EA’s Lord of the Rings games: where are they now?
Middle-earth remains a pervasive force in the pop culture world, thanks in part to some really big Lord of the Rings games.
It’s scary to think that Peter Jackson’s first film in the film trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, will be celebrating its 20th anniversary later this year. At the same time, it’s hard not to be excited about the following: Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings 2022 TV series.
In the world of video games, Tolkien’s universe has grown steadily, even in the absence of blockbuster movies. Shadow of Mordor and its sequel wowed us with their intriguing Nemesis system. There is also a Gollum game next year. It’s a steady thread, and one that makes us look back and remember some of those earlier Lord of the Rings ties and where they are now.
Fly poor fools!
The sixth generation of home consoles coincided with the Lord of the Rings cinematic trilogy, with the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube battling for a place alongside family television. Games such as Grand Theft Auto III, Sonic Adventure, and Devil May Cry signaled a shift in the action / platform genre, paving the way for the film’s intellectual property to capitalize on links to rapidly developed films.
The license for The Lord of the Rings movie was safely in the hands of Electronic Arts at the time The Fellowship of the Ring hit theaters. EA’s first film for The Two Towers made up two-thirds of Peter Jackson’s trilogy, with most of the action footage tied to The Two Towers.
Released on multiple platforms in October 2002, The Two Towers featured hack and slash battles from those early films. A second installment in a similar vein, The Return of the King, covered the action-packed finale of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Collectively selling over six million copies worldwide, EA had a firm grip on Tolkien’s film license. Something the company would be hard-pressed to repeat with its Star Wars-related businesses.
After the movie ties, EA kicked off a kind of curve ball with The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. This turn-based RPG fitted into the main events of the films and showed EA’s commitment to delivering genre-leaping experiences under one license (to rule them all).
In a hole in the ground, lived a license deal
Once EA licensed The Lord of the Rings book, The Battle for Middle-earth quickly followed. Shifting into the realm of real-time strategy, this served as EA’s response to popular RTS hits like Age of Empires and Warcraft. He also stood on the toes of Sierra’s own game set in Tolkien’s fantasy world, War of the Ring. While both had their strengths, Battle for Middle Earth was better received by critics, followed by a sequel and its awesome expansion, Rise of the Witch King.
The Lord of the Rings: Conquest was another attempt by EA to cross the border into new genres. Instead of Middle-earth’s mightiest heroes, this game has you relive epic clashes through the eyes of men, elves and orcs, with iconic characters occasionally gracing the battlefield. Although there was a single player campaign, Conquest was designed for multiplayer. Many compare the game to Star Wars: Battlefront and it’s easy to see why – both were developed by Pandemic Studios, which created Destroy All Humans !, Mercenaries, and The Saboteur.
Eight Lord of the Rings games have been released in seven years, with a ninth game – The White Council – canceled while still in its early stages of development. It was preparing to be the greatest Lord of the Rings adventure to date, set in an open world with its protagonist working alongside Saruman, Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond. The fact that this project was canceled in favor of Conquest presents one of the biggest “what if” scenarios in video games.
EA’s Lord of the Rings games: where are they now?
EA’s license expired in 2008 without an attempt at renewal, returning the rights to Warner Bros., which led to darker, more mature titles in the series such as War in the North and the Shadow Of Mordor series. We’ve also seen adaptations of Lego games from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the former being the first Lego title to use original vocal lines from a movie.
But what about those older games and the legacy they’ve built? Unless you play on older consoles – or have managed to make PC copies – these games are nowhere to be found. No remasters, Steam downloads, or backward compatible versions on Xbox systems, all thanks to licensing issues.
Various calls have been made online for the release of licenses / re-releases / remasters of The Two Towers and The Return of the King video games. One, in particular, had reached nearly 15,000 signatures and included a call to arms for EA’s Harry Potter titles. Electronic Arts cannot republish any games from the franchises mentioned above due to lack of licenses. However, negotiations for new license agreements are not an impossibility.
Gondor is calling for help!
Right now, EA is working hard on Battlefield 2042, a Dead Space remake and a Jedi: Fallen Order sequel among various annualized sports sequels. However, a potential new license of older Lord of the Rings games could entice fans if they were taken to the publisher’s EA Play subscription service.
Then there is the Xbox Game Pass. While EA Play for Ultimate members are already in attendance, having the old Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter titles available to all Xbox / PC users as exclusive content would be an easy win, with no need to develop remasters. It has been well documented how much the Xbox team pays developers to have their titles on Game Pass, whether for a limited time or permanently. In some cases, this initial amount covers development costs. In this case, it could cover legal / license fees.
The likelihood of that ever happening? Very slim. These Lord of the Rings games aren’t the only ones getting caught in a tangle. Even in 2021, we are still seeing AAA games plagued with licensing issues, with Forza 7 being taken off sale as Microsoft allows their rights to expire. This has long been a slap in the face of game preservation, however, as we’ve seen in the past, sometimes fan projects can be delivered when game publishers can’t…
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