Review – The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria

The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria

The year 2023 has been a real monkey’s paw for Lord of the Rings fans. As a huge Middle-Earth fan, I’m always wanting more games utilizing the legendary IP. We’ve gotten some genuinely fantastic games from it, well beyond usual IP cash grabs. Lord of the Rings OnlineBattle for Middle-Earth, The Third Age, Shadow of War are all exceptional titles that showed the flexibility of the IP in skilled hands. So 2023 should have been a cause for celebration. Two Middle-Earth games this year, the first in over five years. And then The Lord of the Rings: Gollum released and it was…bad. Really, really bad, with the barest of redeeming features. Next up is The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria, a survival game set in fiction’s most legendary dungeon during Middle-Earth’s Fourth Age. And sadly, this game doesn’t live up to its premise either.

Return to Moria graphics

Views that do look good at first, quickly grow boring once you realize that’s all the game has.

To be clear, it’s at least a step up from Gollum. The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is a survival game like Ark or Valheim. You play as a Dwarf during the Fourth Age of Middle-Earth, tasked with assisting in the reclamation of Moria. You explore the underground kingdom, mine for resources, craft using said resources, build bases, and repeat ad infinitum. It’s a proven gameplay loop, a solid premise and setting, so you’d assume an easy slam dunk. Sadly, not exactly. While it’s not terrible, all of the independent mechanics feel half-baked and underwhelming. Especially when compared to the plethora of competitors. And while they come together to form something solid, it’s never more than that and frequently less than. 

Critically building and mining, the two things you’ll be doing the most of, are far too limited. One of the biggest pluses of the survival genre is its freedom of creativity. Minecraft is the poster child for sandbox games, and set the standard for this exact gameplay style. And Return to Moria falls so very short of this. Exploration and mining is strangely linear and very specific. You’re underground, surrounded by rocks and minerals, but the game is very insistent that you’re only allowed to mine very specific veins in very specific areas. I’ve genuinely never encountered a sandbox game that was so strict about were I was allowed to go and explore. Base-building is the same way, with specific areas set-aside for bases, and with too many limitations to really experiment and have fun. 

Return to Moria goblins

That’s the face of a Goblin wanting to be put out of its misery.

Combat, mob variety, and equipment are also drab and uninspired. Not that survival games are known for doing exceptionally well in these areas, but The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is especially underwhelming. I do partly blame IP limitations in this case though. After all something like Ark is allowed to throw around dinosaurs, guns of all flavors, and whatever else comes to mind. Whereas in Middle-Earth you have Orcs, Goblins, and basic medieval weaponry. That being said what you can’t blame the IP for is the utterly braindead AI. It takes the boring weightless combat and makes it impossibly easy as well. Coupled with the boring building, exploration, and mining it makes for one overall boring game. 

To add insult to injury, it doesn’t even seem made for diehard Middle-Earth fans. Gollum at least was extremely faithful to the lore. Its vision of Middle-Earth was unique, interesting, and worth a look for any diehard fan. The exact kind of person I would advise to stay away from Return to Moria. What it does have for a plot does that adaptation thing when it takes a canon event and changes all the details for seemingly no reason. Canonically the Dwarves did reclaim Khazad-Dum (not Moria, which is what Men/Elves call it), under the leadership of Durin VII. Here however, Durin VII is explicitly missing, and you’re instead apart of a small rebellion Gimli is leading against King Thorin of Erebor. It’s weird to say the least, and a far cry from the visions of Khazad-Dum and the Dwarven Reclamation The Lord of the Rings Online gave us already. 

Return to Moria smithing

Real Dwarves use hammers, swords are for pointy eared maidens.

The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is the kind of game that doesn’t do anything well enough to satisfy any of its intended audiences. For survival fans nothing is done better than titles they’re already playing, and in fact does plenty worse. And for diehard Lord of the Rings fans, the strange lore deviations and limited vision of Khazad-Dum and the canonical events portrayed aren’t any more attractive. It may not be as bad a game as Gollum was, but in some ways that’s even worse. I at least walked away from that game acknowledging some high points and that it could have been something more. When it comes to this game, the only thing it left me pondering is if this is the sad future for the IP Embracer has planned for us. Thank Illuvatar for Lord of the Rings Online at least, always dependable. 


Graphics: 6.0

The cartoony art style isn’t bad exactly, but it isn’t quite the right fit for Middle-Earth.

Gameplay: 4.0

It’s as generic as generic survival gameplay loops go, with simplistic combat, simplistic limited building, and underwhelming exploration.

Sound: 9.0

The voice-acting is pretty good, and the soundtrack and sound design are atmospheric at least.

Fun Factor: 4.0

The survival genre has survived this long because the gameplay loop is genuinely entertaining, but Return to Moria lacks anything unique to set it apart from bigger, better, more fleshed out experiences.

Final Verdict: 5.0

The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is available now on PC.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria was provided by the publisher.