The Lord of the Rings Return to Moria Review

The Lord of the Rings Return to Moria by developer Free Range Games and publisher North Beach GamesPC (Epic Store) review written by Robert with a copy provided by the publisher.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is the latest in a relatively young genre even though its gameplay has been around for quite some time- the open world survival craft genre that Return to Moria is set in is one that is absolutely perfect for the Lord of the Rings franchise. Delving deep into the ancient halls and caverns of the lost Dwarven Kingdom of Moria, you and up to 3 other friends can don your beards, heft your pickaxes, and head into the winding deeps in an effort to reclaim that which was once lost.

I've found that in recent years, when it comes to video games, movies, or other new and exciting things are set to be released, I would do everything in my power to remain blind to even trailers... That's how I was with The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria. When its teaser first dropped, I watched it then deliberately put it out of my mind until it released. I'm incredibly glad I did, and not because of anything negative ... doing so brought a sense of WONDER back into gaming for me, and if you had told me two years ago that Return to Moria was going to be a more accessible open-world survival-craft version of Valheim/V Rising, then I would have been incredibly concerned given the reception Gollum had. Fortunately the good folks behind Return to Moria clearly have a deep appreciation for the universe penned by J. R. R. Tolkien.


With that out of the way ... I have been thoroughly enjoying my time in the mines of Moria. Set in the Fourth Age of Tolkien's Middle-Earth, Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is an exciting (if safe) "open world survival craft" game. I would be very comfortable in saying, "Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is a more-accessible version of Valheim, but set in Middle-Earth" and I say that with the utmost praise. Once you're through the intro (narrated by Gimli, son of Gloin!) that brings you up to date; the TLDR is that it's now the Fourth Age and Dwarves from all over Middle-Earth are returning to their ancestral home ... the Dwarven Kingdom of Moria. And this is where our adventure starts. Thrown into the Dwarven mines surrounding the entrance to their lost kingdom by a quake that forces you to trudge forward through these ancient mines, crafting and fighting the denizens of the dark as you work to reclaim the ancient and hallowed halls of Moria.

Upon loading in and creating your Dwarf, you'll set about crafting and building the basic necessities- fire, protection from the elements, and a place to relax and recover from any wounds that you might have incurred. You will also be able to recover any lost stamina- as you toil away in the mines, burrowing ever closer to the Kingdom of Moria, you'll wear yourself out- I actually really like this mechanic as it feels incredibly immersive. Bucking the trend of most open world survival craft titles that use additive stamina (you have a low base amount of stamina, then you buff it with foods/armors/etc.), Return to Moria starts your day off full of vigor and energy, but the more you mine and fie, the more tired you'll become. Let it get down too far and you are likely to become a tasty bear treat; it adds a level of restriction that makes sense within the genre and I'm here for it.

You'll find a forgiving durability system, too- as you continue to use your tools, they'll become dull and well-used over time which adds an additional level of tension; will you make it back before your arms and armor break, or do you sacrifice vital bag space to extra gear? It's a fine balance and one that had me remembering RPG titles on the NES and SNES where you had to make similar decisions when entering a dungeon. It's moments like these that make me go... "Dang, sure would be nice to have friends to play along with."

Outside of some beige-basic combat mechanics, the single biggest con to Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is that it's best experienced with friends. While Valheim felt great alone and was even better with friends, Return to Moria feels weighted towards a full squad of four Dwarves and at times, just isn't fun playing as a solo Dwarf. I imagine that it will be far easier to pair up with friends once Return to Moria hits Steam, but as it's currently only available on Epic Game Store, adoption will be smaller. Which is a shame because I think that folks over at Free Range Games have something truly special here- while they aren't the first open world survival crafting game out there, they are the only Lord of the Rings-themed one and are a trailblazer for the return of the LOTR franchise (I refuse to acknowledge that abomination that was LOTR: Gollum). The atmosphere is just right in being dark and brooding through the ancient halls with music that's just as eerie, but when you break through a layer of dirt and detritus into a beautiful Elven grove, it can absolutely take your breath away. It certainly did with me.

That's where Free Range Games has struck mithril ... Lord of the Rings as a whole, is about experiences and that's what they've enabled; they opened the door to the mines of Moria and have said, "here, here is your sandbox- go, dig, craft, survive" and then just stepped back. I applaud them for there willingness and drive to respect the source material- that's exceptionally important, especially to literary history and what J.R.R. Tolkien did for literature as a whole. Regardless of the platform, Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria has earned a seat amongst my favorite titles of 2023 and if you think of just how good this year has been for gaming, that says a lot. Thank you, Free Range Games, for giving us this opportunity.

Score: 9 / 10