The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy of epic, fantasy novels written by J.R.R Tolkien during World War II. The plot is a classic “good versus evil” type of plot set in Middle-earth – which is a mystical alternate version of the real Earth – and revolves around numerous creatures and people (i.e. dwarves, wizards, men) and their journey to protect an almighty ring called the Ring of Power from the getting onto the hands of the dark lord named Sauron and his malevolent forces.
Throughout the 20th century, the Lord of the Rings garnered immense popularity and this climaxed with Peter Jackson’s film adaptions of the three books released in 2001 to 2003 as well as his adaption of The Hobbit (the prequel) in 2012 to 2014. Aside from movies, the Lord of the Rings franchise also had its own line of video games. Ever since the advent of video games up until the present, there has been a fair amount of Lord of the Rings games released throughout that time period. With that said, which of these games were the best in transforming the mystical world of Middle-earth into a virtual and interactive experience?
The best Lord of the Rings games are the Middle-earth series, game adaptions of films (i.e. The Two Towers and Return of the King), as well as the Lego games based on LOTR. More notable mentions are the Battle for Middle-earth series and Lord of the Rings Online on PC and several mobile games.
It is indeed impressive that these video games managed to properly adapt Tolkien’s deep and complicated fictional world. In the rest of this article, we’ll individually take a look at each game and what were the features that made them unique and fun-to-play. We’ll also split the games according to the platform on which they were released. In no particular order, here are the best games about the Lord of the Rings franchise, and let’s start with the games released on both consoles and PC.
Best LOTR Games on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC
- Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Developed by Monolith Productions and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor tells the story of a ranger named Talion and a wraith (ghost) named Celebrimbor in their quest of vengeance against the forces of Sauron who ordered the deaths of their loved ones. Shadow of Mordor is a third-person open-world, action-adventure game so its gameplay is similar to that of The Witcher franchise. Additionally, its combat system was said to be like that of the Batman: Arkham series by the same publisher.
The most interesting and distinct feature of Shadow of Mordor is its Nemesis system, in which the behavior of the in-game enemies (Uruks) react accordingly to your actions. For instance, if you let an Uruk run away during the battle, that Uruk will then be promoted to a stronger tier. Getting killed by an Uruk will also allow him to be promoted, which will then make him harder to beat the next time he’s encountered.
Shadow of Mordor was criticized for its campaign with critics saying that the main quests were boring and that the overall plot gradually became uninteresting as you progress through the game. Despite issues with the campaign, these were compensated with the game’s outstanding gameplay and it even became a nominee for Game of the Year in The Game Awards 2014.
- Middle-earth: Shadow of War
Being a sequel to the critically acclaimed Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Shadow of War did not hesitate to capitalize on the success and foundation laid upon by its predecessor. The game continues right where Shadow of Mordor ended and now focuses on Talion and Celebrimor’s journey to craft a new Ring of Power (a ring that grants the wearer unlimited power) to defeat Sauron.
The game introduces upgrades from the prequel as well as new features. One notable new feature is fortresses which Talion can invade and take over with an army of Uruks that are brainwashed to fight by his side. The game also introduces a new tier in the Nemesis system called Overlords. These overlords are the most powerful enemy in the game and are found and fought when invading fortresses. Aside from the new features, the game also has a bigger and more ecologically diverse map as well as new abilities that Talion can acquire.
Shadow of War’s flaws includes unnecessary changes in plot elements and the inclusion of microtransactions – which were eventually removed a year after the game’s release. Middle-earth: Shadow of War is still undoubtedly fun and content-rich video game based on the Lord of the Rings. The amount of playability and its overall modern gameplay make this, as well as its predecessor, a must-play for Lord of the Rings fans.
- Lego Lord of the Rings
Traveler’s Tales is renowned for its Lego-themed video game adaptions of famous movie franchises and Lord of the Rings is one of them. Unlike the Middle-earth series which used the actual novels as source material, Lego Lord of the Rings utilized Jackson’s film adaptions. In fact, the plot is exactly the same as those seen in the three movies albeit modified to fit the childish humor and quirkiness of Lego.
Lego Lord of the Rings features multiple playable characters with their own sets of skills. Aside from established characters from the movies, the player can also create their own character in the game’s rendition of Bag End. The combat in this game is very simplistic as it consists of button-mashing in order to attack enemies with either melee attacks or projectiles.
The game was criticized for its puzzle difficulty being absurdly easy and for using a repetitive, copy-and-paste game design that is common among the other Lego games. Despite the flaws, Lego Lord of the Rings is targeted towards younger audiences anyway and in terms of being an entertaining game for children, this game has done its job well.
- Lego The Hobbit
Like its predecessor, Lego The Hobbit faithfully adapts Jackson’s movies into a Lego-themed interactive adventure. The only difference this time is it’s now based on The Hobbit series – the prequel to the main Lord of the Rings series. Functionally speaking, Lego The Hobbit does not have much to offer since it’s gameplay is almost exactly like that of Lego Lord of the Rings.
The player can switch between different characters who have their respective abilities. Sometimes, a particular character’s may need to get through an obstacle. Combat remains the same in this game.
There is not much to say about Lego The Hobbit other than it is just another Lego game adaption of a popular movie franchise that utilizes the same formula. Much like its predecessor, the puzzles in Lego The Hobbit were also criticized for being too easy, even for children. Regardless, if you’re a die-hard fan of the Lord of the Rings or just like Lego video games in general, then Lego The Hobbit and Lego Lord of the Rings are worth playing since they did a good job in transforming complicated lore into a short-term enjoyable experience for children and adults too.
- Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Following the success of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the public anticipation for the sequel was high. Stormfront Studios, alongside Electronic Arts, capitalized on this and developed a video game adaption of the second movie with the same name, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The game essentially served as a promotion for the second film since it was released two months before the film was out in theaters. Moreover, the game also exclusively included nine, unseen footage of the film and this garnered the interest of fans.
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers featured a linear style of hack-and-slash gameplay featuring prominent events of the first as well as the second film. In fact, a Gamespot review from 2002 even described it as a “Devil May Cry clone without guns”. The game also offered plenty of replay value as you can play either Aragorn, Legolas, or Gimli in each playthrough. Gameplay aside, the game was also praised for its graphics, which were astounding during the time.
Critics denounced the game’s short length (the game only lasted about five hours) as well as the fact that the game was too stringently linear. Some also disliked gameplay nuisances such as a faulty camera system. Despite its flaws, these did not preclude Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers from being a critical and financial success in 2002. A sequel based on the third film was then released a year later.
- Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Electronic Arts, once again, published another video game in anticipation of the third and final film in Jackson’s film trilogy. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King followed the footsteps of its successful predecessor. The game was also released before the actual film, it was based on released and it also made use of exclusive footage of the film.
Gameplay-wise, there isn’t much difference between Return of the King and The Two Towers. The game boasted a simplistic combat system and also the ability to play as the different characters seen in the movie. Each of these characters also has their own sets of abilities, which provides the game with diversity regarding its combat. What’s new in the game are “Fellowship Upgrades”, which allows the player to unlock a particular combo move for not only one character but also for every other character in the game. Additionally, the game also introduces a rating system, which evaluates the player’s in-game combat performance and rewards the player with experience bonuses depending on their rating. The most prominent addition to this game is a co-op mode that allows players to experience the game with their friends.
Like the prequel, Return of the King was criticized for its clunky camera system and its underwhelming length. However, the positive reception still managed to outweigh the negative ones. With this, Return of the King, along with The Two Towers, left a legacy of being one of the best video games based on the Lord of the Rings franchise, which were available on mainstream consoles and PC. After more than a decade, the Middle-earth series eventually took over and sparked new light to the franchise’s video game line.
- Lord of the Rings: The Third Age
After releasing video games that were individually focused on each of the films, why not have one game that centers on all the three films? This is what EA Redwood Shores, along with the publication done by Electronic Arts, did in 2004 with Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. Albeit the plot of the game was based on the film trilogy, it was not a direct adaption of all the events since some modifications were made. For instance, multiple characters appeared in events that were only solo encounters in the film. Since Electronic Arts only legally held the rights to the Jackson film trilogy (which they already maximized with The Two Towers and Return of the King) and not Tolkien’s book themselves, creative liberty was limited and they had to make do with what was left. Fortunately, this did not stop the game from being completely mediocre.
The gameplay of Lord of the Rings: The Third Age is comparable to that of Final Fantasy X and the Persona series. The player can explore the world through a traditional third-person camera; however, gameplay transitions to a turn-based system when the player enters combat. Like its predecessors, the player takes control of the good guys of the films and each character has their own skillsets that can be used in battle. Interestingly, the game has an “evil mode” in which the player can take control of Sauron’s evil forces. The Third Age also supports co-op mode.
The game was praised for its outstanding visuals but was criticized for being a shallow RPG game that was too similar to Final Fantasy X. A review made by IGN expounded that albeit The Third Age offered a good RPG experience, the game simply won’t be enough to please fans of the RPG genre. Critics also commented negatively on the weak story and characters; although this was not the center point of the game to begin with.
Best LOTR Games Exclusive to PC
- Lord of the Rings Online
The PC is the main headquarters of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) and it’s good news to know that an MMORPG of the Lord of the Rings exists and is still receiving updates even after more than a decade since its release. Unlike the games published by Electronic Arts, Lord of the Rings Online was based on Tolkien’s novel trilogy and not Jackson’s films. The game was originally called Shadows of Angmar before being renamed to just Lord of the Rings Online. Moreover, the game was initially only playable by paying a subscription but eventually this changed in 2010 when the game turned free-to-play. Ever since the game continued to be successful and alive to this day.
The gameplay of Lord of the Rings Online is no different from other MMORPGs (i.e. World of Warcraft). The player creates their own avatar and then keeps playing quests and or side-quests with the goal of gaining more powerful weapons as well as upgrading personal stats. In Lord of the Rings Online, the players can also have their own animal companion to be used for traveling the in-game world such as horses and elks. Furthermore, the player can also have their own house which can be decorated.
The game’s features grew in number as expansions were eventually released. New features consisted of “legendary” items, mounted combat, large-scale battles, and the like. Developers are even planning to release a new expansion by 2021.
Lord of the Rings Online doesn’t have a direct Player vs. Player (PvP) system in which avatars can fight each other. However, the game has a mode where players can create monster avatars and use that to attack other players. This mode was called Player vs. Monster Player (PvMP).
In spite of the game’s unimpressive PvP system and lack of innovation in its genre, Lord of the Rings Online became a very critically acclaimed game and even won not one but two “PC Game of the Year” awards in both 2007 and 2008. It is arguably the most successful video game based on Lord of the Rings and is a must-try for fans of the series.
- Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-earth
In 2004, EA Los Angeles took the Lord of the Rings film franchise and framed it with a different angle to create a real-time strategy (RTS) game entitled Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-earth. In typical RTS fashion, the player takes control of the Free Peoples (the good guys) and fights Sauron’s evil forces by strategically deploying units – whom each have distinct abilities. Once enemies are defeated, resources are gathered which can then be used to construct bases, deploy more units, or essentially anything to make the players more powerful. Furthermore, the player can also deploy prominent characters (referred to as “heroes”) of the franchise into their units to unleash strong attacks against enemies.
There are two campaigns in the game: one where the player takes control of the Free Peoples and also one where the player takes control of Sauron and his dark army. The flow of the campaign is dictated by whatever the player chooses in the in-game map.
The game became a commercial and also a critical success due to its epic gameplay of large-scale battles, its stunning graphics, and audio, as well as the inclusion of the actual movie cast in the game. While some critics found the game to be stale and too easy at times, Battle for Middle-earth still left a mark in RTS history and became beloved by fans. It became so beloved that a fan remake – entitled The Battle for Middle-earth: Reforged – is in the works. Aside from that, the original game is still alive, even after official servers closed in 2010, due to fan-hosted unofficial servers.
- Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-earth II
Two years after the first Battle for Middle-earth, EA Los Angeles took the RTS spotlight again with the new and improved sequel, Battle for Middle-earth II. The gameplay is fundamentally the same as the first game albeit changes and improvements were made to tailor for a better and more epic experience. For instance, players can now freely place structures around the map instead of being limited to specific points. Moreover, the player can also create their own “heroes” instead of choosing from known characters. There are also more factions to use in battle as well as more maps to play on. The sequel also retains both a “good” and “evil” campaign.
Battle for Middle-earth II is regarded to be one of the best video game adaptions of the Lord of the Rings franchise because of how well it rendered and gave the feeling of the intense and turbulent wars that occurred in the books. So much so that it was even ranked 3rd place as the best computer game of 2006 by Computer Games Magazine. Furthermore, the Smithsonian American Art Museum even included the game in its The Art of Video Games exhibit, which was displayed in 2012.
Commonly pointed-out flaws of the game were it’s unbalanced multiplayer and some gameplay nuisances. Though aside from all that, Battle for Middle-earth II was still an outstanding game and undoubtedly one of the best games to carry the Lord of the Rings name.
Best LOTR Games on Nintendo
- Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Gameboy Advance)
Albeit Nintendo doesn’t play a major role when it comes to video game consoles (Playstation and Xbox usually come to mind first), the majority of the significant Lord of the Rings games (except the Middle-earth series) were still released on Nintendo’s consoles, namely the GameCube and the Game Boy Advance.
The Game Boy Advance (GBA) ports of The Two Towers and Return of the King in particular offered a distinct gameplay experience compared to the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions because of the GBA’s hardware limitations. Instead of utilizing 3D graphics with a third-person camera, the GBA ports opted for a 2D isometric graphics with gameplay being akin to the first Diablo game.
What made the GBA port of The Two Towers stand out was its inclusion of a co-op multiplayer, which was made possible with a special cable that linked two GBAs together. Recall that co-op was completely absent in the console versions of The Two Towers so this was quite an advantage for Nintendo.
The GBA port of Return of the King was not so different from its predecessor. However, one interesting feature it had was that the player could redeem the bonus and exclusive items for the game if they linked their GBA – via another special cable – to their GameCube. Though, a copy of the game for both systems was required.
Compared to the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube versions, the GBA ports of these games are obviously a downgrade. However, the GBA ports still managed to be an entertaining experience and demonstrated the uniqueness that Nintendo always had to offer.
Best LOTR Games on Mobile
- Lord of the Rings: Middle-earth Defense
Mobile games based on popular movie franchises have a tendency to be mediocre cash-grabs. Fortunately, Lord of the Rings: Middle-earth Defense by Glu did not turn out this way and is actually a fun tower defense game.
The game has 18 levels based on recognizable locations from both the books and films. The gameplay is very casual in nature. In each level, the player must deploy units of troops and occasionally even the actual main characters of the series (called “heroes”) to defend the area from Sauron’s forces, such as Uruk.
Critics pointed out that the game failed to offer any real challenge. Nonetheless, Lord of the Rings: Middle-earth Defense is still enjoyable and fit for fans who want to play a Lord of the Rings game on-the-go.
- The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth
The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth is a city simulator mobile game wherein players create their own cities with structures based on the settings of the Lord of the Rings. Throughout the game, players collect resources and use them to improve their city.
Similar to Clash of Clans, players can attack other players’ cities to take resources. To counter this, players can build defenses around their city or even form alliances with other players. With an alliance, two players can share resources.
The game was criticized for being designed to coerce players into spending real money in order to upgrade their cities. The alliance feature was also said to have a frustratingly confusing interface. Albeit the game is more flawed than Middle-earth Defense, it is still worth a download since the game has enough content to provide for a week of entertainment, more or less.