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Lord of the Rings Video Games - a battle for quality

One franchise to rule the videogame industry?

by Stephen Carter Aug 9, 2014

  • Gaming Article


    Lord of the Rings Video Games - a battle for quality
    In comparison to other major franchises out there, Tolkien’s universe has remained relatively unexploited when it comes to the videogame industry.
    In many cases, big money spinners aren’t safe from the videogame treatment be it good or bad. Both Tolkien’s major works have been translated superbly to the big screen and proved to be box office hits, winning numerous awards and breaking records at the same time.

    On the smaller screen however, there have been relatively few games worth getting excited about. Taking into consideration that Peter Jackson has managed to turn The Hobbit’s one book into a trilogy of films, this just shows how much material there is within the universe to tap into. Even beyond the two books, there is plenty of backstory and ways in which the two series’ can be bridged in new and creative ways. If anything, the more creative and adventurous, the better for us as gamers to give us some new content rather than sticking to material found in the films.

    It seems sensible for those who have produced games from The Lord of the Rings world to stick to the safety blanket of film material as the mass market will understand all the content. However, there is only so much you can do with the same source for so long. With a heap of lore that could fill the mines of Moria, you’d think that the Tolkien universe was perfect for videogame developers.

    Despite this we fans have had somewhat rough treatment, with very few titles of note that were actually worth playing, most recently we have had Conquest, and War in the North. The latter of which was an RPG which took place in the background of the events of the main LOTR trilogy and the former actually letting you play some of the battles from the films. However, neither of these were well-received critically, with them scoring 55 and 60 on average respectively (according to Metacritic).
    You'd think the Tolkien universe was perfect for videogame developers
    You could argue that the Lego titles - which have explored both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit - have been some of the best games which have released recently. Looking further back there have been other titles which have been regarded as ‘successful’ such as The Third Age (an RPG which had a difficult storyline because of lawsuit issues), The Battle for Middle-Earth games (real-time strategies which were highly rewarding) and those games based on the individual movies themselves. But, as it stands, there hasn’t been one game to wow us all and prove that popular movie franchises can be the source material for videogames.

    So, in light of this history, there is some expectation surrounding the upcoming title from Monolith Productions to finally give us Tolkien fans the game we deserve. Shadow of Mordor is set between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, telling the tale of Talion who seeks revenge on Sauron following the killing of his family. The game has already been the subject of some debate however, with some source code from Assassin's Creed 2 allegedly making it into the final game.

    Regardless of the issues that Shadow of Mordor faces, the question must be asked as to whether big movie franchises will ever get the videogame tie-ins they deserve? Or are we stuck with the inevitability that such games will be handed to smaller developers, with the big guns of the industry not wanting to take any risks? With development costs on the increase again, it’s not looking like we’ll be treated to many more tie-ins, ones that will be high quality that is, as licensing alone will take up a significant amount of funding.

    It could be argued that videogame adaptations have suffered in the past from developers not being able to deviate from the source material, either contractually, for fear of losing quality or consumers wanting previously established events and stories to be visited in game format. There are gamers out there who would want to play through the three LOTR films in game format, but have little interest in the surrounding stories or events, the same could be said for other franchises too.

    Even if you stuck rigidly to the original source material there's the immediate problem that much of the game would be seen as filler as it's hard to turn a 2-3 hour movie into a game that might last a minimum of six hours. Some aspect of damage limitation may be to blame too with fear of not doing the films/books justice, which was why it took so long for Tolkien's masterpieces to be adapted into movies. Perhaps the world is even too well formed? Maybe it is so strong that there's little left to explore that's worth basing a game around without re-treading old ground.

    It's sad really that in the absence of developers coming up with completely new IPs they can't turn to existing worlds and franchises to find inspiration and explore a shed load of lore that hasn't been worked with previously. Praise must be given to Monolith for looking to rectify this problem and give LOTR fans a game which, hopefully, they can get excited about.

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