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The 6 best and 6 worst Lord of the Rings games

Put down your second breakfast and start singing "Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold." It's time to take a look at the many video game adaptions of The Lord of the Rings.

Much like Frodo and Sam's journey from the Shire to Mordor, there's plenty of ground to cover. From adventures pulled directly from the books and movies to side stories inspired by other bits of Middle-earth lore, many Lord of the Rings video games have emerged over the years. Not all these entries stand on equal footing. While some capture the magic of the fantasy series, others feel like lazy cash-ins or disasters unworthy of the mantle they bear. Not all who wander are lost, but some of these games should have been. 

So, which Lord of the Rings games are absolutely precious and which ones should be cast straight into the fires of Mount Doom? Read on to find out.

BEST: Shadow of War rules them all

As IGN pointed out in its review, Middle-earth: Shadow of War was to Shadow of Mordor what Batman: Arkham City was to Arkham Asylum. The developers fleshed out every single mechanic that worked in Shadow of Mordor. Monolith Productions made the battles bigger, the different areas more varied and interesting, and cranked up the difficulty without disrupting game balance.

Shadow of War also had more game to offer. The campaign grew longer and more fulfilling, even before you got into all the side missions and army building that comes with the Middle-earth series. You had more options for powering up your pawns in the war against evil. Simply put, Shadow of War was more ambitious in scope than its predecessor and managed to fulfill every promise shown by Shadow of Mordor. For that reason, Shadow of War is hands down the best Lord of the Rings video game of all time.

WORST: The Lord of the Rings, Vol. 1 felt incomplete

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Vol. 1 released in 1994 and failed to make much of an impression. While the musical score and character animations are impressive for when it was made, that's where the good aspects end. The level design is uninspired and the difficulty level is almost non-existent, making each quest far too simple to complete. Assuming you can even deal with the banality of each assignment. For example, Aragorn will send you on a mission to pick a flower in the woods before he'll even follow you on your journey — because sure, why not?

Perhaps the most embarrassing hint toward the game's level of quality (and popularity with fans) lies within its title. The presence of a "Vol. 1" seemed to imply another installment would follow, but the low sales quashed plans for a sequel. The planned ports for the NES and Game Boy were likewise canceled.

BEST: Shadow of Mordor was hard to top

Middle-earth: Shadow of War might be the best Lord of the Rings game ever, but its predecessor was no slouch. Shadow of Mordor introduced many of the mechanics Monolith perfected in Shadow of War, presenting a dark and gritty side to the Tolkien canon. By playing fast and loose with the mythology of Middle-earth without ever straying too far from it, Shadow of Mordor proved it was possible to tell an original Lord of the Rings-adjacent story that didn't fall flat on its face. 

Sure, the lead character of Talion feels like a bit of an Aragorn clone, much in the same way Dash Rendar stood in for Han Solo in some Star Wars games. Also, as noted in GamesRadar's original review, a few of the side quests feel slightly repetitive, not unexpected for a new open-world franchise finding its way. Still, the foundation that Shadow of Mordor established cannot be understated. It just barely misses being the best LOTR video game.

WORST: War of the Ring was just underwhelming

The biggest issue with War of the Ring is just how uninspired the whole thing feels. As GameSpot said in its review, "Unfortunately, despite the presence of some recognizable characters ... War of the Ring has gameplay that could have been lifted straight out of any generic fantasy-themed real-time strategy game from several years ago."

That's not to say War of the Ring is outright bad. There are worse RTS games (and there are certainly worse Lord of the Rings games), but this one just leaves you feeling like your time playing it could have been better spent elsewhere. The level design is unexciting and the AI isn't terribly smart, which can make some of the larger-scale battles a chore. It's cool to see some of your favorite characters from the books and films, but that novelty wears off when you're watching one skirmish after another filled with generic troll and orc character models.

BEST: Lord of the Rings Online is still going strong

While The Lord of the Rings Online may not look like much by today's standards, this MMO perfectly captured the grandeur and high adventure of Tolkien's mythology when it released in 2007. Different story expansions have shown how Middle-earth has evolved over the course of many great battles, even exploring how the world moves on after the death of Sauron in The Return of the King. Above all else, The Lord of the Rings Online is commendable for the fact that it's still going after all these years, receiving occasional updates and catering to a small but fierce fanbase. 

In a look back at the MMO, Destructoid's Chris Carter echoed this sentiment. "As long as you have an open spot in your heart for old school MMOs, LOTRO is still pretty fun," wrote Carter. "Middle-earth is such a rich world fueled by the meticulous notes of Tolkien, and all of the teams involved with LOTRO have done a fine job upholding that legacy for 11 years and running."

WORST: Conquest was a Battlefront wannabe

A Lord of the Rings game from Pandemic, the studio that created classics like Full Spectrum Warrior and the original Star Wars: Battlefront series, should have been awesome. Sadly, The Lord of the Rings: Conquest feels like Pandemic tried to stick with what it knew without bothering to make any concessions or innovations with the material available. The result is a game that comes across like a bare bones Battlefront wannabe with muddy graphics and poor controls.

GamesRadar's Michael Gapper gave Conquest a particularly sound thrashing. "The combat [is] so intangible and repetitive, and the combo system so incompetent there's not a single decent punch-up to be had," wrote Gapper. He further stated that the game felt as though it had a genuine contempt for the license it was adapting.

There may be some truth to that. While titles like the Middle-earth: Shadow series played fast and loose with the mythology in interesting ways, Conquest seems to hardly acknowledge the inner workings of the books. Characters behave wildly differently throughout, with even the sniveling Wormtongue suddenly stepping up to become a self-sacrificing hero. 

BEST: Lego The Lord of the Rings is adorable fun

By combining construction mechanics with good old-fashioned platforming adventure and heaps of irreverent humor, the Lego games tend to be a blast, no matter which property they're adapting. With Lord of the Rings, Traveller's Tales applied the tried and true Lego formula to Middle-earth. As expected, the results are equal parts inventive and hilarious. The game takes advantage of the vastness of Tolkien's Middle-earth by dropping players into a large open-world, allowing them to roam the hills of the Shire and the palatial sets of Rivendell. 

Lego The Lord of the Rings encourages replay by placing various puzzles throughout the setting that you can only solve once you've unlocked the various characters and their unique abilities and items. By expanding on what the previous Lego games did so right (and respecting the source material without taking itself too seriously) Lego The Lord of the Rings is an absolute joy to play.

WORST: The Hobbit was an oddity

The Hobbit has developed a slightly better reputation since it first released. That's probably because it isn't outright terrible, but it feels like a bizarre outlier in the franchise. Even a mostly positive review from Gaming History 101 called The Hobbit a "knock-off so-so platformer."

Featuring a cutesy art style reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, this action RPG told a pared-down version of The Hobbit's story. In fact, most of the game feels like a clone of The Legend of Zelda, albeit with extremely repetitive missions and underwhelming, blocky graphics.  The Hobbit came out the same year as the spectacular Return of the King, adding insult to injury. Sure, the two games are going for very different aesthetics, but The Hobbit just couldn't compete with an action game of that caliber. It's not the worst way to spend an afternoon, but The Hobbit is largely forgettable.

BEST: The Return of the King brought it all home

The Return of the King knew not to fix what wasn't broken from The Two Towers, delivering a fun action game and a satisfying conclusion to an uneven video game trilogy. In addition to recreating many of the movie's wild action scenes, The Return of the King features a more robust runtime than The Two Towers

The graphics were also notably better than those seen in The Two Towers, and the addition of more playable characters kept the title from feeling quite as repetitive as its predecessor. Featuring tons of unlockables and and excellent combat gameplay, this is easily the best video game adaptation of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The only big knock against is the wonky in-game camera, which GameSpy noted could get kind of confused during co-op play. Otherwise, Frodo and the gang couldn't have asked for a more solid final adventure at the time.

WORST: The Fellowship of the Ring was a weak start

Vivendi published The Fellowship of the Ring rather than EA, who would go on to release the fantastic Two Towers and Return of the King games. It's easy to see why Vivendi never put out another Lord of the Rings title, because The Fellowship of the Ring feels undercooked in just about every regard.

As an adaptation of the source material, it makes the mistake of leaving out huge chunks of the story. As IGN's Steve Butts noted, this has the effect of making the narrative seem bizarrely disjointed. Unfortunately, the problems don't end with the game's lack of reverence for the works it's based on. The side missions feel trite, with Frodo stopping to help a fellow farmer fix his weathervane (you know, while the end of mankind looms in the distance). 

The puzzle solving feels dumbed down to a ludicrous degree, sometimes devolving into glorified "move the block" or "find the key" fetch quests. All in all, The Fellowship of the Ring was a stumble, but at least fans had much better games to look forward to.

BEST: The Two Towers adapts the greatest LOTR battle

While the video game adaptation of Fellowship of the Ring was a disappointment, The Two Towers came out swinging its broadsword in all the best ways. Developed by Stormfront Studios, The Two Towers more or less succeeded in bringing the trilogy's biggest battles to life. Gameplay was simple but exciting, putting Aragorn at the forefront of a series of hack-and-slash encounters. 

The game tied itself even closer to the massive film series by featuring footage from the movies worked into its cutscenes. The Two Towers also included much of the film's cast, making it feel pretty close to the experience of taking part in the Battle of Helm's Deep. The main drawbacks were its short length, which was roughly twice the runtime of the movie that it promoted, as well as the slightly repetitive levels.

WORST: Aragorn's Quest is confusingly cute

Aragorn's Quest is just a confusing title all-around. The previous adaptations of the Peter Jackson film series more or less said all that there was to say in terms of bringing those movies to the hands of gamers. Aragorn's Quest also released in 2010, years after the conclusion of the movies. It just kind of makes you wonder who this was for, and that's before you even get into the family-friendly, cel-shaded aesthetic.

Though Return of the King and The Two Towers had their repetitive moments, this game truly feels like you're just doing the same thing over and over again. Aragorn's Quest is a bland beat-em-up with boring character designs and uninteresting combat. It doesn't even attempt the bare minimum of making itself accessible as an adaptation. As GameZone's review put it, "The only way to understand the game is to have prior knowledge of the movies/books."

Aragorn's Quest truly feels like it was made for no one.