Top 5 Lord Of The Rings Video Games Retrospective: Get Ready For 'Shadow Of Mordor' With A Look Back At The Best Titles

By Steve Buja , Updated Jul 25, 2014 03:19 PM EDT

With the impending release of Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor, the next great video game set in the fantastical world created by J.R.R. Tolkien, we here at GameNGuide wanted to break down the long history of Middle-Earth in video games and deliver to you only the finest bits.

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What is intriguing about the video games based in Middle-earth is how few of them there were prior to Peter Jackson's film trilogy back in the early 2000s. Now, the argument can and will be made that if you've ever played anything based in Dungeons & Dragons, you're playing in Tolkien's world. The Hobbit and later, The Lord of the Rings was the inspiration to Gary Gygax, who created the original D&D because he wanted to run around with Halflings and Dwarves and other creatures of Tolkien's folkore.

Since 1982, only about 30 games (not including expansions) have been released based on the works of Tolkien. Hell, Assassin's Creed is going to pass that number in five years, and the first one came out 7 years ago. The total number of pre-Jackson games stands at 9. I guess somehow...some way, we regained our love for all things Middle-earth.

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Now, when we think of Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson's trilogy is what comes to mind. It manages to do everything right. Even reading the books now, one cannot help but picture the characters as their film counterparts. The films have supplanted the novels as the best form of the story.

The games, however, not so much. Many of them are good, a lot are bad, but few are truly great in the way that Jackson's epic sort of revolutionized the fantasy genre. But there are still a few worth checking out. GameNGuide counts them down.

5. The Hobbit (1982)

The original and still one of the best. It only took 38 years after the first release of The Lord of the Rings for a video game version to hit. Released for Coleco and several defunct systems, The Hobbit was a simple illustrated text adventure game that was far advanced for its time. While most text based games allowed only limited words to be written in, such as 'attack goblin', The Hobbit let you get your inner author on a bit more. The game even introduced the concept of real time action. It did not wait for you, unless you specifically told it to, no doubt creating many a frustrated teenager pressed into doing chores. You even got a free copy of the book!

Several sequels were released throughout the 80s, though none of them reached the level of critical acclaim as the original.

4. The Lord of the Rings: The War In The North (2011)

The most recent Middle-earth adventure puts players in the role of entirely new characters, which allows the developers to open up the world and tell different stories. The events of the game parallel those in the films, but don't expect to be caught up in Minas Tirith or the siege of Osgiliath. There was more to the War of the Ring than what was presented in the initial texts.

The game can be played co-operatively. Players choose from amongst three characters, an elf, a man and a dwarf and set out to cut of Sauron's army in the North. The gameplay more than makes up for the lack of characterization and the somewhat germane plot. One should note that the Lord of the Rings is the very basis of the term 'generic plotline'. It's what all fantasy storytelling is based on. You can still pick it up for the Xbox 360 and PS3. Probably for a massive discount.

3. The Hobbit (2003)

Sierra had the rights to the books during this period and since their initial offering, The Fellowship of the Ring, was released  dead on arrival, they went further back to the well. The Hobbit adapts the adventure of Bilbo and his Dwarf companions into a slightly more manageable, much less bloated platform rpg adventure. Players assume the role of the titular Hobbit, who has to run, sneak and fight his way through Middle-earth to recover the Arkenstone. It's basically the actual video game version of the video game masquerading as a movie The Hobbit.

2. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

The original game, The Two Towers (2002), rushed through the first two films. It was fun, damn fun, but Return of the King was a sumptuous experience. Who knew that kicking ladders off the wall during the siege of Minas Tirith could be so nerve-wracking and so much fun? The game opened up the world a bit and allowed you to playthrough several different storylines as several characters. You could go it alone as Gandalf, pick one of the three warriors or choose the path of the Hobbits and save Frodo from himself as Sam. With a few minor camera hiccups, everything that made The Two Towers good was made even better with this entry.

The game released a month or so before the final movie in the series and featured several in-game cutscenes taken directly from the films. You can bet your behind that I breezed through this game to get to them. Was I disappointed? Yes. But not in the game. It's still great even to this day.

1. Lord of the Rings Online (2007 to present)

The most enduring Tolkien title to date, though, remains Lord of the Rings Online. Released in 2007 and still going strong, the game recently received its 14th patch update and, which added the Paths of the Dead. Five expansions have been released over the years, the latest coming in 2013 titled 'Helms Deep' Developer Turbine received a license to develop the game based on the books only, so it has a very different look to it than the EA officially licensed film work. This allowed the good people over at Turbine the chance to open up the very vast, very well thought out world of Middle-earth and bring it to players.

The game was originally subscription-based like World of Warcraft, but was one of the first to switch to the free-to-play model, which opened the gates to more users. The game is still the 5th most played MMO title and commands 4% of the total market share. The only other North American developed MMOs that are more played are World of Warcraft and Star Wars:The Old Republic.

Any game that will allow you to play as a Bear, as Lord of the Rings Online will in an upcoming expansion, will always make the top of my list.


Special Mention goes to LEGO Lord of the Rings, too. Those LEGO games are derivative of each other, but damn if they aren't so much fun.

All of these are leading up to Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor which is potentially game of the year material. The graphics are akin to those used in the new Hobbit films. The new Nemesis system could also potentially revolutionize the way enemy AI works in future games, and at the very least should make for some exciting gameplay elements.

Tune in to GameNGuide later where we'll be giving you the updates regarding the Shadow of Mordor panel at this year's Comic Con.

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