It’ll be like three games in one! The entire trilogy, in one game, with everyone’s perspectives.

Inventory from 'Return of the King' on Gameboy Advance
Source: Pinterest

Of course, there will be loot chests and item drops from enemies. For the sake of ease, there can be an inventory that spans all characters. If Frodo finds a bow in Gondor, you can flick over to Legolas in Rohan and equip it there. Or drop the said item into a shared cache like the Ranger Hollows in the Gameboy Advance series of ‘Rings’ games. There will be skill trees for all characters as well, accessible by any character on a shared pause screen.

The Battle of Pelennor
The Battle of Pelennor.  Image source: LOTR Wiki

There will be several instances where things can be done in real-time. In the battle of Helm's Deep, for example, you could be hacking away as Aragorn but then your Gandalf icon flashes and you realise that you need to play as Gandalf to round up the Riders of Rohan to come and help.

The battle of the Pelennor Fields: you’re stopping Denethor as Gandalf, but then your Merry icon flashes and suddenly you need to be attacking the Witch King.

"For Frodo!" Aragorn marches on the Black Gate, to buy Frodo time to destroy The One Ring
"For Frodo!" Aragorn marches on the Black Gate, to buy Frodo time to destroy The One Ring. Source: Middle-earth Cinematic Universe Wiki

Here’s the other thing: you can get so far storywise with one character, but then to get to the next stage of the game you’d have to progress with the other characters to get to the same point in time.

For example, if you’re playing as Aragorn, you can do all your side quests around Gondor before marching onto the Black Gate, but then storywise you’d have to stop at that progression point until you’ve flicked over on to Frodo’s story and reached Mount Doom

Sam carries Frodo up Mount Doom during the Black Gate battle.
Sam carries Frodo up Mount Doom during the Black Gate battle.  Source: Screen Rant

This is where you can have the mother of all final boss fights: you’re climbing up Mount Doom as Sam for instance, but then you see a flashing Aragorn icon. You go over to Aragorn and see that he’s in a spot of bother fighting an armoured troll. You kill the troll but then notice that your Frodo icon is flashing. You flick over to Frodo and find that he’s being attacked by Gollum. The mission becomes time-sensitive, and could even be cooperative.

EA's 'The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age' 
EA's 'The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age'.  Image source: EA

The Lord of the Rings has the potential to be the greatest single-player role-playing game of all time, but through various licensing laws, all we seem to get are peripheral stories like “The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age”, “Shadow of Mordor” and the upcoming “Gollum”. All great games in their own right, but not the characters we've invested in.

The Tolkien company is naturally very protective of their property, which might be a factor as to why we haven’t had a ‘Rings’ book-centric game just yet. For now, we’ll all just have to dust off our Playstation 2’s and boot up ‘Return of the King’ to scratch that itch.

Jason is a freelance content writer living in Nottinghamshire whose preferred topics are movie/game reviews and climate change.

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