The Lord of the Rings franchise has a storied history in almost every entertainment medium, and we are entering a new era for its film and gaming efforts. As Amazon continues to produce The Rings of Power, Middle-Earth Enterprises has been acquired by Embracer Group. Instead of all of The Lord of Rings’ games being made by Warner Bros., which had been the case for some time, we are now seeing lots of studios make games in the Lord of the Rings universe, providing their own spin on the idea. While The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is doing that on consoles this month, mobile game players are also getting a brand new game.
The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-Earth is on the way from Capital Games and EA, and I attended a preview event for the game ahead of its launch on May 10. This game takes the character-collecting RPG approach established through its previous game Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes and gives it a Middle-Earth makeover. What’s most intriguing about the title, though, is that it’s not afraid to ask “What if?” while playing around in the world of this long-running franchise.
When it comes to gameplay, my brief playtime with Heroes of Middle-Earth didn’t surprise me. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a mobile character-collecting RPG set in The Lord of the Rings universe. Still, the character-based approach allows Capital Games to play in The Lord of the Rings sandbox in ways few creatives have been able to. It has more freedom to craft more experimental scenarios with the franchise’s iconic characters, as it’s not as concerned with falling in line with lore.
The premise is that players have discovered a new Ring of Power, which they must use to keep The Lord of the Rings timeline intact as a mysterious enemy is trying to throw it in disarray. That setup means that the game can create scenarios that don’t necessarily align with the Middle-Earth canon. Players can make characters from different time periods, races, and allegiances team up in a way that wouldn’t work anywhere else. They’ll encounter a Galadriel who was corrupted by the Ring and other characters who may have strayed from the path laid for them in the books and films. Post-launch, some of these alternate versions of characters will eventually become playable as well.
In the age of the multiverse story in media, these kinds of “What if?” scenarios make for a novel The Lord of the Rings game set pieces and give the developers plenty of room to come up with future characters for players to collect. In a press roundtable, Heroes of Middle-Earth Design Director Jay Ambrosini was undoubtedly enthusiastic about these concepts but said the team is also making sure any of these ideas and alternate timelines that they do pursue feeling respectful toward the world J.R.R. Tolkien established.
“There are so many characters that you look at and see the small little decisions that happen and affect them, and it’s so fun to think about what happens if they made the other decision,” Ambrosini says. “They are fun things to explore and talk about, but the most important thing to us is that we’re telling a genuine Tolkien story and that we’re very faithful to the laws of the world that exist. Good deeds are rewarded with goodness; bad deeds are rewarded with bad things happening. We’re making sure that we’re appreciating and celebrating those pieces of Tolkien’s work.”
That playful but faithful approach is certainly an apt one for a developer to take in this new era for The Lord of the Rings. We’re likely going to have a lot of different companies working on various versions of The Lord of the Rings in movies, TV, and games, and it may start to feel like a bit of a Middle-Earth multiverse, even if that’s unintentional. Heroes of the Middle-Earth is embracing that possibility head-on, and doing so seems to be the best approach that could’ve taken with what otherwise appears to be a straightforward character-collecting RPG.
The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-Earth is available now for iOS and Android.