The world created by JRR Tolkien is one of the richest, most explored and complex worlds ever conceived by man. To compete with the immensity of Arda, as the world created by the professor is called, can only be dizzying somersaults of media giants for the right to create their own product based on Tolkien’s work.
With the release of the Amazon series The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power, which has already spent about $500 million, we decided to take a look at some good Lord of the Rings video games that have been released over the past 40 years.
But first, it’s worth figuring out which of the publishers had or has the right to make games based on literature, who based on films, and who can’t use someone else’s intellectual property at all, but can create something of their own, new and beautiful.
YOU CAN AND YOU CAN’T
The first games were produced under the classic licensing scheme. In 1980, the young Australian studio Beam Software bought the rights to develop the Hobbit game. Two years later, in 1982, The Hobbit for the ZX Spectrum saw the light of day. A long journey has begun. Interestingly, the game was sold bundled with a book about the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, and the total circulation was more than 1 million copies, which is a very good result even for modern mid-budget games, not to mention 1982. In general, over the next 10 years, eight Lord of the Rings games were released, six were somehow involved in Beam Software, two more were made by Interplay, already then the authors of Wasteland. There were also two parodies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
The Hobbit (1982). The first Tolkien game was a text quest/strategy
With the transition of the gaming industry to 3D, Middle-earth adventures went on hiatus and returned 10 years later (I wonder why!?), in 2002 with the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ringadaptation of the first books Tolkien. From this moment the most interesting begins.
Whatever you wander in the two pines, you first need to figure out who even owns the rights to the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. There are two major organizations that manage the rights to Middle-earth. Tolkien Estate owns the rights to the entire legacy of the writer, the fund is managed by the Tolkien family. But the rights to film adaptations, theatricalizations, toys, merch, individual names and titles, events, and even individual statements of characters from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings back in 1968 Tolkien himself sold to the United Artists organization, which, in turn, was taken over by Saul Zents (Saul Zaentz) in 1976 and created Tolkien Enterprises (now called Middle-earth Enterprises). And it was Saul who started selling the license (not the rights) to produce movies and games based on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. And it was this unit that a few days ago bought Embracer Group from The Saul Zaentz Company.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
Let’s get back to our games. The Fellowship of the Ring was published by Vivendi Games, who bought the rights to the literary sources from Tolkien Enterprises. The game was released on September 24, 2002 and was quite mediocre, besides, the developers did not have the right to use materials from the films. Vivendi released RTS War of the Ring and adventure game The Hobbitboth came out in 2003 and were not of good quality.
At the same time, Electronic Arts is buying the rights to produce games based on Peter Jackson’s films. And on October 21, 2002, less than a month after the release of Vivendi’s The Fellowship of the Ring, EA released The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The game brings the first two parts of the Jackson trilogy to the monitors and followed the script of the films verbatim. They were not allowed to use materials from books. A year later, in 2003, a game based on the final part of the Lord of the Rings comes out – The Return of the King. Unlike the Vivendi games, EA’s duology was a success with both the press and the players. In 2005, EA purchased the rights from Tolkien Enterprises, thus the The Battle for Middle-earth II, which told its own story, the events of which took place in parallel with the War in the North. In total, EA has published seven big games and the same number for mobile platforms. The last big game was not very successful The Lord of the Rings: Conquest 2009. The rights then returned to New Line Cinema, a subsidiary of Warner Bros.
While Electronic Arts was releasing its story games, the American studio Turbine Inc. agreed with Tolkien Enterprises to develop an MMO based on the Lord of the Rings. The Lord of the Rings Online came out in 2007 and the game is still getting updates. As with other Middle-earth games, LotRO is also caught in legal turbulence. In 2010 Turbine Inc. was bought out by the WB and later renamed WB Games Boston. In 2016, the publishing of the game was taken over by Daybreak Game Company (formerly Sony Online Entertainment), and development by Standing Stone Games, which consists mainly of the former Turbine Inc. But the rights to MMOs still remain with the WB.
From 2010 to the present, all Lord of the Rings games have been released by Warner Bros. interactive entertainment. However, in 2019, German studio and publisher Daedalic Entertainment announced the development of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, which they are developing in agreement with Middle-earth Enterprises (Tolkien Enterprises). The game will cover Golum’s history after he received the Ring of Power and before the events of The Lord of the Rings.
And just recently, on August 15, Private Division announced a partnership with Wetā Workshop and development of a Middle-earth game. An agreement was also reached with Middle-earth Enterprises.
The attentive reader will notice that in all types of licensing, one way or another, only Middle-earth Enterprises. The thing is that Tolkien’s son, Christopher Tolkien, was a big opponent and even a hater of all media products based on his father’s creative heritage. Therefore, the Tolkien Estate, which owns the literary rights to Middle-earth, does not license the rights to movies, games, etc. to anyone. Rather, it did not license, after Christopher left the post of head of Tolkien Estate in 2017, the company’s policy changed somewhat in the same 2017 Amazon announced an agreement with the descendants of Tolkien on the film adaptation of the novels of the writer. The agreement cost Jeff Bezos $250 million. In addition to Amazon and Tolkien Estate, New Line Cinema also takes part in the creation of the series, which means that, theoretically, the authors of the series can use materials from Peter Jackson’s films.
Christopher Reuel Tolkien
WHAT’S WITH THE GAMES?
Games will help to quench your thirst between the releases of the Rings of Power series, or vice versa, to drown the despair from the potential failure of the series.
Over the past 10 years, only a few games have been released in the Middle-earth universe, and they all deserve your attention. First of all, it’s a duology. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War. The story, which is not canon, tells of the Gondorian ranger Talion, whose body was possessed by the spirit of the elf Celebrimbor, the creator of those same Rings of Power. First of all, the series was remembered by the Nemesis artificial intelligence system. The system remembers the hero’s interactions with the enemy. For example, after a defeat, Talion will simply return to the respawn point, but the enemy becomes stronger and at the next meeting he can even joke that he has already defeated us once and will kill us again without any problems.
Another more or less modern one can mention a couple Lego The Lord of the Rings and Lego The Hobbit. The games retell both of Peter Jackson’s trilogies in Lego games style, with humor and childish naivety. You can also try The Lord of the Rings Online, which is alive and since 2010 has been distributed according to the F2P model. Many publications LotRO is recognized as one of the most underestimated MMO players.
In the wake of the popularity of card games, a card game was transferred to small screens in 2019 The Lord of the Rings: Adventure Card Game – Definitive Edition, in 2020 the game was ported to consoles. The game, although not directly adapting the tabletop version, offers a full story, separate quests and a separate Adventure mode. The game does not have a PvP mode, but allows you to play campaigns in co-op with other players online. The game received positive reviews from the press.
Tolkien’s modern igroizations are really few, but you can always return to the classics.
Dilogy Battle for Middle-earth required for familiarization. The first part retells the events of Peter Jackson’s films and even allows you to play for the Dark Side. The sequel changes the approach to some elements of the game, such as building a base, and tells the story of a parallel War of the Ring.
You should also try The Two Towers and Return of the King from the same EA. Games are already outdated by modern standards, but if you have already watched the movie, and you still want to return to Middle-earth, then why not try direct game adaptations of films.
RPGs are also relatively good. The Third Age and War in the North. The first again retells Peter Jackson’s films with familiar characters, and the second tells about other events of the same period with new characters.
Unfortunately, legally listed games can no longer be found.
No matter how the Amazon series turns out, no one will take away from us the great games that we enjoyed as children and continue to play now.
GLOSSARY OF MEDIA RIGHTS BY PAN J. R. R. TOlkina
Tolkien Estate – owns the rights to all of Tolkien’s literary works. Managed by the descendants of the writer.
Middle-earth Enterprises (formerly Tolkien Enterprises) – owns the rights to film adaptations, theatricals, toys, merch, names and titles, events, and even individual sayings of characters from Gobit and The Lord of the Rings. Recently owned by Embracer Group.
Warner Bros.. – owns the rights to Peter Jackson’s films and games based on these films.