Remembering Middle-earth Video Games

Sam EA Games

I confess that I am somewhat of a keen gamer. Not that I’m your typical expert, but I do my best to keep up with the latest releases (just reading about them rather than playing them, unfortunately).

However, I wanted to dedicate a quick post to two games based on The Lord of the Rings trilogy that have remained a personal classic.

No LOTRO here or the brand new Shadow of Mordor … I’m talking about The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (video game) and The Battle for Middle-earth II.

I’m taking you back a couple of years at the start of the century …

The first game I ever bought was 2003’s EA Games-produced The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; a PC-based role-playing game where you took LOTR ROTK EA Gamescontrol of one of the story’s major characters and battled your way through countless orcs via a number of missions as portrayed in the films: from Helm’s Deep, to Orthanc, the Paths of the Dead, to Pelennor Fields; until finally to the Black Gate itself.

As the game progressed, each of your chosen characters would gain points and experience – allowing you to upgrade Gandalf to wield new powers, or Gimli to swing his axe in a more deadly and effective sweep.

It’s been years since I last played it, but I can vividly remember the quality of the graphics and the sophisticated gameplay. The environments were breathtaking – so reminiscent of the films. The sound was immersive and the entire gaming experience felt like an extension to the story in the films.

Gandalf EA Games

Being an officially licensed game, it featured Howard Shore’s score, cut scenes from the films and the actors’ voices for their digital characters.

I used to spend hours desperately defending the walls of Minas Tirith, or venturing with agility through the creepy Paths of the Dead. I could be Sam and re-enact his heroic stand against the deadly Shelob, or fight off the hordes of orcs pouring out of Mordor.

Goodness how I miss this game!

***

The second computer game I ever owned related to The Lord of the Rings, was The Battle for Middle-earth II. Skipping the first installment, I decided to checkThe Battle for Middle-earth II out what the second release had in store.

Different from EA Games’ RPG, and released in 2006, this was more of an RTS (or Real-Time Strategy) game, where you get to control one of the major races in Middle-earth, build up your settlement and control vast army units at once.

You could choose a particular location (or map), pick your allies and conquer your enemies!

Unlike the The Return of the King video game, The Battle for Middle-earth II was not only concerned with fighting off your opponent, but using sound strategy and quick thinking to gather resources, raise an army and defend your realm.

The choices were immense. You could choose to play Men, Elves, Dwarves, Mordor, Isengard … A vast selection of units were at your disposal (including special characters such as Tom Bombadil – who proved he was as good a warrior as a singer!).

bfme mumakil

It is a game that, I’ll admit, I still play to this day. It’s somewhat addictive and the perfect nice way to relax (unless you find yourself overrun by those pesky Uruk-Hai or cheeky Goblins!).

And that’s how far my gaming experience has extended in the digital realm of Middle-earth.

Naturally, I’ve played various other games, but these two will always remain special and long-time favourites.

Which other The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit games have you played, or enjoy playing?

Let us know below! 🙂

Copyright of images belongs to Electronic Arts, Inc. (EA)

 

Advertisements

29 thoughts on “Remembering Middle-earth Video Games

  1. I’m not much of a gamer myself, but the LEGO LotR and Hobbit games were quite fun. The iconic, humorous LEGO twist was hilarious throughout the story and the scale of the hubs was incredible.

    I haven’t really gotten into the whole LOTRO thing, perhaps because I think I’d really get into it and I don’t have that kind of time, and Shadow of Mordor neither appeals to me as a game nor does it seem (from what I’ve read) to pay respect to Tolkien’s works in many regards.

    Anyway, interesting article. Hopefully they’ll make a newer RTS-type game for computers and/or gaming consoles (read: not cheap mobile phone apps) now that BotFA has come out and there are even more armies and realms for developers to use.

  2. Don’t Forget! there’s still Lord Of The Rings Online! Even As an MMORPG. The lore is in depth and pretty accurate! And a pretty big Following for it too!!

    • Hey Rob! I played LOTRO a bit and got hooked, but it was too time-consuming, but wonderful nonetheless. The world was so vast and intricate …

  3. I second the Lego games as being good family fun, although the level of polish and quality assurance is not as great as it once was in the series.

    I loved War in the North, an action RPG from last generation not dissimilar to EA’s movie tie-in games. It does a good job letting you explore environments not seen in the films but in a style very much inspired by them (as well as Rivendell and others that would later be seen in The Hobbit films, like Gundabad and Rhosgobel). The story was nice as a counterpart to the events of LOTR, showing Sauron’s machinations in the North and the free peoples who opposed him, including the Dunedain and an isolated dwarven stronghold. It was also fun in co-op, or at least I thought so.

    Apart from that, I remember renting the Fellowship of the Ring and Hobbit games on the original Xbox; since they didn’t have the movie license, these presented a unique visualisation of Middle-Earth. But they were pretty much mediocre action-adventure titles. I also recently bought Aragorn’s Quest but haven’t got around to playing it yet.

    There really are a lot of games out there, but mostly action RPGs or strategy games. I want to see a part 2 to this post where you trawl pawn shops to find old GBA games or try to run the DOS text adventures, try them out and report back 😛

    • I never got to play War in the North but I remember watching the trailers and being intrigued by the visuals – but not so keen on the storyline.

      Part 2 coming up in the next couple of months (or years), depending on how luck I am 😉

  4. I must admit I also used to play Battle for Middle-Earth 1 so much. I used to love it even more than its sequel. The Real time strategy used to take me to a different world and I loved being in it. I mean after all, who wouldn’t love to be in Middle Earth? 🙂

  5. I’ll always have a soft spot for The Hobbit game that came out in 2003. It was that magical time when The Hobbit in my mind was a combination of Tolkien’s book, the animated movie, and a vague idea of what Peter Jackson’s version might look like. It also had an invented female elf before it was cool.

    I enjoyed The Third Age too, even though the storyline was the most ridiculous piece of fanfiction garbage one could image. I played it for the turn-based combat and exploring Middle-earth locations from the movies. Being able to walk around Helm’s Deep before the battle was great. And finding new gear for your characters was fun too. I especially liked getting the fountain guard helmet for Berethor. It was just the right combination of goofy looking and awesome.

  6. Ah, another gamer! Actually, the relationship between Tolkien’s works and video/computer games could warrant even deeper discussion, since Tolkien’s stories themselves don’t seem to lend themselves very well to the numbers-driven, success-and-violence-oriented worlds of most games. There have been some intriguing efforts, though. To the two you mention, I also remember getting The Return of the King game back in the day. It was my first Tolkien game, and my first “flashy” action game. I’d been almost exclusively a strategy gamer before that (The Age of Empires and Civilization series stoked my early interest in history), and still generally do strategy and RPGs over other genres, but it was pretty exciting to play through as Legolas or Aragorn and fight orcs with Howard Shore’s music pounding behind me. I also played a fair bit of the first Battle for Middle-Earth game at my friend’s house; nothing quite like a friendly multiplayer LAN party back in the day!

    However, it is my opinion that the best Tolkien-related games currently available now are actually free user-created mods for other games. On the pure strategy side there are two amazing total-conversion mods in the Total War series: “The Lord of the Rings: Total War” for the original Rome: Total War, and “The Third Age: Total War” for Medieval II: Total War. These mods are complete, highly polished Middle-Earth-infused wargames, and they reflect the scale of the world and of the armies in Tolkien’s books far better than any officially licensed game that I’ve encountered. They make use of official art and music from the films, and the games they are built on allow for highly tactical battles and sieges involving thousands of individual soldiers. You have plenty of factions to choose from: Gondor, Rohan, Dale, Lothlorien, Mirkwood, Noldorin elves led by Elrond, Mordor, Isengard, Harad, Dunlend, Rhun — that’s off the top of my head. The factions are pretty well balanced to be lore-accurate, too: elven units are small in number and expensive, but I’ve destroyed hordes of orcs and a Nazgul or two with a modest line of veteran archers on a hill before, and it felt GREAT. They’re easy to download online, and easier to preview if you just look up some Let’s Play videos of them on YouTube. There’s another fascinating one called “The Fourth Age: Total War,” which is set in the aftermath of Aragorn’s death, as a new shadow rises in Mordor and the reshaped political landscape struggles to hold together, but I haven’t tried it yet. It’s highly spoken-of, though.

    And on the action side is The Last Days of Middle-Earth, which modifies the excellent medieval combat/strategy game Mount & Blade. Purely as a piece of modding, it’s extremely impressive how the modders reshaped the original game’s mechanics to make a lore-friendly Middle-Earth action-strategy RPG. You take the role of a bold warrior during the start of the War of the Ring, and you are sworn to serve the leader of your faction (i.e. if you choose to play one of the Rohirrim, you are stuck serving Theoden and can’t run off to join Harad instead). As your experience grows, taking on useful quests for your faction’s captains, you gather around you a group of followers that steadily grows into a great company. You can mold them to your choosing based on your strategy: focus on archers and heavy axemen, perhaps, or maybe all lance cavalry with some horse archers to pepper the enemy from the sides. Battle is action-oriented, where you control your main character directly, but you can give strategic orders to your army in the moment. And all the major locations are faithfully and imaginatively represented, true to scale. It’s an awe-inspiring sight to ride into Minas Tirith or Helm’s Deep for the first time, and thrilling to be able to defend them from the Enemy. Lothlorien is beautiful and peaceful, while Minas Morgul as terrifying and ominous. But even locations that aren’t visited in the movies get lots of attention: Dol Amroth in particular is really beautiful and majestic to ride around in, all gleaming white stone by the sea. I highly recommend Mount & Blade and its semi-sequel Warband on their own strengths, but the mods they both have are spectacular.

  7. BFME2 is my favourite RTS of all time. Its just a perfect awesome blend of everything I love in RTs and of course perfectly captured the spirit of the films.

  8. I started off with Sierra’s flop of a game “The Fellowship of the Ring”. I missed out on “The Two Towers” because I did not have a PlayStation, but found heaven when I played EA’s “Return of the King”. That made me wonder what could have been if EA had obtained the license to the first 2 games as well, in what could have (we can never know now) been an epic RPG trilogy to accompany its movie counterparts.

    There was also “War of the Ring” which was my first MIddle- Earth RTS game, followed by “Battle for Middle- Earth” (which I think is the best Middle- Earth RTS of all) and “BFME II” and its expansion “Rise of the Witch King”.

    I remember playing the LOTR and Hobbit Lego PC series with my younger brothers, and we had a blast of a time smashing Lego blocks 🙂

    The most recent “Shadow of Mordor” was awesome in a totally different manner. Unlike some MIddle- Earth fans, I thought the story was quite well- written, and you can’t really blame them for writing imaginary stories, since they couldn’t adapt from other Tolkien books. Middle – Earth formed a strong backbone for my gaming years, and yes, they are still fricking epic!!!

    • I missed out on The Two Towers too, Joshua. EA’s ROTK was my first experience of Middle-earth gaming.

      Oh yes I remember the “War of the Ring” game but thought it’s graphics weren’t up to the Warcraft series (even though released several years alter).

      I’m itching to get my hands on Shadow of Mordor … perhaps one day …

  9. I almost missed this post, but I had been looking forward to it for awhile!

    If you liked EA’s The Return of the King, which I agree was great, there was actually an EA game called The Two Towers before it, which was basically identical in gameplay and graphics, and actually told the story of both The Fellowship and The Two Towers in the same game. I played both of these great games on PS2, back in the day.

    I also really liked EA’s The Third Age, which was basically a LOTR based ripoff of Final Fantasy, but for a non-turn based RPG player like me, it was a fairly simple game that had a fun side story where you basically played as a second fellowship that went to all the same places as the films and sometimes fought with the major heroes. Fighting the Balrog was epic!

    But clearly Shadow of Mordor is on another level, and highly recommended for action game fans. Also, for a very extensive history of LOTR games, I suggest this link, it’s great:

    http://www.polygon.com/2014/9/23/6414775/lord-the-rings-tolkien-video-games

    • Hey Mark, now you mention EA’s The Two Towers, I remember back in 2002 (?) I really wanted to play the game – mainly to get to experience Helm’s Deep. Unfortunately, they never seem to have released it for a PC; and never owning a playstation, I never got the chance to do so …

      Big cheers for the link! That’s one heck of an in-depth article 🙂

  10. The LEGO-Tolkien video games were some of my favorites (though I’m rather upset a BOFA DLC pack isn’t in the near future 😦 ). Battle for Middle-Earth was what really drew me into the whole Tolkien-verse, really! My dad got it for Christmas one year, and I was enthralled by being able to lead the valiant legions of Gondor or the petty hordes of Mordor. The first one was a real treat in itself.

    • Hey Harrison, thanks for your comment! Unfortunately I haven’t played the LEGO games but they look absolutely fun. I’m also glad to hear BFME brought you over to Tolkien. It’s such a wonderful game …

      • Figured I might as well swing around; I found a mod for the original Battle for Middle-Earth game called “Return of Shadow.” It is absolutely wonderful; it stays true to the books in the campaign (small side battles in the beginning featuring Erkenbrand), nearly three times as many maps as the first, and FIFTEEN factions, eight good and six evil. I would highly recommend it. It’s still in beta phase, and it has its flaws but it is SO GOOD. Had to say it.

  11. Ah I actually just briefly blogged about Middle Earth/Tolkien games 🙂 I’m a huge gamer, love all of those games. I must confess I am a fan of Lord of the Rings Online too, but I haven’t played Shadow of Mordor (although I’ve heard it is one of the best since Return of the King!). RotK still is my favourite, graphics were amazing at the time and it was just so fun to be whacking orcs and destroying trolls as Sam Gamgee!! Best memory was playing as Gandalf in the Minas Tirith Courtyard and basically blasting everything.

    Apparently there is a really awful game called Aragorn’s Quest or something along those lines :P. You should definitely try the LEGO versions though, they are a laugh!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s