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We need one Lord of the Rings game to rule them all

The year is 2023 and to date, we have still not yet received a game set in Middle-earth truly worthy of Tolkien's legacy or world.

Sauron from The Lord of the Rings standing with a staff in hand amid fiery flames

In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie, that is where I wish I could be. I would still suffer less there than I have been while playing some of the recent games inspired by Lord of the Rings, like Gollum. As a devoted fan of Tolkien’s universe and (almost) everything to come from it, I am beside myself with frustration at how underwhelmed I’ve been by recent LotR games. There is perhaps no better set of fantasy tales to choose from than Tolkien’s for a rich story game, yet so few have taken full advantage of the source material. From LEGO games to technical messes, the history of Lord of the Rings’ relationship with videogames is turbulent, to say the least.

My childhood was heavily defined by J.R.R. Tolkien. Starting with The Hobbit, my father and I would spend many a nighttime hour reading, with me taking one chapter and then him taking the next. I grew to love the fair forest of Lothlórien and yearned to journey through the Misty Mountains myself. I did not want to be a firefighter or an astronaut – I wanted to be Lady Galadriel of the Woods. There is perhaps no better word to describe Tolkien’s writing than “enchanting,” as it whisks you away into a different realm filled with its own fantastical creatures, diverse languages, varying societies, divisive politics, and extensive history.

The Lord of the Rings Gollum - wide-eyed Smeagol, a dishevelled Hobbit with wide eyes and no clothes, looks up with a distressed sadness.

Middle-earth is truly its own universe in every sense of the word, as it has each element within it that comprises our own. As a child obsessed with Middle-earth, what form of media could I have wanted to experience more than a videogame inspired by Tolkien’s literature? If I could not be as great as Galadriel in real life, perhaps I could come close within the digital confines of a game. Unfortunately, my options were limited, and they still are. The PlayStation 2 games held me over well enough, as did The Lord of the Rings Online, but I eventually wanted something different… something bigger – and better.

Lord of the Rings Online had many of the elements I want to see in a LotR game, including character customization not tied to familiar faces from the books. As detailed in my The Lord of the Rings Gollum review, the new games fall flat as they either expect you to fit into the very small niche who’d actually want to play as the wretched being or they’re action-packed with little narrative focus (fight me, Shadow of Mordor). I want an open-world experience in which I can traverse the lands of Middle-earth and complete quests along my journey, just as I can in games like Skyrim or The Witcher 3.

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LEGO games are cute and all, but they’re no replacement for what I’m hoping for here. The recently announced Return to Moria game also looks like it could offer fun with friends, but I still have my doubts about its place within Tolkien lore, or more so the lore’s place within the game. Right now, my only true hope lies with the upcoming Lord of the Rings MMO. While there is not much known about it to date, the vast scope of a sprawling online game could offer the perfect formula for a good Tolkien-inspired adventure.

If you are similarly suffering from the lack of good Lord of the Rings games, I would suggest taking a look at some of our favorite RPG games to lose yourself in while waiting for more word on the MMO. Alternatively, you can also browse through a few of the best open-world games if you value the ability to ride off on your horse to wherever you want, whenever you want.