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Lord of the Rings: Game One

by Philip Mitchell, Michael O'Rourke, Paul Kidd, and Lyn C

Episode 2 of The Tolkien Software Adventure Series
Tolkienesque, Literary

(based on 7 ratings)
1 review

About the Story

The Dark Lord Sauron the Great has come back to life and threatens all that is good in Middle-earth. The dark and notorious Ringwraiths are searching for the "hobbit Baggins" who possesses the One Ring--all that stands between Sauron and ultimate power. It is up to you, as Frodo Baggins, to stop Sauron from achieving his evil goal and to return the One Ring to the fires of Mount Doom.

Released in some territories as "The Fellowship of the Ring."

Game Details

Editorial Reviews

Baf's Guide

Appallingly drab follow-up to The Hobbit. Given the source material available, it's criminal just what a wasted opportunity this game was although it's clear considerable effort was expended upon it.

In another game the advanced (for the time) parser would have been a blessing but here it merely gets bogged down by the dire gameplay and less than enthralling storyline. Even being able to order your companions around and carry items for you (a clever feat at the time the game was released) pales after a while. Pure randomness plays a large factor at one point during LOTR, meaning that the sinister Black Riders may well catch you no matter what you do.

As with its predecessor, this game is a nightmare to map with locations often listing half a dozen exits which lead pretty much nowhere.

One to avoid. Go play Bored of the Ring instead, a parody way superior to the game it is based upon.

-- David Whyld


"Two features from The Hobbit have been retained in this game. Mapping in The Hobbit could become pretty unreliable owing to the structure of the game, and so it is in this case. The other feature of The Hobbit retained is the need to be ever careful and watchful over what and how many items you are carrying. In addition to adding weight to your burden, some objects increase your effective size, which can lead to trouble when negotiating a small door or tunnel. Liquids cannot be carried without a container and you must ration your acquisitions to just those you can manage to carry.

Lord of the Rings took over 15 months to program. After waiting for so long people may initially be disappointed with the result. The game is slow, the pictures are rudimentary, and, due to the glaring white background for the text, this adventure is almost unplayable on a colour TV. The prose is strangely stilted with descriptions which tell of objects within objects and upon objects, in a very dry and dreary manner. The dubious examples of humour in the game detract from such an auspicious work and there are times when you're not quite sure whether something is supposed to be humorous or not, like, were there really photographs in the original as found described in the first frame? Having said that, the game features a very good and informative EXAMINE command, a super friendly vocabulary which gets just about anything you want to do done, and it takes the interaction of characters to new heights in adventuring."
See the full review

Sinclair User

"Lord of the Rings is essential equipment for any adventurer. The storyline is solidly based on the book and has been faithfully reproduced. Melbourne has added some ingredients but these don't conflict too much with the main tale. There is also a good sized vocabulary to support the interpreter and large numbers of locations to explore, giving a fine feel of space. The graphics are relatively unimportant and, thankfully, the programmers have clearly attempted to cram in as much text detail as possible, rather than too many pretty but useless pictures.

The multi-role/multi-player option is pretty neat. Very few games have used it before but it helps to extend the breadth of an adventure."
See the full review


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Number of Reviews: 1
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Frustrating, strange, uneven in tone, but weirdly gripping, April 28, 2022

It puzzles me somewhat that Melbourne House's The Hobbit remains one of the best-remembered games of the 1980s (that's all games, not just text games), and yet their follow-up is rarely mentioned. The only notice of it here on IFDB is the very dismissive Baf's Guide review.

And yet it is, in a number of ways, far more ambitious and technically impressive than The Hobbit was. I bought this game when it came out and - once I'd looked past the dreadful cartoony cover - was deeply impressed by it. With its stark white backgrounds, its clever layering of screens to show which character was under your control, and its glacial response time, it seemed a technical masterpiece. I didn't get very far with it.

Returning to it now, I find that in a number of ways the IF versions of The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings bear the same relation to each other that the books do. This game is bigger, more complicated, and far weirder than its predecessor.

The first thing to say, of course, is that with this game we are in the 1980s and the usual rules apply. You are expected to have to play this game many, many times in order to learn what you're supposed to do in it. You are expected to make a map, and you will be aware that this may be a more complicated business than at first appears. The game is unfair and will punish simple mistakes or lack of knowledge with immediate death. Most objects cannot be "examined" and interaction with NPCs is rudimentary (some disappear in a puff of smoke after fulfilling their sole role in the game). So this is not an experience like any "modern" IF. But as long as one is aware of this from the outset, there are some interesting things to uncover here.

First, this is actually two games, not one, which roughly correspond to the first two books of The Lord of The Rings (which, as those of us who have read the preface know, is not a trilogy but a single novel divided into six books which were initially published in three volumes). You don't have to complete the first game in order to play the second, but if you do, you can bring more items from the first game into the second. Though thankfully you don't have to do that. Also, oddly, the first game is substantially harder than the second.

Next, we find that the NPC system which made The Hobbit so memorable (and frustrating) has been dialled up to 11. As before, your companions follow you around and sometimes do vaguely useful things, but now you can control them directly. Simply type the name of the hobbit you want to become, and off you go, like Dr Sam Beckett leaping from one to the other. The game gives you the option at the start of choosing which hobbits are controllable in this way, creating the somewhat odd possibility that you could choose to control only Merry; it's hard to see why anyone would choose anything other than just Frodo on the one hand or all four hobbits on the other. The game's manual rather charmingly suggests that this system makes multiplayer adventuring possible, with up to four friends sharing a computer and each controlling one character. It's hard to believe that anyone actually did this, and if they did, I doubt they stuck with it for long.

Despite this technical wizardry - which as far as I know remains unreplicated in modern IF - it's easier to restrict yourself to just Frodo, because the other hobbits act more intelligently if they are under sole control of the computer. There isn't really any point in using the multiple first-person system. Indeed I'm not sure it's possible to complete the first part of the game by doing so. (Spoiler - click to show)You need three hobbits to activate green jewels at the same time to defeat the Nazgul, but the other two will only do so if they are wholly out of your control. In any case, even controlling only one character still allows you to issue commands to the others, which can lead to some moderately complex gameplay (not to mention Hobbit Fight Club). However, there still isn't anything like the puzzle with the robot in Zork II. In the second half of the game, you get the entire Fellowship (except Aragorn, for some reason) following you around, and while this makes for some large segments of text as everyone troops around, it does rather feel like you really have a hefty bunch of adventurers at your beck and call (and combat with this lot behind you is more worthwhile than in the first game, though it can still lead to an alarming number of key characters getting their skulls cloven in two).

The next thing one realises with this game is that the map is impressively large. One of the complaints about The Hobbit was that Bag End appears to be practically next door to Rivendell. No such worries here. The Shire is as large and tricky to traverse as it is in the book, and substantial areas of wilderness are available to explore as well. You are not restricted to the locations in the book, either, particularly in the first part of the game. I know there's a school of thought that says that all locations in IF should have a purpose, and that there shouldn't be empty locations that are there just to make the map bigger. I'm not much persuaded by this school of thought, and the makers of this game clearly weren't, either, because there are an awful lot of places here that have no purpose except to be walked through. I rather like this, as it gives the impression of a large and real world.

Making the map is frustrating, though; connections between locations are unpredictable (if you go west from A to B, the way back isn't necessarily east). Because this is the 1980s there is a maze in the first game and *three* in the second. These are all mappable in the usual way, and clearly the game designers expect players to devote whole playthroughs to doing just this. Mazes are very out of fashion today, of course. Personally I don't mind them, at least if they make sense, and if I'm prepared (as one must be with games of this vintage) to do multiple playthroughs. There can be something satisfying about mapping them out and uncovering their secrets, like doing a crossword. Still, tastes here will certainly vary, and I think even the most avid maze fan will find four in one game a tad much. It doesn't reflect well on the designers' puzzle-creating ability that the same already-hackneyed device has to be re-used so many times.

Exploring is also made harder by the limited inventory size - although having companions helps with this - and by the fairly unfriendly parser (this was before the days when parsers unlocked things automatically for you). Notably, there are many objects with the same name and description, leading to terrible confusion; even getting everyone to put on the correct backpacks in Bag End is a true trial. Worse, though, is the quite brutal hunger system. You need to eat constantly, and many actions sap your strength dramatically. This applies to NPCs as well, and it's quite common to notice suddenly that one or more of your companions aren't with you any more, because somewhere along the way they fainted with hunger and are probably lying dead in a field somewhere. The greatest danger in the first game isn't the Nazgul so much as the Bucklebury ferry, operating which can reduce the entire party of hobbits to a state of complete exhaustion. So one of the things one must work out in the multiple playthroughs is which actions and locations will sap the characters' strength and where all the food is.

So what is this world like? This is where things start to get a bit weird. At first glance, the world of this game is large and sweeping, bleak, and rather forlorn - much like the book. You can wander through grey-tinged landscapes, broken ruins, and windswept plains. You can get truly lost in the mines of Moria. The world is dangerous and serious. And yet at the same time there is a strange streak of subversive humour running through the game that undermines the world. Anachronisms abound, right from the very first location, where the walls of Bag End are described as being adorned with photographs. There is an "old-fashioned gramophone" in Michel Delving. At these times, the world feels more like Zork than like Tolkien. Other elements feel very out of place too. (Spoiler - click to show) The whole Blue Mountains area, with its monastery and observatory, and its Green Knight and Red Lady from Authurian legend, is utterly out of place in Middle Earth.

That brings us to the jokes. Some are fairly subtle and in keeping with the setting, especially in the second half, where among other things we find that Boromir winding his horn is the new Thorin sitting down and singing about gold. But some are truly immersion breaking: (Spoiler - click to show)a cannabis plant, an elf doing a Spock impression, a group of Nazgul having a drink in a dingy bar, a "watery tart" in a lake, and a nightclub filled with characters rocking out to an orcish heavy metal band. All of these feel more at home in a parody such as Kingdom o' Magic. To find them in an actual licensed game bearing the Lord of the Rings name is deeply weird. It becomes apparent that the silly cover of the original box wasn't so out of place after all.

What of the story and the puzzles? Well, there aren't really all that many proper puzzles in here. Knowledge of the book will certainly help with some sections (as will knowledge of Arthurian stories, oddly). While it broadly follows the plot of the book, there are additional segments and areas. In the first half this takes the form of a rather tiresome sort of treasure hunt throughout the whole map. I suppose this was the fashion of the time in IF - from Colossal Cave onwards - but it doesn't really sit well with the overall plot or with Tolkien lore, and it doesn't make for fun gameplay either. At times it is impossible to guess what to do. (Spoiler - click to show)How, for example, would you know if you didn't have a walkthrough that you're supposed to get Merry to swim in the lake? The second half of the game is considerably more enjoyable. Here, you actually have a choice of how to cross the mountains. I had a lot of fun going off-piste here. (Spoiler - click to show) And the moment the avalanche struck - and wiped out the entire party other than Frodo, Pippin, and Gimli - was a true shock unlike any I've experienced in IF for quite a while. The tally of each character "(who is dead)" being swept away was astonishing. The randomness in things such as combat means that both the player and their companions are prone to dying, but as long as the player is still alive it's quite possible to lose most of the Fellowship and still keep going. It's an odd mix of brutal and forgiving.

Oh, and there are rather a lot of errors in the writing - mostly inconsistent capitalisation and punctuation.

So overall, this is a strange game. In some ways it gives you a surprising amount of freedom to explore the world, take paths untrodden in the books, and watch in stunned horror as Gandalf or Sam Gamgee get their skulls cloven in two. The first part takes you to some unfamiliar (and sometimes wildly inappropriate) settings, while the more enjoyable second half gives you alternative ways of reaching the ending and a big posse of imposing, if unintelligent, companions to help you get there. The multiple-character gimmick is interesting, if never really used to its full potential, while the sheer size of the world is impressive and makes some real exploration possible (especially in the first half - the locations are more linear in the second). At the same time, hindrances such as the horrible hunger system, multiple objects with the same name, inconsistent map directions, and random events block your progress. The immersion and depth promised by the expansive maps and often evocative descriptions is undermined, with apparently perverse deliberateness, by the anachronistic and outright parodic elements that stand out like a plaster nose on a Roman bust. And yet sometimes it rises above this to give the player some truly memorable moments, and if you give it the time that its designers intended players to take with it, it will yield rewards. It feels more dated than its Infocom rivals do today, but I think it deserves to be remembered.

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