Mordor Is The Setting For Way Too Many Games Based On The Lord Of The Rings

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, out this week, is the third console game in the past nine years to be primarily set in Mordor. Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and its sequel, Shadow of War, also set their action on Sauron’s doorstep. I haven’t played enough of Gollum to determine how well it uses the setting, but it’s a shame that so many Lord of the Rings games are dead set on using Tolkien’s grimmest region as their primary environment.

That’s especially true when you consider the variety of locations on display in Tolkien’s work. The verdant greens of the Shire, the intricate, airy architecture of Rivendell, the sturdy grandeur of Helm’s Deep — there’s so much to explore for developers willing to venture outside the confines of Mordor.


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There’s an irony in Mordor becoming synonymous with Tolkien in video game adaptations. Mordor is the clearest symbol of Tolkien’s anti-industrial sentiment, a vision of what the world would be if ruined by war and the machines it creates and employs. Given Tolkien’s distaste for machines, it seems incredibly likely that he wouldn’t have liked seeing his work adapted into video games in the first place (and even more, would have hated to see it become a billion dollar enterprise for a tech company, though that’s a different story).

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More immediately important for players, it’s boring for games to mostly take place in a region that is largely gray, brown, and dead. Middle-Earth is so expansive, with forests, plains, cities, cavernous underground cities, massive aboveground cities, and a whole lot more. Why are games largely limiting themselves to the most barren portion of the world?

Imagine a Disco Elysium-style RPG set entirely in Rivendell. Or a Stardew Valley-style farming sim about raising horses in Rohan. Or a Night in the Woods-style narrative adventure set in the Shire. Or a mining business sim set in Moria. Even if you keep the open-world action RPG framework of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and War, there are so many more interesting places to set that action. I loved playing through the sieges of Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King on GameCube. Those games ventured into Mordor, but they smartly understood that it would get old if it was the entire game. It’s bizarre that more modern games seem to think that Sam Gamgee’s “one place in Middle-Earth we don’t want to see any closer” is the main place LOTR fans want to visit.

A modern LOTR game could take the Shadow of Mordor framework and expand it to cover a broader section of the world (as Shadow of War began to by including portions of Gondor and Rhovanion). An open-world action RPG that included Mordor as one location among many would be way more interesting than a game that keeps you sequestered there for most of the runtime. When a world is as varied and storied as Middle-Earth — and when a sizable portion of the audience was introduced to it via sweeping epics that spanned huge swaths of the locations it had to offer — staying in the most one-note location of them all is a boring choice.

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