What-If scenarios have become increasingly popular over the years, permeating many fan-favorite franchises new and old. It’s no surprise then, that The Lord of the Rings is next in line for this sort of treatment – even if it’s coming packaged in a mobile outing. Enter The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth. As someone who didn’t quite appreciate the series until I was an adult, the concepts surrounding this game was something that caught my interest right away. Not because it’s based on the films, which is largely where my knowledge of the series stems from, but because it aims to be authentic to J.R.R. Tolkien’s written works and my first impression is that this almost feels like a sort of gateway to get into the novels themselves.
In order to facilitate that specific design philosophy, the development teams at EA and Capital Games have crafted the world that’s taken a lot of the design – including environments and characters – from Tolkien’s written materials. That means there will be a level of familiarity for those already invested in the series, which is important because the base ideas are in place, and will be there to influence the original elements being crafted for the story here.
In Heroes of Middle-earth, a new Ring of Power has been discovered that grants visions and influence across timelines. Inside these timelines, a shadowy figure works to corrupt the stories of Middle-earth. As you may have suspected, this then leans into the whole “what-if” scenario territory that really opens the door for never-before-seen character portrayals. The team has been given the license to take the literature and use it in exciting ways. For example, imagining characters like Tom Bombadill, as well as different characters from different timelines whilst still staying true to Tolkien’s story and the laws of the world.
To go along with this expansion of lore of sorts is a gameplay system that caters largely to the fans of the collectible game genre. Specifically, Heroes of Middle-earth is a collectible strategy RPG that allows players to collect not only notable characters from the series but also use them in combat situations through various story missions. By forming squadrons, characters like Strider and Frodo can band together to take on other foes. Another example is the goblins, whose squad has a unique mechanic that allows another goblin to jump in should one fall in battle. Or, if you’d rather play with a more militaristic strategy, the Rohan squad might be something to look into forming.
The purpose of these squadrons or factions goes a long way in crafting individual play styles. You’ll have the ability to mix and match them if you’d like but there are broad intentions. For example, you could pair up Rohan with some trolls, mix and match weapons and have good and evil working together. The core idea in Heroes of Middle-earth is to let players build a play set that they can expand over time. Once your squadron is ready to go, battles play out on fields in which you can see each character, their health bars, and damage numbers accordingly.
As for how you’ll obtain units, they come from things such as events in the game proper. While Heroes of Middle-earth is a free-to-play title, I’m told all characters can be earned eventually and that nothing is ever hard-locked from players to be engaged with – which is a relief for anyone looking to casually get into the game. The team plans on having a lot of different release mechanisms for these units and there will be a routine way of putting content into the player’s hands. While the game is pushing the “what-if” angle, however, there won’t be any of these characters to play with at launch. The future, however, leaves a lot open and it’s the intention to put these things in the player’s hands eventually.
All of this is wrapped up in a unique visual style that really shows its origins in the original Tolkien artwork. According to the developers, the author’s work has been an inspiration for these designs all while taking a fresh look and thinking about them in a broader sense. Specifically, they wanted to capture a lot of the lighter, more whimsical aspects of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit books and that can be plainly seen in the stylized character design and the colorful environments. It’s fitting not only for the aesthetic of the series but also for the mobile platforms.
The amount of mileage you might get out of Heroes of Middle-earth depends on a few things: how much do you like The Lord of the Rings? Are you into strategy games? And are you interested in more than just a retelling of Tolkien’s classics? After seeing a bit of the game in action, these were some of my biggest takeaways, and certainly as a more casual fan of the series, enough to get me to want to check out the full release. If anything, Heroes of Middle-earth feels like something long overdue – time will tell if these additional scenarios will work out and can elevate what looks like a fun collectible experience.
TechRaptor previewed The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth via a streaming service provided by the publisher.