Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria Review – Those Crafty Dwarves

Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria Review

As the lodestone and inspiration behind virtually every fantasy product ever made, Lord of the Rings has spawned dozens of videogame adaptations, most of them mediocre or worse. Case in point, the recent Gollum game. But let’s not go there again. One genre that we haven’t seen with Lord of the Rings trappings is survival/crafting. That changes with Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria. If crafting and Dwarves are your thing, this game might be for you.

Hi-ho, Hi-ho

Full disclosure. I like Lord of the Rings, but I don’t like like it. I mean, I‘ve read the books and seen the movies but I can’t recite the sacred Tolkien texts chapter and verse. In other words, when I played Return to Moria, I didn’t think, Gimli would never have held the pickaxe in his left hand. What about that time he crushed his pinky with an anvil during the battle of Ganglia-fel? So, I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the characters and details beyond a superficial level.

That said, the broad strokes of the premise seem just right. The game is set in the Fourth Age, after the events of Lord of the Rings. Gimli is leading a group of intrepid dwarves into the mines of Moria to reclaim them from the goblins and orcs. You play as a brave and willing dwarf, part of the initial strike force that is breaching the mountain. Things go south and you’re trapped by a cave-in deep in the mountain. You need to survive long enough to dig yourself out.

The Way Out Is Through

The narrative keeps you going from point A to B, constantly feeding you objectives and waypoints, making Return to Moria play a little less like a free-form, open-world crafting game and more like an RPG with survival and crafting at its core. I liked having some direction and finding lore-inspired clues and detritus along the way. I also liked the overall art style, which is colorful, a bit stylized, but not grim or oppressive. The character creator is surprisingly robust. 

After being trapped in the cave, the first order of business is to scavenge for basic materials, make a pickaxe, and start digging. Eventually you reach a spot the game tells you is home base. You light a fire and gather more materials, cook food, build shelter and other structures. You know the loop. The need for more specialized raw materials drives you deeper into the mountain. You encounter hordes of enemies and so you need to craft ever more powerful weapons in order to explore, gather, and survive.

A Study in Contrasts

Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is a combination of hand-holding and not quite enough information. Sometimes systems, items, and materials are not well explained, or explained at all. For example, you need to stumble on some crafting items that make the fast-travel system possible. Between attending to the basics like hunger, thirst, and sleep, you often contend with hordes of annoyed and defensive goblins and other monsters. Death is a frequent visitor to your game. In other words, Return to Moria isn’t necessarily a breezy, easy game, especially for a single player. Co-op both helps pass the time and makes combat more manageable.

There are some minor bugs and issues with getting stuck on scenery here and there, but nothing game-breaking. As I said, I liked the art direction, and the game’s music and voice acting were apt and entertaining. For a casual LOTR fan like myself, it felt respectful of the lore.

Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria doesn’t take any huge chances with the survival crafting genre. Still, the Lord of the Rings overlay and familiar character cameos help make its familiar loops seem fresh enough. In the mixed-bag pantheon of Lord of the Rings-inspired games, Return to Moria acquits itself quite well.

***PC code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Enjoyable LOTR atmosphere and lore
  • Pleasant art and design
  • Familiar gameplay loops

The Bad

  • Can be opaque
  • Not incredibly imaginative
  • Can be difficult