The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is a co-op survival crafting game developed by Free Range Games and published by North Beach Games. It launches today on the Epic Games Store is coming to PlayStation 5 on December 5, and an Xbox Series X|S version is planned for early 2024. The first teaser trailers of this game had me feeling lukewarm about it, however the recent dwarf creator and gameplay preview from IGN got me more excited. Having now played the game for several hours in co-op with Johnny, this is a heck of a lot of fun, is a great survival game on its own, and the lore you can find within serves us well as fans of the movies/books.
The story of The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria takes players beyond the books and into the Fourth Age of Middle-earth after the Fellowship’s journey has concluded. Summoned to the Misty Mountains by Lord Gimli Lockbearer (voiced in-game by actor John Rhys-Davies), players band together as a company of Dwarves tasked to reclaim the lost spoils from the Dwarven homeland of Moria—known as Khazad-dûm or Dwarrowdelf—in the depths below their very feet. The Doors of Durin refuse to open, so blowing it open seemed like a good idea. This causes a massive explosion, and we find ourselves tumbling down 200 fathoms into the mine itself.
The dwarf creator gives players numerous options to customize their dwarf however they see fit and is detailed enough for your dwarf to stand out against your mates. Choices include variations of beards and hair, accessories and jewelry, facial features, tattoos, scars, body type, and there are several options for the Dwarf’s origin, voice, and personality type. The origin sets the look of the armour your dwarf wears. Once your dwarf is customised to your liking, you can create or join a world and invite players to it. Johnny hosted a game for us and off we set into the Mines of Moria. The level of graphics is fantastic though I did get some occasional graphics hitching, especially in large areas. It generally runs great, just has some areas that lagged a little on my system. I do have a potato computer though, so hopefully it runs well for everyone else.
Once we have dusted ourselves off, we can collect wood and cloth scraps to create a torch and this is important because it gets very dark in the mines, especially during the night phase. Despite being underground, daylight can reach these depths in striking detail. The shards of white light add to the mood of the dark tunnels, while stained glass in parts can cast a red glow over the rocky caverns. We next crafted a pickaxe and got to work carving our way through stone to head deeper into the mine. As we started mining stone and iron ore, Johnny’s dwarf started singing a song and I can press E to join in as we strike a chord while striking stone, coal, and iron ore initially.
There is evidence of the fellowship who travelled through here in the time of the one ring, and we can hear voices of orcs and goblins still roaming the cold, dark corridors. We came across an area that has broken statues, broken forges, and mills, and this is where we set up our first camp. Repairing the hearth, furnace, and forge, we set about crafting stronger weapons, armour, and cooking meals. This is where we established a base for the next couple of hours of gameplay. As time goes on you become weary, so will need to rest using your bedroll. When playing co-op, you both need to rest at the same time, similar to games like Sons of the Forest.
Before long, waves of wolves and goblins started to appear as we made more noise to repair structures and explore deeper into the mine. Repairing statues with an iron hammer allowed us to learn a segment of better crafting recipes like an iron axe and gloves, and eventually we were able to build our own iron swords, shields and an armour set which increased our defense stats. The further we explored in The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria, the more secrets, recipes and collectibles like ornaments we found. However, there were also increased waves of goblins, and tougher versions of wolves too.
You can block blows by holding the right mouse button, and if you time it right you can knock an enemy down or do a spinning attack depending on which weapon you have equipped. When we just had an axe, it would just push the enemy to the ground, however once we got a shield, we did a shield bash move which was effective when we tag-teamed mobs. If you went off exploring on your own, you could easily become overwhelmed so it’s worth knowing where your co-op buddies are situated.
The in-game map only shows you a couple of squares either side of your current location so learning the corridor and room layouts became important. As we explored further, we came across more broken forges and could build wood or stone hearths to create smaller progressive bases for us to rest, cook food and process resources. It was great to be able to craft resource pallets that allowed us to store large stacks of resources as we continued going deeper int the mine. While quests will push you forward, we enjoyed taking our time, building up stocks of resources and ensuring we could handle the enemies we faced at the time.
One thing to be aware of when playing The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is that it gets very dark the further you go from your base camp. You can craft torches that you can equip but they go out after a while, and if you engage in combat your shield will take the place of the torch, plunging you into darkness. If you spend too much time in darkness, your character will gain despair and begin to lose health. There are some statues you can find that will keep despair at bay. What we found worked for us was creating a pathway of standing torches and this doubled as a path back to our base.
Goblins of Moria will occasionally siege your base and when this happened as I was playing solo, I had to fend off around 8-10 goblins. This was tough not only because of the numbers, but a group had run ahead of me and was attacking my stash boxes and my resource buildings. I was able to kill them all without losing anything, but I can see how difficult it would be further into the game against tougher monsters. You will want to make sure that your most important resource and base buildings are defended with walls to stop monsters destroying your hard-earned structures and storage chests. Constructions become unstable as you build higher off the ground or out from a wall. You will want to add support columns into your building if you want to make a larger structure. Crafting a dwarven hammer will allow you to see the health of structures and repair them with ease.
Eventually I found a massive Elven Quarter which had massive trees, waterfalls, cave bears and other creatures, as well as bigger goblins and orcs. Thankfully there are ways to avoid them as I was still only using iron weapons. To progress in that area, I had to craft a steel pickaxe and to create steel, I had to find a grand forge which burns hot enough to make the steel. I set up a hearth and bedroll in a position hidden from the enemy, and after finding some elven wood, started making my way back to my original base camp.
It was getting into the evening as darkness crept in and a group of goblins started attacking. They got the better of me and I died and respawned back at my last bedroll, and everything I was carrying had dropped at my corpse. I discovered that you get a stamina bonus for not wearing a backpack, which is an interesting tactic if you’re playing co-op, and once back at my corpse marker I could simply loot it all back. Once you find elven wood you will be able to craft a workbench and this opens up bows, arrows and a larger backpack to hold more loot. We are super keen to play more of The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria to eventually discover mithril ore and the weapons/armour that will come from it.
From what we’ve played so far, The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria will appeal to fans of the books/movies and has decent building and survival mechanics to keep you on your toes. Johnny and I are huge LOTR fans and playing this game makes us want to watch the movies all over again. They have really nailed the visuals of the dark caverns and hallways of Moria. While we had set up an initial base, there are plenty of locations you can move to as you explore these depths. We are very keen to continue our journey deeper into Moria as the game’s launch trailer shows off trolls and perhaps even a Nazgul-type monster.
This review in-progress utilised keys provided by Mark Allen PR and The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is available now on the Epic Games Store. It is launching on PlayStation 5 on December 5, and is coming to Xbox Seres X|S sometime in 2024.