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The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria Review

The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria Review

I feel bad for The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria. Being the next Lord of the Rings thing to release after the saga that wasThe Lord of the Rings: Gollum leaves only three options: redemption, failure, or forgetability. Either your game will be so great, it will be lauded on top of Gollum’s corpse, it will be so abhorrent that it will somehow be worse than Gollum, or it will be eh and fade into obscurity.

I will admit, The Lord of the Rings is a hard franchise to get right. There's a ton of lore, there's a ton of people who know the lore, and Tolkien's ghost is probably peering over your shoulder, judging you for a) reading anything past Canterbury Tales and b) making his world into a videogame at all. It can work, hypothetically, if you catch lightning in a bottle.

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The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is described as “The only survival crafting video game set in the Fourth Age of Middle-earth.” At the gist of it, your Dwarven character is helping their people reclaim Moria sometime after the events of The Lord of the Rings. It’s obviously set before TA 314 as Gimli is there (looking fine as ever, may I add) to lead the construction projects and hasn’t left for the Undying Lands with Legolas yet. Your character gets trapped in the mines and has to try to find their way out. Along the way, they’ll have to craft and fortify camps, feed themselves, repair their weapons, mine, make armour and discover secret objects.

Choosing the Dwarves as the main character was a good call since they're not quite as insanely developed as Elves. The language isn't quite as developed either, so you're less likely to have fans nit-picking it as we would with Sindarin.

Creating a character is a delight. What's cool about The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is that you can make a feminine framed dwarf, beard and all. Speaking of beards, you're given sixteen different options. You're also given different faces, hairstyles, and scar options. Even more fun, scars are named after what injury actually caused it: Tree branch, hidden door, politics, a bar brawl, pickaxe, Goblin pike, etc.

There are a slew of different voice options, some feminine, masculine, and in-between. Another thing that made me gasp is that there are a few voices in Khuzdul — the private language of the Dwarves. After Gollum's debacle, where they made you pay extra for the Sindarin voice lines, this was a breath of fresh air.


Now, onto gameplay. Have you ever played a high fantasy game and got pissed off that your torches last forever? Well, this game has fixed that for you! Torches have a life span and will be destroyed after their intended usage, meaning you’ll have to make a new one. This is one thing I feel like Tolkien would actually approve of once he got over the horror of his world being a videogame, a TV series, and two film franchises. Weapons and tools also wear out over time and need to either be fixed or completely replaced. This is another thing I immensely enjoyed, as it made me have to plan and even stop mid-adventure to go back to camp. It kept me on my toes.

Combat is pretty standard. You get a weapon, and you swing or block with it. You have a health bar, a hunger bar, and a clock to keep track of — all three of which will effect your combat outcomes. There's not much strategy to fighting, just that you keep clicking. Still, it's nice to have to break up the monotony. When combat does happen, though, it happens en masse. I was never attacked by only one Goblin, but at least four at a time. And, usually, wolves are flanking in front of or behind them like a weird opening act at a concert you didn’t want to attend.

You will also randomly be notified of sieges, where the Goblins will come to your camp and try to break in, destroy your walls, and break all your stuff — all while trying to kill you. You'll get these pop-ups when you're pretty far away from camp, too, or even better, right when you wake up in the morning. If you die, the screen goes red, and your corpse lays there until you click the revive button, the battle still going on around you. Depending on your death location, if you don't wait long enough before reviving, either the enemies will come straight back to fight you again or they’ll never stop in the first place. Even dead, the Goblins really want to break all your crap to bits.


When you revive yourself, you'll wake up back at your camp with all your items missing. You'll find them in an urn at the location of your death. If you come back to life and the fight is still happening or the camp you respawned in is far away, you'll have to run out completely unarmed to get your stuff back. To be honest, after playing the game for a few hours, the abundance of Goblins that constantly pop into existence just to kill you becomes inconvenient more than anything else. It’s like a fly you can’t get rid of in your house: not a threat to you, but a little pest all the same.

Ambient sound is also very important in this game. There’s not really any background music playing, which is actually beneficial, as Goblins and wolves will make stomping noises. This gives you a warning to get inside and be quiet if you don’t want another brawl. The better you build, the harder time the Goblins have ripping your house down, so I found myself in the dead of night, throwing up stone walls as quickly as I could anytime I started to hear rampant footsteps. This game does actually use day and night cycles, so you’re more likely to get attacked if you’re out past sunset. Yeah, yeah, you’re underground; who knows when sunset is? Shh. Don’t worry about it.

On a related note, the AI’s detection is a bit weird. An enemy can be looking right at you, but they will simply stand there, continuing to stare at you the whole night. Even if you move around. No, really. I tested it. They won't leave, they won't go back to whatever their patrol is, they won't go agro. They will just stand there, not blinking. After wasting a whole night, I finally gave up, stepped out of the open view, within fighting distance, eye-level balcony with my still-lit torch and tried to start the fight myself.

I also had some glitches. Nothing like… mind staggering, but enough to make me go “huh.” There were the standard issues of animals being stuck in walls and so forth, but there were others, too. For example, if you’re not mindful, quick-build platforms used to climb over walls won’t always appear after you build them. It took me longer than I’d like to admit to realise they were actually supposed to show up on your screen. Somehow, before then, I managed to just casually force my character up the unclimbable wall instead. The cause, I discovered, was that the game allows you to build platforms inside the walls, where they can’t be seen or used, instead of snapping against it every time. A weird mechanic, specifically if you’re a new player. It’s made even more peculiar by the fact that hard-building stops are already coded into the game.

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Mining ore also kept giving me an issue, as the iron ore would get suspended mid-air, and I’d have to do some gymnastics to get it down. I started over three times to see if this was a user error, but nope! It happened each time. Eventually, I gave up and took to finding iron bars elsewhere because if you don’t have enough of them, the main quest can’t progress.

Seemingly, every time you start a new world with the same character, whatever was in your hot bar from your last game will carry over. It should be noted that you can find more materials hidden if you go searching around, but surviving gets more and more difficult the longer you go without basic upgrades.

All this said, I spent a whole day playing. Hell, I started it over three times and still had fun, which is not a statement I can make lightly. The building aspect can keep you busy for hours alone, and throwing in survival aspects to what could have been a pretty standard genetic sandbox game was a nice touch. I felt like I was playing a weird mix of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Hearthfire meets Dragon Age: Inquisition - The Descent

The multi-player part of this game will also be a highlight, as I can see this being a great way to test your friendships. Truthfully, I’d recommend this to any of my friends who like high fantasy. Sure, if you like Tolkien, there’s more to glean from it, but so much of high-fantasy is quite literally based on his work that someone who plays Dungeons and Dragons will be just fine.

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All in all, I dig The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria, and I will lovingly be forcing my friends to also get it.

6.50/10 6½

The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria (Reviewed on Windows)

Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.

The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is a decently fun time. While not perfect, it’s a unique take on a sandbox survival game.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Tina Vatore

Tina Vatore

Staff Writer

“That's what I'm here for: to deliver unpleasant news and witty one-liners."

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