Welcome to game proposals, where we outline a video game we’d like to see developed and make a case for its release. Developers, take note!
When director Peter Jackson brought the crown jewel of J.R.R. Tolkien’s expansive mythology to the screen in the visionary
Lord of the Rings trilogy, we were given a definitive and timeless movie experience. An ultimate Lord of the Rings gaming experience never followed.
There was the typical slew of uninspired movie-adaption games, plus some spin-off titles delving into other aspects of the myth like 2011’s
War in the North or this year’s Shadow of Mordor. The Lego Lord of the Rings is sadly one of gaming’s more enjoyable ventures into Middle-Earth.
The 2010 game
Aragorn’s Quest showed promise during development. By setting the game after the War of the Ring time-period with Sam telling the story of Aragorn to a young Hobbit, it took a retrospective angle that incorporated the full trilogy in one. What we got in the end was one short, sloppy mess with a disjointed narrative.
As Gamezone said of
Aragorn’s “Failed” Quest, “Surely, Tolkien deserves better.” And that’s why we want to see a definitive Lord of the Rings gaming experience that covers The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.
Lord of the Rings itself, an ultimate game would divide itself up into six sections, called books. For those unfamiliar with the literary works, each titular published novel contains two books. For example, The Two Towers contains books three and four. Here’s how the game would flow.
In book one your party would be the four Hobbits: Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. At the encouragement of Gandalf you’d set off from the Shire, meet Tom Bombadil, fight through the barrow-downs, have Aragorn join your party in Bree as you continue to flee the Black Riders, eventually arriving in Rivendell with a wounded Frodo.
With the party rested, book two includes the cutscene of the Council of Elrond, before Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf and Boromir join your party. You fight your way through Moria, encountering a Balrog, before fleeing to Lorien and struggling down the Anduin where the fellowship splits up.
Boromir’s departure begins book three as the narrative takes two paths for the player. There is Merry and Pippin’s journey through Fangorn where you encounter Treebeard and then march to the conquering of Isengard. Meanwhile Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn meet up with Gandalf the White and head to Rohan, partaking in the Battle of Helms Deep, before reuniting with Merry and Pippin.
Then book four takes us back to Frodo and Sam. You struggle to find your way when Gollum joins your party and leads you through the Dead Marshes. After encountering Faramir, you then head into Shelob’s lair where Frodo is captured by the enemy.
Gamers then jump back to the rest of the surviving fellowship for book five as you get caught up at Minis Tirith in the Siege of Gondor and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. With your victory, you then march on Mordor to give Frodo his chance to destroy the ring.
In the final book we come back to Frodo and Sam as you find your way out of Cirith Ungol, into Mordor and up Mount Doom, where you encounter and struggle with Gollum, finally destroying the ring. Then gamers can sit back and enjoy the ending cinematics from the crowning of the new King Aragorn to Frodo’s departure.
There is more to a game than its narrative pacing, and so there is much to be decided about game-design. Obviously, there is a wealth of opportunity for minor combat to full-scale wars, and for stealth to free open exploration in a
Lord of the Rings game. But what would the game be like? What genre?
The books follow a linear path, but the maps and ample wealth of details given in the mythology allow a whole world to be crafted around the set path. The game could be linear, but it would be much more engrossing to design a full open world version of Middle-Earth.
In the full map there could be side-quests developed from the appendices, such as the war in Lorien corresponding with the siege of Minis Tirith. Non-playable characters could tell stories from the Silmarillon or Unfinished Tales to weave in details and quests of the Tolkien mythology to make the game a more expansive, enthralling and stand-alone experience.
Then there’s decisions such as genre, where a level-based-party role-playing style-game would work, but it could also pass as an action-adventure hack-and-slash.
There are more game defining decisions: is the main protagonist to be Sam or Frodo? The books begin with Frodo, but end with Sam. Is the game’s final boss the encounter with Gollum within Mount Doom, or is it Saruman when the hobbits return to “scour the Shire?” Perhaps that could be bonus content or part of an epilogue.
A major decision to be made is how the cutting between the separated fellowship occurs. Do you play a full sequence at once, like in the books, or are they all cut together such as in Jackson’s films?
How much would the design base itself off the epic movie trilogy? Are characters to be designed anew, or built off their actors? Should the location and city designs match the films or be fresh? Should Howard Shore’s thematic leitmotifs be used in-game or a whole new soundtrack composed?
While Annie Lenox’s “Into the West” would be the perfect ending theme, the inclusion of some of Led-Zeppelin’s Tolkien-inspired songs would not be amiss, such as “Ramble On,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” or especially “The Battle of Evermore.”
The seminal “Stairway to Heaven” is also a fitting ending-theme with its references to Valinor, Gandalf and the elves:
“There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west,
And my spirit is crying for leaving.
In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees,
And the voices of those who stand looking.”
The game needs to make a tough decision of either sticking with the conventions of the films or defining its own unique experience. The goal would be to make this ultimate game the definitive video game version, so that there would be Tolkien’s books, Jackson’s movies, and this game. Something for each medium, because to date, we’re still lacking the ultimate
Lord of the Rings gaming experience.